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Sunset Boulevard

USA 1950. Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Jack Webb

A mordant, macabre film noir that really ups the ante on the genre’s doom-laden determinism and fatalism — the movie is narrated by a corpse! — Sunset Boulevard was the final collaboration between Billy Wilder and long-time writing partner and producer Charles Brackett, and their second film together to win a screenwriting Oscar (The Lost Weekend was the first). The famed opening of this acid account of Hollywood decadence has a dead man floating face down in a swimming pool. William Holden's off-screen voice identifies itself as that of the deceased, and proceeds to relate the sordid events that led to his demise. Holden is Joe Gillis, a down-at-heels Hollywood screenwriter. Fleeing the repo men after his car, he takes a wrong turn into the run-down estate of Hollywood has-been Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), an aging, embittered former silent star living entombed in a mausoleum-like mansion. With nothing better on the go, spineless Joe allows himself to become a kept man in Norma's smothering clutches, and is soon in way, way over his head. Erich von Stroheim co-stars as Norma's devoted butler Max; Buster Keaton, Hedda Hopper, and Cecil B. DeMille have cameos. Wilder’s classic is noir at its most brittle, bizarre, and baroque — and “certainly the blackest of all Hollywood's scab-scratching accounts of itself" (Geoff Andrew, Time Out). B&W, 35mm. 111 mins.



"Remains the best drama ever made about the movies because it sees through the illusions, even if Norma doesn't."

Roger Ebert | full review

"One of Wilder's finest... The performances are suitably sordid, the direction precise, the camerawork appropriately noir, and the memorably sour script sounds bitter-sweet echoes of the Golden Age of Tinseltown."

Time Out London | full review

"Sunset Boulevard is that rare blend of pungent writing, expert acting, masterly direction and unobtrusively artistic photography which quickly casts a spell over an audience and holds it enthralled to a shattering climax."

New York Times | full review

Donald Brackett, curator of this film series and author of the forthcoming Strange Magic: The Films of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, will introduce the opening night program of Ninotchka and Sunset Boulevard on Thursday, May 23.