Classic Cinema #41: Sunset Boulevard (1950) – By Jason S. Lockard

My Name is Jason Lockard and I love Classic Cinema…. As a filmmaker myself I enjoy watching how directors take the productions and shape them into their vision. Where most people sit and enjoy the film I analyze them much to the dismay of people who watch films with me! Well this month I am going to uncover a gem of a film from one of the great directors from yesteryear; Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

Billy Wilder was born on June 22, 1906 entered the arts in his twenties becoming a screenwriter while living in Berlin. When the Nazi Party rose to power, Wilder, of Jewish decent, left for Paris. There he made his directorial debut. Than in 1933 he moved to Hollywood. Just a short six years later he would co-write the screenplay to the screwball comedy Ninotchka for which he would receive his first Academy award nomination. In another six years in 1942 he would release his first Hollywood directed film The Major and the Minor.

Billy Wilder’s directing style was his belief that the screenplay was key. He avoided the cinematography of Hitchcock and Wells because he felt "shots that called attention to themselves would distract the audience from the story." I guess you can’t dispute success though. Billy Wilder directed some of the greatest films in cinema history including, 1944’s Double Indemnity, 1945’s The Lost Weekend, 1953’s Stalag 17, 1957’s Witness for the Prosecution, 1959s Some Like It Hot and 1960s The Apartment, just to name a few. In 1950 Billy Wilder directed one of my favorite films Sunset Boulevard.

Sunset Boulevard is a classic film noir. The film opens with the camera tracking down Sunset Boulevard as police cars begin racing down it. The lifeless body of Joe Gillis floats in the swimming pool of a palatial mansion. As the police begin converging on the house Joe’s voice narrates, in flashback style, the events leading up to his own murder.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) was an unsuccessful screenwriter who fleeing from repossession men in his car, one of Joe’s tires blows out in front of a large and seemingly deserted mansion on Sunset Blvd. Hiding the car in the garage, he is called inside by an older woman. When Joe sees her he realizes he is in the presence of the long-forgotten silent-film star Norma Desmond played spectacularly by Gloria Swanson. When she learns that he is a writer, she asks for his opinion on a script she has written for a film about Salome that she hopes will revive her faded acting career. Joe flatters his way into a job as editor. Than the downward spiral into crazy obsession starts. So does Joe help Norma Desmond become a star again? How does Joe end up face down in the pool? All these answers are available when you watch Sunset Boulevard.

In 1968 Billy Wilder was given the AFI Life Achievement Award. In 1988, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. In 1993, the National Medal of Arts. On March 27th, 2002 at the age of 95 after battling cancer, Billy Wilder died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California. Wilder died the same day as two other comedy legends: Milton Berle and Dudley Moore.

So this month marks the eleven year anniversary of the death of the great Billy Wilder. Well, this month I say celebrate Billy Wilder’s great career by watching Sunset Boulevard or one of his other great films, you won’t be disappointed! So until next month this is Jason Lockard reminding you if you want to see a good film Check out a classic!

Moral Rating: Mild Violence and Murder
Audience: Parental Guidance
Genre: Film Noir
Length: 110 Minutes
Released: 1950
Our Rating: A