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Sunset Boulevard

Sensational...Daring...Unforgettable...Sunset Blvd. 

Year: 1950 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 (Academy) 
Certificate: BBFC PG Cert – Parental guidance 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Billy Wilder 
Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim  
An image from Sunset Boulevard

A forgotten movie star, a washed up writer, and a body floating face down in the swimming pool; welcome to Sunset Boulevard. The film tells the story of Joe Gillis (Holden), a struggling screenplay writer who, by chance, meets Norma Desmond (Swanson), a once famous silent film actress. Norma Desmond wants him to write a script for her big comeback. In doing so, Gillis gradually gets drawn deeper into her deluded world of obsession with her former glories; leading him ever closer to his ultimate fate.

Sunset Boulevard was one of the first films where Hollywood looked back on itself with a critical eye. Instead of the glitz and glamour we are shown the broken dreams of people who never quite make it and the empty lives of those who fall from stardom. Winner of 3 Oscars in 1950 (and nominated for a further 8) it is still relevant today and remains one of the iconic noir films of the era.

The casting of the film adds a further poignancy. Gloria Swanson was herself a silent film star who had failed to make the transition to speaking pictures. Likewise, many of the other roles were filled with people whose lives mirrored that of their characters, such as Erich von Stroheim as Max, a former film director; and Cecil B. DeMille as a senior figure at the studio. Even Buster Keaton appears for a short scene as another actor whose star has fallen.

Sunset Boulevard is one the greatest films of its era with an iconic opening scene and an unforgettable performance from Gloria Swanson. Its exposure of the darker side of Hollywood is still poignant today and is definitely worth seeing as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen.

George Marshall

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Screenings of this film:

2011/2012 Spring Term (35mm)