𝐏𝐚𝐨𝐥𝐨 𝐌𝐚𝐜𝐆𝐮𝐟𝐟𝐢𝐧’s review published on Letterboxd:
The most famous incipit in the history of cinema immediately introduces the disturbing atmosphere of this masterpiece by Billy Wilder: a corpse floats in the swimming pool of a Hollywood villa, while the police and journalists rush to the crime scene. The voiceover is that of the protagonist, a perfect William Holden, who traces the events that led to his own murder. Joe Gillis is a penniless young screenwriter who happens to be in the decadent villa of a silent movies star. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson in a state of bliss), now forgotten by everyone, lives only on memories of when she was a great diva. Her faithful butler Max (Eric Von Stroheim), who turns out to be one of her ancient directors and her first husband, lives with her. Joe agrees to write for Norma the script for a new film, which she - unable to accept having been put aside - imagines as her great rentrée.
The voiceover in Sunset Boulevard is more than a narrative expedient: it is above all a "ghostly voice", just as the villa, its inhabitants and the film they are preparing are ghostly. In this sense also works the famous shot of the murdered body, floating on the surface of the water, seen from below. Far from being an exercise in style, it is rather the assumption of a "metaphysical" point of view, that is subtracted from the possible identifications with the subjective looks of policemen, journalists, etc., so as to give the impression that it is Gillis to look at himself murdered, from the same dimension from which his voice comes. The film is places at the crossroads between noir and gothic because of its macabre atmosphere, which Wilder - well supported in this by Stroheim - underlines in every passage. The idea of making the ex-husband of the diva write fake letters from admirers, to leave her the illusion of still being loved, belongs to Stroheim. Always from him the suggestion to shoot a sequence in which he is seen washing Norma's panties, to emphasize a relationship of total enslavement, but Wilder refuses because he fears trouble with censorship. Sunset Boulevard mixes reality and fiction in a distressing way: Swanson was indeed an actress who has now fallen into oblivion and Stroheim had actually directed her in the film shown in the villa. Everything concerns cinema specifically: the speeches of screenplays, the life of the studios, even the legendary Paramount entrance gate. These aspects make Wilder's film a merciless denunciation of the mechanisms of the star system, and the most cynical portrait of the Hollywood reality. For this reason, its release took place amidst controversy. Louis B. Mayer openly accused the director: "You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you! You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!".