Owen Hughes’s review published on Letterboxd:
I would mostly associate Billy Wilder with comedy films such as Some Like It Hot or The Apartment, even despite seeing Double Indemnity, I still was expecting a larger proportion of humour to "other" in this film.
But this is not a comedy, more of a strange concoction of mystery thriller and tragic love story, the perfect combination for the foundations of a film noir!
The opening scene is a shot of a swimming pool with a man floating in it, then the narration starts which reveals the man in the pool is about to recount his tale of how he ended up in this situation.
That man is in fact William Holden's unsuccessful screenwriter, Joe Gillis. He meets Norma, played fantastically by Gloria Swanson who is an old classical silent movie star when, whilst on the run, he pulls up at her huge old house on Sunset Boulevard in his car thinking that it's abandoned, but as it transpires, it's actually still occupied.
Both Holdon and Swanson are brilliant in this, but Gloria Swanson absolutely dominates the screen when they're together. Her introduction with the infamous dead chimp scene is very weird but really sets up her character as this slightly crazy and ageing screen star. But she steals the show.
The film is packed with lots of references to other films that I imagine most went straight over my head seeing as I'm not entirely au fait with pre-1950s cinema, but there's lots to pick up on. Few cameos too; Buster Keaton for example is in there. It seemed like a heart-felt nod to all that went before it; like Wilder appreciated cinema of old and this was his ode to it in many ways.
Overall, it's very interesting, kept me entertained throughout, great characters and acting, and some great scenes which I won't go into for fear of spoiling it. Well worth a watch!