Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950) is one of the biggest and most luscious of film noirs, set in Hollywood among the decaying splendor of days gone by. It's a cynical celebration of the grand old days of movies, as well as an implication that they may not have been so grand after all. It was one of the first movies to take on filmmaking as anything other than a novelty or a profession (Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels was arguably the first.) The movie deals with some unsettlingly dark material, but Wilder treats it with just the right hint of black humor, but also lightens it up with images of "normal life," i.e. scenes with a pretty girl (Nancy Olson). It's an enduringly popular movie, and fairly easy to see at revival houses. Paramount released it on DVD in 2002 and again in 2008.
What It's About
Joe Gillis (William Holden) begins narrating his tragic tale while floating dead and face down in a Hollywood swimming pool. As a workaday screenwriter, he tries to avoid some bill collectors by pulling into the driveway of a dilapidated mansion. There he finds faded silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) still holding court. She draws him in, hiring him to write her big "comeback" script, Salome. He becomes her "kept boy," enjoying the money, but also having to endure her grotesque attempts at seduction. Her world is a stately and bizarre place, with her wheezy organ, her dead chimpanzee and her Austrian butler. He has some contacts with the outside world, but Joe may be in too deep to ever reach the outside world ever again.