jackransom97’s review published on Letterboxd:
Continuing my way through the classic films of the 30/40/50's. 'Sunset Boulevard' had been on my list for a while for movies of this era so I was interested to see what this was like.
'Sunset Boulevard' follows Joe Gillis (William Holden), an unsuccessful screenwriter who meets Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) a faded silent movie star who draws him into her potentially dangerous fantasy world where she dreams of her making a triumphant return to the big screen.
'Sunset Boulevard' isn't what I expected it to be like. Its much more darker, tense and Gothic in its story presentation. It is also very much a film noir with its narration from the character of Gillis, which adds to the atmosphere and paints even more of a detailed picture of the proceedings. The film really nails atmosphere, the set design and locations really are excellent. I like how the film incorporated real life past actors of the silent era and the 'Mr DeMille' of the iconic line is a real life director, it helps the film achieve a real life and almost documentary type aura to the story. The design of Desmond's mansion and the cinematography and direction when inside and around it really is impressive. It's a a sprawling relic of the past from the outside and on the inside it features masses of rooms filled with expensive items and tributes to its owner. It's exactly the type of place you would expect a character like Norma Desmond to live in and it is a character of the movie in itself.
Speaking of characters the performances here of the two leads are excellent. The highlight is Gloria Swanson though. It's probably the best performances of this era of the films I have watched and understandably one of the most iconic performances of all time. She is very intense and unpredictable in the role, with the character's self-harming and addictive personality and also a very tragic and sympathetic character who can't move on from the past. At times it is scary at how delusional Desmond has become. The final iconic shot of her wide-eyed and staring blankly like in a trance as the camera flashes blind our screen. A brilliant performance.
William Holden is also very good as the audience perspective of Gillis. With his character trying to appease Desmond and also try and focus on his own life the more he comes wrapped up in her world. Also the main supporting character Max (Erich Von Stroheim) her butler who could easily have been pulled from any classic Hammer/Universal horror film. His deadpan barely emoting stern delivery and dedication to Desmond becomes stranger and stranger as more is revealed along the way.
The film may have some slower moments and I wasn't as invested in the other side character plot involving Nancy Olson's character (Betty Schaefer) as some people may have been. However that's not to say its bad at all.
'Sunset Boulevard' is a classic and after watching it I can say that I agree with that statement. It blends mystery, drama, comedy and crime to create a very unique story which is just as relatable today in our current social media and celebrity obsession filled age, with people craving fame and trying to stay as relevant as possible.