Luke Thorne’s review published on Letterboxd:
Gloria Swanson plays a fading silent film star, with William Holden as her kept man, in Billy Wilder’s classic, Oscar-winning acerbic look at 1850s Hollywood.
The story concerns an aging, but very popular silent film star who refuses to believe that she is no longer a star on the screen. In order to make sure her popularity continues, she employs a young scriptwriter to help get her ready for her big film return.
The screenwriter believes he can operate her, but he soon finds out he is wrong. The screenwriter’s uncertainty about their relationship and her reluctance to let go leads to a state of violence, madness and death.
Gloria Swanson gives one of the best performances of her career playing the role of Norma Desmond, the silent movie star who believes she can make a return to the screen in a successful way. However, she is going to find it harder than what she thought it was going to be like.
She suits her role really well, acting like she wants to make a comeback and she definitely makes the most of the time she has on the screen. She also stands out in perhaps the most famous scene in the movie, where she delivers the famous line “I’m ready for my close-up” to Cecil B. DeMille (who plays himself).
William Holden gives one of his best performances in his role as Joe Gillis, the screenwriter whose plan to get Norma back on the screen goes badly wrong. His side of the story is told in flashback and he suits the role really well, acting like he is trying very hard to get Norma back, but it seems like anything he tries, it just doesn’t work. He doesn’t know what to do next.
There is a solid supporting performance to be had from Erich von Stroheim in his part as Max von Mayerling, Norma’s dedicated servant and he suits his part really well, while also providing an excellent supporting performance is Nancy Olson in her role as Betty, the script reader who does not like one of the scripts which Joe has written, but Joe begins to fall in love with her. She suits her role really well as the woman who knows the exact script that she wants to accept.
The direction from Wilder is excellent because he allows the facial expressions to be seen to a strong effect throughout, while the script is written to a decent standard by the director, Charles Brackett and D. M. Marshman Jr. as they make the movie really easy to follow.
The technical aspects that stand out best in glorious black-and-white are the set, camera, music and editing, because the set is brilliant to view at all times; the camera makes very good use of the locations, capturing the tense and dramatic moments well, which get the edge-of-the-seat status and this film also very cleverly keep you gripped more by the use of shadows in certain shots – anything could happen; the music is very enjoyable to listen to; the film is edited to an excellent standard.
The movie managed to win 3 Academy Awards: Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D. M. Marshman Jr.), Best Art Direction (Black-and-White) and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) and those awards were absolutely deserved.
The movie also deservedly won nominations for: Best Picture, Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Actor (William Holden), Best Actress (Gloria Swanson), Best Supporting Actor (Erich von Stroheim), Best Supporting Actress (Nancy Olson), Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) and Best Film Editing.
At the Golden Globes, the movie won the awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Actress – Drama (Gloria Swanson) and Best Original Score (Franz Waxman). Three of those four wins were deserved (I don’t consider this to be my personal favourite to have been released in this year), but I am glad that Gloria Swanson won something for her excellent performance, rather than absolutely nothing.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association also nominated the movie for: Best Supporting Actor (Enrich von Stroheim), Best Screenplay (Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D. M. Marshman Jr.) and Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) – it’s a shame the Golden Globes don’t to this category anywhere.
Overall, Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard is one of the director’s masterpieces – this works so well due to the excellent performances from William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Enrich von Stroheim and Nancy Olson, as well as Wilder’s brilliant direction and co-written script, along with the fantastic technical elements. A movie that deserves to have its classic status, it’s one of the best black-and-white movies to have been made in the year of this release.