Sunset Boulevard ★★★★½

The bleak story of Sunset Boulevard still holds as much relevance today as it did 63 years ago, a reminder that the teeth of the star making machine were just as savage a long time before MTV changed the world.

It plays out like a Grimm Fairy Tale of stardom, complete with a withering old queen using her fading powers to grab onto a crumbling empire. Gloria Swanson's operatic performance as ex-silent movie star Norma Desmond gives us a woman to pity and despise in equal measure. She swans around her empty mansion assisted by her ever loyal servant Max, who himself has a much more complicated story that ties him to Desmond until the end.

Yet William Holden's more relaxed and natural performance is just as important to this not overspilling into an over dramatic stage play. He provides a counter balance to Swanson's larger than life character helping us to understand the more manipulative side of Desmond. At times it feels like he is trapped in some sort of surreal nightmare slowly falling under her spell living in a museum locked away from the rest of the world.

It is easy to see why this won an Oscar for Best Set Design as the house feels like an embodiment of Desmond herself. Seeing it now only increases the gothic feel of her surroundings which has all played a part in the deterioration of her mental health. Even the use of Norma's car, the Italian Isotta Fraschini, is a magnificent work of art in its own right, every part upholstered with care.

What gives the whole story an extra chill of course is the casting of real silent movie stars and directors, either playing themselves or roles. Swanson herself was a huge silent movie star before the arrival of sound and her servant Max had directed her too, much like his character. Buster Keaton also makes a blink and you'll miss it appearance, playing cards with other old silent film stars in Desmond's mansion.

As Norma Desmond descended past her adoring public, gliding through the photographers, journalist and rolling camera's, a chill ran down my spine. You want to pity this deluded woman despite her actions, as she exits her reclusive cage onto the biggest stage of her life, completely unaware of the descent to come.

Steven liked these reviews