February 1st, 2012: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Cast and Crew:  Charles Brackett (Co-Writer); Franz Waxman (Score); Erich Von Stroheim, Nancy Olsen, Jack Webb, Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Anna Q. Nilsson, H. B. Warner, Ray Evans, Buster Keaton

What It’s About: Joe Gillis (William Holden) tells the story of how he, a hack screenwriter on the run from his creditors, came to be silent film star Norman Desmond’s (Gloria Swanson) kept man in the decaying luxury of her enormous mansion on Sunset Boulevard.

Why Watch it Today?: Silent film director William Desmond Taylor, who provides one half of Norma Desmond’s name, was murdered today in 1922.  Taylor’s murder (connected to his lover Mabel Normand, the source of Norma’s first name and a popular comedic actress with a drug habit) was a serious scandal that the studios did their best to hush up.  Beyond the name, Sunset Boulevard‘s main connection to the scandal is its exploration of the faded glory of 1920s Hollywood and the wreckage left behind by the transition to the sound era.  If you look past Joe Gillis’s self-serving narration and see him (and the formulaic scripts he works on) for what he is, it is also a condemnation of  Golden Age Hollywood.  In either case, Sunset Boulevard is a wickedly funny black comedy/satire of Hollywood and fame in any era, as well as a highly influential Film Noir thriller from writer/director Billy Wilder that verges, at times, into Gothic horror.

Where to Get It: Netflix (rental only) or your local library.

Other Choices:  Tonight is Candlemas Eve; last year’s Movie of the Day, City of the Dead, aka Horror Hotel, is set on the holiday.

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