Disillusioned screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) hides in an apparently abandoned mansion on Sunset Boulevard while being chased by repo men. While he wonders around, he discovers the owner: forgotten silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). When she finds out that Joe is a writer, she convinces him to help her with a comeback script that she’s been working on for years. Joe realizes that the script is hopeless, but he needs the money and he has nowhere else to go. Soon Joe finds himself wrapped up in Norma Desmond’s world.
Gloria Swanson - Norma Desmond
William Holden - Joe Gillis
Erich von Stroheim - Max von Mayerling
Nancy Olsen - Betty Schaefer
Jack Webb - Artie Green
Fred Clark - Sheldrake
Lloyd Gough - Morino
The original trailer:
- Sunset Boulevard is written and directed by Billy Wilder. While living in Los Angeles he often passed grand Hollywood mansions where many former stars from the silent era still lived. He started wondering how they spent their time now that their fame had faded and came up with the story for Sunset Boulevard.
- Montgomery Clift was signed to play Joe Gilles, but dropped out at the last minute. According to reports because he did not want to play a young man involved with an older woman.
- Gloria Swanson resembled Norma Desmond. She had been a popular actress in the silent-screen era as well, and had not been able to make a smooth transition into talking pictures either. She had lived on Sunset Boulevard for many years and it is said that at the peak of her career she received 10,000 fan letters a week. But unlike Norma Desmond, Swanson accepted the end of her film career and started working in radio, television and theater.
- Gloria Swanson almost rejected the part, because she did not want to do a screen-test saying she had “made twenty films for Paramount. Why do they want me to audition?”
- Billy Wilder wanted to make the film as authentic as possible. Famous columnist Hedda Hopper plays herself and Norma’s friends who play bridge with her are Gloria Swanson’s old colleagues. Erich Von Stroheim, who plays the butler, was a leading director in the silent era. Director Cecil B. DeMille plays himself and was actually responsible for a big part of Gloria Swanson’s career. A lot of the locations were authentic as well, for instance: the scenes of Joe and Betty on Paramount’s backlot were actually filmed there, and the interior of Schwab’s Drug Store was carefully recreated for several scenes. Over one hundred early photographs of Swanson at the height of her career are also seen around Norma Desmond’s house.
- Billy Wilder did not want the industry to know what the movie was about, so he created the fictitious title ‘A Can of Beans’. He and his co-writer Charles Brackett also delivered the script a few pages at a time to Paramount instead of the whole script at once.
- Greta Garbo was asked to play Norma Desmond but immediately declined. She did give them permission to use her name in the film, but later regretted it because she felt it depicted her as a star of the past.
- In the years following the release of Sunset Boulevard Gloria Swanson worked on a musical adaption, but Paramount asked her to cease the project. In the early sixties Stephen Sondheim worked on a musical version as well and asked Billy Wilder what he thought about it at a party. ‘You can’t write a musical about Sunset Boulevard, it has to be an opera. After all, it’s about a dethroned queen’, Wilder responded. Sondheim immediately stopped the project. It was in the nineties that Andrew Lloyd Webber actually made the film into a musical.
- At a gala screening on the Paramount lot, MGM head Louis B Mayer voiced the disgust of many Hollywood insiders: ‘You bastard!’ he shouted at Wilder. ‘You have disgraced the industry that made you and fed you. You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood.’ Wilder’s response? ’F*** you!’
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White – John F. Seitz – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture – Franz Waxman- 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M Marshman Jr. – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Motion Picture-Drama – Sunset Boulevard – 1951 Golden Globes
Best Motion Picture Actress-Drama – Gloria Swanson – 1951 Golden Globes
Best Motion Picture Director – Billy Wilder – 1951 Golden Globes
Best Motion Picture Score – Franz Waxman – 1951 Golden Globes
Best Actress-Drama – Gloria Swanson – 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Picture – Sunset Boulevard – 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Director – Billy Wilder – 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Original Score – Franz Waxman – 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Picture – Sunset Boulevard – 1950 National Board of Review
Best Actress – Gloria Swanson – 1950 National Board of Review
Best Actor – William Holden – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Erich von Stroheim – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Actress – Gloria Swanson – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Nancy Olsen – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White – John F. Seitz – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Director – Billy Wilder – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Film Editing – Doane Harrison and Arthur P. Schmidt – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Picture – Sunset Boulevard – 1951 Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
Best Cinematography-Black and White – John F. Seitz – 1950 Golden Globes
Best Screenplay – Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M Marshman Jr. – 1950 Golden Globes
Best Supporting Actor – Erich von Stroheim – 1950 Golden Globes
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Erich von Stroheim – 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Screenplay – Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M Marshman Jr. – 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Cinematography-Black and White – John F. Seitz – 1950 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Director – Billy Wilder – Directors Guild of America
Sunset Boulevard is a classic and still very relevant when it comes to its depiction of Hollywood. This was the first film ever to show Hollywood from the inside. Although today cynicism is often expressed about ‘Tinseltown’, this was very new in the 1950’s when irony-free comedies and musicals reigned. Hollywood did everything to keep up its façade of glamour and perfection, thus explaining the outrage of some of the people in the industry when Sunset Boulevard premiered. It is an accomplishment in itself that Billy Wilder en co-writer Richard Brackett got Sunset Boulevard through the censors at the time, as it was quite risqué that an older woman was portrayed buying a younger man’s affection.
The story of a has-been star who is lost in her dreams of former glory hasn’t lost its relevance or its appeal. Deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ by the U.S. Library of Congress in 1989, Sunset Boulevard was included in the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry . A number of quotes from the film is legendary, such as ‘All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up’ and ‘I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!’.