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Mike’s Strange Cinema Cavalcade - SUNSET BOULEVARD’s 70th Anniversary

sunset boulevard review
Billy Wilder's classic celebrates 70 years.


Review by Mike Vaughn

Directed by: Billy Wilder

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim

sunset boulevard bluray

On August 10th 2020, Sunset Boulevard turns 70 years old. Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a down on his luck screenwriter who gets mixed up with an eccentric silent era star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Obsession, Hollywood, vanity and murder ensue in this classic mediation on the dark side of fame.


sunset boulevard review

Billy Wilder’s Noir-Drama is unlike any film made before or since. It’s part Hollywood-Tragedy, part Neo-Gothic Noir. While it’s not a horror film, it certainly has macabre elements. The monkey funeral for example feels like a like a fever-nightmare right out of some silent German film. Wilder was a hit-maker and, in his prime made iconic film after iconic film. Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Ace in the Hole, the list goes on and on. Sunset Boulevard is among his best and is one of those rare nearly perfect films. The writing is heartbreaking, sardonically witty, darkly funny and filled to the brim with Hollywood inside jokes. Add break-neck pacing, Holden’s expert narration and of course the incredible cast, and you have a movie still powerful seven decades after its premiere.

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Holden is at his very best and sways from cynical to sympathetic with natural ease. Of course, let’s get things straight, this is Swanson’s film. She plays a demented aging version of herself that slithered right out of a Tim Burton nightmare. Swanson is over the top but she really brings a heartbreaking and weird, even surreal turn as Norma. She took big swings with the performance but I think it paid off. Rounding out the cast are some familiar faces playing themselves, including Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille and Hedda Hopper.


sunset boulevard review

The film captures different aspects of the Hollywood dream: Joe Gillis, the cynical washup seeking fame; Norma Desmond, the washed-up actress seeking a comeback; and Betty, the wide-eyed hopeful also wanting to make it in the business. Everyone is seeking some validation and it highlights how cut-throat and isolating the industry can be. Norma is the extreme case of mad with fame. She’s a grotesque by-product of what happens when you build up someone one day and leave them out in the cold the next. Wilder makes her look like a creature and that’s what she is, a monster Hollywood created. Max (Erich von  Stroheim) is the only character not seeking fame and though he doesn’t have much screen time, his character is vastly interesting.

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In a weird way, Norma is the only one that, in the end, gets what she wants. She wants to be remembered and now, through a horrible act, will be. It’s a dark comment on celebrity that feels even more relevant today than it was 70 years ago. While it may have aspects of camp, Wilder’s surreal tone and craftsmanship keeps it grounded just enough from going completely off-the-rails.
Wilder’s epic is a gripping, isolating, thrilling and tragic Noir and should be considered a must watch for any film fan. It ranks up there with The Big Knife (1955) and In a Lonely Place (1950) in terms of exposing the rotten side of Hollywood.


sunset boulevard review

Paramount's Blu-Ray is packed with bonus features, which include: Commentary by Ed Sikov, Author of “On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder”; Sunset Boulevard The Beginning; Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back; The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard; Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic; Two Sides of Ms. Swanson; Stories of Sunset Boulevard; Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden; Recording Sunset Boulevard; The City of Sunset Boulevard; Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard; Morgue Prologue Script Pages; Deleted Scene: The Paramount Don’t Want me Blues; Hollywood Location Map; Behind the Gates: The Lot; Edith Head: The Paramount Years; Paramount in the ‘50s; and a trailer.

Sunset Boulevard is available on blu-ray now from Paramount.






Michael Vaughn is a rabid horror and cult fan who turned that love into a career. He is a writer, blogger and film historian and now author of 'The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema' which Shock Wave Podcast named their pick of the month, and Chris Alexander of Fangoria called “recommended reading.”


His other credits include Scream Magazine, Fangoria and websites like Films in Review and Bloody Flicks(UK). Please follow his Twitter @StrangeCinema65 and Instagram @gorehound_mike.