Friday, May 15, 2015

National Classic Movie Day: Can't Get Enough of "Sunset Boulevard"

This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon hosted by Rick at the Classic Film and TC Cafe in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th). Click here to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon. 


When Rick asked that we write about our favorite film I immediately selected "Sunset Boulevard" and then almost immediately regretted my choice. I have written endlessly about the film, expressing my love for it and mostly having fun with the beyond-fabulous character of the great Norma Desmond.

So, rather than go over all that again, let me just give the top 10 reasons why "Sunset Boulevard" tops them all for me.

1.Norma Desmond


One of the greatest - if not the greatest - film characters of all time. And like all great characters, she is as deep as the ocean. In my ignorant youth I saw her as a cartoon, a pathetic and washed up relic. Now (washed up relic that I am) I view her with compassion. She is 50 and she is viewed as repulsive. But she is not repulsive at all! She is alive, she is vibrant, she is the cougar supreme. She wears leopard whenever possible (even poolside) and has a cigarette holder that looks like it was robbed from Valentino's night table. She is a star and she knows how a star should look and act. She loved her movie career and treats it with reverence. What's not to love?

2. It's a movie about movies


Billy Wilder seems to be poking fun at the silent age, but he can't hide his affection and admiration for it. Those wonderful Paramount gates, the extras and behind-the-camera folks who gather to Norma's side, Jonsey, the security guard; all reaffirm the lingering stardust that was still visible long after the parade had passed.

3. It has my favorite line from a movie: "If you need any help with the coffin, call me."


In a film full of great lines, this is my favorite, I don't know why, but it makes me laugh every time.

4. It has a funeral for a dead monkey


It is not often that you see a funeral for a dead chimp. One thing we never learn: did Norma select pink or red satin for the lining of the coffin? I'm voting for hot pink. Or leopard.

5. Jack Webb asks William Holden if he got his tux from Adolphe Menjou


Not only is Adolphe Menjou referenced, but so are John Gilbert, Mable Normand, Valentino and even Marie Prevost. I'm impressed that Joe Gillis even knows their names (I guess he really did love movies back behind that copy desk in Dayton) and it makes my heart happy to hear their names spoken out loud. Which brings me to....

6. The Waxworks


It is so wonderful to see Buster Keaton looking so adorable, not to mention H.B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson. Billy Wilder was genius to include them. I wonder how many people in the theater in 1950 felt the joy (and slight pang) one feels when a long lost friend appears. The movies may talk, but the glamour of the silents had not completed faded for Wilder or the audience.

7. The Isotta Fraschini



"We have a car. Not one of those cheap things made of chromium and spit, but an Isotta Fraschini. Have you ever heard of an Isotta Fraschini? All hand made. It cost me $28,000."

According to Wikipedia: $28,000 would be $384,566 in 2015. The car had a phone in the car and the seats were covered in leopard. This car is on display at the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile in Italy. Norma Desmond's initials are on the rear doors of the car.

8. William Holden wears a swim suit.


Need I say more?

9. Erich Von Stroheim


The Man You Love to Hate playing a man who used to be director. Talk about blurred lines. I imagine Von Stroheim's office walls were covered in black patent leather, just like Max's. Von's Max is a masterful performance - a slave to love...twisted, mad, movie-mad love. Brilliant.

10. Gloria Swanson


Without Madame there is no film. When Max proclaims Norma as the greatest star of them all, he might as well have been talking about Gloria Swanson. Her storied career, her colorful life on and off camera, her grand manner -  all added depth and truth to her compassionate rendering of Norma. Her performance is towering and utterly fearless and impossible to forget.

I wrote this entry with the assumption that you have seen this film. If not, you owe it to yourself. It is one of the very best.


28 comments:

ClassicBecky said...

Chick, I've read many articles about Sunset, yours included of course, but you still manage to do something fresh and fun. I loved your list and the descriptions of each. Oh that car! Holden in a bathing suit! Von Stroheim! And Norma/Gloria ... I agree that Gloria's Norma is the epitome of stardom and never dims with time. Great job!

Inge Gregusch said...

Fabulous choice. The film deserves a higher AFI rating than number 10, but...what can one do? You've done it again--taken a fresh look at this masterpiece. As I said elsewhere, you should be listed in the credits!

Rick29 said...

Delightful post and, you know, I can't find fault with any of your reasons. (Well, William Holden in a bathing suit doesn't do anything for me...but I know my Mom enjoyed that part.) I think SUNSET BLVD is one of the most beloved films among classic movie fans and you've concisely explained why. Well done! (And thanks so much for participating in this blogathon and promoting National Classic Movie Day.)

Silver Screenings said...

Hear hear! I agree completely with every item on your list.

You know, I'm glad you've written about Sunset Boulevard so much. Pretty soon you can proudly claim Global Expert status in this area.

Caftan Woman said...

Number 8 could have been number 1, but I won't quibble.

