Devon Ewalt’s review published on Letterboxd:
From the iconic opening shot to the frightening final scene, this has truly withstood the test of time, serving as a sure-footed, sharp analysis of the concessions people make to worship (and be worshipped) at Hollywood’s altar, and the lives of its former stars as they fade from relevance.
Wilder spared no detail in ensuring this would be an accurate depiction, as its star Gloria Swanson actually lived through the circumstances her character finds herself in, complete with Erich von Stroheim’s casting as her former husband and director-turned-butler/personal assistant.
The screenplay is pure gold, with brilliant lines aplenty, and even allowing a romance to spring up amidst the obvious insanity like weeds in the cracked spaces of sidewalk, between Holden and Olson, where we can temporarily forget what is going on in that house of horrors where we know Holden will eventually return — “that peculiar prison of mine” as he calls it. (But even the innocence of this is tainted by the fact that the woman Joe is falling for is his friend’s fiancée). What’s brilliant about the writing is that the desperate set of circumstances Wilder & Brackett have given Holden’s character is what logically supports the idea that he feels like he can’t leave the bizarre situation he’s found himself in.
The fact that we know how the story will end from the beginning makes it even more tragic, as Joe’s corpse floating in a pool provides the opening narration. (The original opening was set in a morgue where Joe’s voiceover started to tell his story to a roomful of corpses, but Wilder wisely changed it to the poolside shot after audiences at initial screenings didn’t know whether to laugh or take it seriously). American Beauty clearly lifted the opening for Lester Burnham’s voice-over narration at the start of that film, and there are some parallels to find in the biology of Blue Velvet’s plot structure and character relationships as well.
Thinking about Wilder’s influence on Lynch got me thinking about Bunuel’s influence on Lynch, which got me thinking about Bunuel’s possible influence on Wilder. Then thinking about Lost Weekend, and certain aspects of Sunset Blvd (the monkey funeral, for instance) makes me believe there is a good possibility of that.
Everything just works so well together in all technical aspects (Franz Waxman apparently created distorted versions of popular film scores from the 20’s and 30’s to outline the disarray of Norma’s mental state), and it seems that Wilder deliberately involved certain people that got their start during the silent era (especially the art direction and set design) to give the film an authentic feel when creating Norma’s Mausoleum of Memories.
A truly special film that is a testament to Wilder’s legacy as one of the greatest filmmakers and screenwriters of all time.