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Sunset Boulevard (1950 movie)
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Sunset Boulevard (1950 movie)

Sunset Boulevard (also known as Sunset Blvd.) is a 1950 motion picture drama named for the famous street, Sunset Boulevard, in Los Angeles.

The movie tells the story of a down-on-his-luck screenwriter, Joe Gillis, who becomes entangled, and then infatuated, with a faded movie star of the silent era, Norma Desmond, who believes she can make a comeback. It stars William Holden and Gloria Swanson, with Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough and Jack Webb. There are cameo appearances by Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson and Hedda Hopper.

Holden plays Joe Gillis, who becomes the "kept man" of the aging star, played by Swanson, in her large mansion on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The opening scene reveals that Gillis has been killed. He nevertheless narrates the remainder of the movie and explains how his liaison with Desmond led to his murder.

The sharp and witty dialogue includes a handful of instantly recognizable lines, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." and "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup." There are also several obliquely self-referential comments on the movie itself that break through the fourth wall. (For example, at a New Year's Eve party, hepcat Arnie (Jack Webb) tells guests to watch how much punch they consume, remarking that the budget calls for only "three drinks per extra." In Swanson's closing scene, she refers to "all those people sitting out there in the dark.") Moreover, as noted above, it includes cameos by such Hollywood luminaries as Buster Keaton and Hedda Hopper, and Cecil B. DeMille makes an extended appearance as himself. And in one scene, Desmond watches herself in one of her early movies; the movie she is watching is one of Gloria Swanson's own silents, Queen Kelly, in which she was directed by Erich von Stroheim (who plays Desmond's butler/manservant, Max).

The humor is darkly cynical and its view of the seamy side of Hollywood presages such later works as David Lynch's Mulholland Dr, which includes more than a few references to this movie.

Sunset Boulevard was adapted for the screen by Charles Brackett, D. M. Marshman, Jr and Billy Wilder from the Brackett and Wilder story A Can of Beans, and was directed by Wilder.

It won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (William Holden), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Erich von Stroheim), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Gloria Swanson), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Nancy Olson), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.

The movie has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

External links

For the Broadway production see: Sunset Boulevard (musical).