A couple of years ago my daughter and I saw "Sunset Boulevard" at the theatre and overheard a most presumptuous young man telling his companions that Gloria Swanson was only "playing herself". My kid pulled me back from lighting into the fellow. She's right. There's no talking with some people.

Ah, number 8.

Christian Esquevin said...

Well fellow Sunset Boulevardier, I loved your 10 reasons. When I'm asked what's my favorite film, I say Casablanca, mainly because it is one of my favorites and I don't have to think about it. But it could be Sunset Blvd just as well. I had the same reaction you had when I first saw it - creepy. The house interior actually reminded me of some of my parent's better-off/older generation friends in LA. Thanks for sticking with this classic for National Classic Movie Day.

Gilby37 said...

You have such a great insight into the little things that make Sunset Blvd a special experience for the classic movie lover. It is a movie that comments on an industry built on the talent of silent film actors who were then tossed aside. The waxworks card game is a wonderful commentary on what happened to the giants of the silent era.

Amanda Garrett said...

It wouldn't be National Classic Movie Day without Sunset Boulevard. It's one of the greatest of American movies and deserves its place among the top films of all time. I've always suspected it doesn't score quite as high as it should in those movie ranking polls because it has an older female lead.

FlickChick said...

Hi Becky - thanks so very much. This film just fills my heart every time.

FlickChick said...

Aw, thanks, Inge, but this film has so many layers, you could sit and peel them away for decades (which, for me, makes it so much fun).

FlickChick said...

Okay, Rick, I'll give you a pass on Bill in the swim suit. Thanks for hosting this awesome blogathon - a great job!

FlickChick said...

Hey, Ruth - I'm afraid I might not be an expert, but what they call a super fan.

FlickChick said...

CW - I know - I kind of lingered over # 8 myself......

And really, you should have knocked that philistine right on his keester.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Christina. I love being a fellow boulevardier (although it kind of makes me feel like Maurice Chevalier). Favorite is a tough word, as it always depends on your mood and where you are in life, but I think I will always be in the moos for Norma, Max and that Sunset mansion.

FlickChick said...

Gilby - you hit the nail o the head. It is infuriating how they were tossed aside. I think that is a chief reason why adore this film - Wilder makes sure they are NOT forgotten.

FlickChick said...

Amanda - you may be right. I mean really, "Sunset Boulevard" vs. "Pretty Woman"? What are we thinking?

John said...

I have been making my way through many of the blogathon postings and Billy Wilder seems to be in the lead for director with the most films in this race. Along with you fun post, I have come across Ace in the Hole, The Major and the Minor and my own post on Some Like it Hot. Sunset was Billy's dark "love letter" to the film industry. You highlight so many things that are great about this film. One of my top Wilder's.

FlickChick said...

Hi John - I know! This really is turning into a Billy Wilder love letter-a-thon. Clearly, he has won our hearts.

Vivien Leigh said...

Great post! Sunset Boulevard is such a phenomenal movie! Norma Desmond is most certainly one of the greatest cinematic characters and I can't imagine anyone else besides Gloria Swanson in that role. And William Holden shirtless is always a good thing :)

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Vivien. It's hard to believe that Gloria was not Wilder's first choice, but just goes to show you thinks always work out for the best.

said...

I never wrote about Sunset Boulevard, and almost did so for the blogathon. But you had already signed for it, and I don't think I could have done any better. It is a beautiful post about the movie I consider to be the greatest of all time. And it would be even without dead chimps!
Kisses!

FlickChick said...

Le - you are right - it would be great even without the chimp. But, he does add a little something extra, don't you think?

theblondeatthefilm.com said...

I'm loving these "why I love this movie" posts! So interesting to learn what draws different people to different films. I really enjoyed this post, especially the part about how it's a "movie about movies" full of both nostalgia and near-revulsion. It's so much fun to catch the references, and you do feel that pang for the stars who came before! But it's also delightful if you know nothing about old Hollywood. It's a great one, and thanks for this fun read!

girlsdofilm said...

You know you've seen a movie too many times when you find yourself pondering a character's choice of coffin lining for a chimpanzee (that's not a criticism, it's crossed my mind too!)
Perfect choice for the blogathon, and I loved reading your breakdown of this classic - despite my chronic indecision it would certainly make my top 10 :)

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Blonde! you hit on one of the things that makes this film so great - whether you know the back stories or not, it works. There are just layers and layers of greatness.

FlickChick said...

Ha ha - Girls - I DO worry about that coffin lining! Somebody has to.

Martin Turnbull said...

Totally agree on all points! Plus - that's an amazing poster at the top of your post. I've never seen that one before. The graphic artist took a whole different approach and it works, IMO.

FlickChick said...

Martin! SO wonderful to hear from you - and you are so busy! I am honored. Isn't that poster amazing? I was so happy to find it. The more famous ones are so familiar - and this was so different and beautiful. Thank you for noticing!