Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder can definitely shoot film noir. Double Indemnity is one of my favorites of the genre, and Sunset Boulevard was quite good too, especially for it's slightly different take on it. It's not about a hardened, streetwise detective solving a murder or something, it's just a down on his luck Hollywood writer who gets involved with an aging silent movie star trying to make a comeback in the world of talkies. As far as movies about the film industry itself go, it was one of the least annoyingly self massaging, although part of that might be I wasn't that familiar with the real people who made cameos (and Buster Keaton was too aged for me to recognize him on screen). But most of it is that it doesn't really sugarcoat Hollywood, in fact it makes some aspects of it seem pretty dire. Talented writers are forced to write schlock to get some money, and the second the public doesn't want you anymore you're pretty much done. It's a surprisingly effective backdrop for a story that begins with a body being discovered in a pool and then flashes back to show how we get there.

The movie mostly hinges on the performances of William Holden and Gloria Swanson. The former brings both a smarminess and a likability to the writer protagonist, and generally nails the noir narration, and the latter does very well as the aging actress, a role that was probably very close to home for her. A unique relationship develops between them as she basically forces him to become her companion with the promise that she'll pay him handsomely if he fixes up the screenplay for her comeback. Unfortunately for her ego, he ends up getting close to a younger woman while trying to get away from the mansion once in a while, and along with what's happening in her career, she becomes pretty mentally warped, heading towards an obvious breakdown. The ending is one of the most famous in cinema, and played brilliantly when it could have easily gone wrong. Just the right amount of creepy insanity. It was pretty much the last good thing Swanson did, but it was a hell of a way to go out.

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