DBC’s review published on Letterboxd:
A Year of Film History Challenge
(watching a little bit of film history month by month, decade by decade)
Well let's get down to it---there's a presence that looms so large over Sunset Boulevard that it hardly makes sense to start the review talking about anything else: Gloria Swanson as old Hollywood royalty-turned-recluse Norma Desmond. And that's completely by design. Norma Desmond has to loom large.
What Swanson did in her performance was utterly unique and extremely powerful for 1950...powerful today too, but this was a first. As a star of the Silent Era herself she takes decades of hard-earned experience and Hollywood fame and uses a script filled with brilliant dialogue to create this character of Norma Desmond, who feels real... a real legend---powerful, sad, grand, awkward, and a poor personal boundaries type of selfish self-destructiveness that's quite dangerous to all who get too close.
That Swanson outshines everyone in this film is no small comment, as the casting is impressive (William Holden, Erich von Stroheim, Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille, to name a few) but our lead goes above and beyond everything director Billy Wilder surrounds her with, trying to step out of the screen and into our world and nearly succeeding. She's so close the audience can feel it, getting us caught up in the crashing sensation of her dark tragedy, which is really the tragedy of a studio system that still undervalues the dramatic contributions of older women. I was certainly caught up in it, and finished the film awed by how Gloria Swanson truly gave something of an all-time great performance.