Sunset Boulevard Blu-ray Review
“All right, Mr. Demille…I’m ready for my close up.”
Even the most casual of movie fan is familiar with this classic quote, even if they’re not sure which film it came from. The film is SUNSET BOULEVARD and its arrival on Blu-ray is a most welcome present for this holiday season.
The film tells the tale of B-writer Joe Gillis (Holden), a former Dayton, Ohio newspaper man trying to make a living in Hollywood. Currently he’s not doing well, having taken to parking his car away from his apartment to stay one jump ahead of the repo men. As fate would have it they spot him on the road and give chase. With a slight lead he turns into the driveway of an old mansion on Sunset Boulevard. Thinking it vacant he puts his car in the garage. However the house is not vacant. It is owned by one time film star Norma Desmond (Swanson). Mistaking Joe for someone else she invites him in. Joe recognizes Norma, telling her “you used to be big.” “I AM BIG,” Desmond replies. “It’s the pictures that got small.” Learning Joe is a writer Desmond shows him a script she has written for herself, a version of the tale of “Salome’.” She insists Joe stay and help her fine tune her manuscript. As his car has a flat, and with no other prospects on the horizon, Joe agrees. Max (von Stroheim), Desmond’s dutiful servant, retrieves Joe’s items from his apartment and moves him in. And the story begins.
One of the greatest films ever made about the inner workings of Hollywood, SUNSET BOULEVARD is also one of the greatest films of the 1950s. Nominated for eleven Academy Awards and winner of three, the film is as entertaining today as it was six decades ago. This was the film that really launched Holden’s career, leading to such films as BORN YESTERDAY, SABRINA and STALAG 17, for which he won the Oscar as Best Actor. I had the great opportunity last year to interview Holden’s step-daughter, Virginia and she stated that Holden was very wary of taking the part. Thankfully he made the right decision. Swanson, who was in fact a silent screen star, had only done one film in sixteen years when she was cast here. Erich von Stroheim, himself an acclaimed director who had actually directed Swanson in 1929’s QUEEN KELLY, is perfectly cast as Max. There is also great supporting work by a young Jack Webb, as one of Joe’s writing buddies, and Nancy Olson, who plays the young girl Joe meets and falls in love with behind Norma’s back. To say the acting is top notch is an understatement, as Holden, Swanson, von Stroheim and Olson were nominated for acting Oscars. Highlighting the film technically is the brilliant production design and art decoration, especially in creating the interior of Desmond’s mansion. Franz Waxman’s score helps further the story, providing almost another voice in the film. No wonder that, along with the screenplay, that the art direction and musical score received Oscars.
Video: Incredible! The black and white images jump off the screen as if you had just walked into the movie theatre on opening day. The presentation is big and bright and is presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
Audio: The English soundtrack is presented in a sharp and clear Mono Dolby True HD process, with Mono Dolby Digital provided for the French, Spanish and Portuguese tracks.
This is why Blu-rays were invented. SUNSET BOULEVARD contains almost three hours of extras that will make any film junkie rub their hands together in glee.
Audio Commentary: Ed Sikov, author of the book “On ‘Sunset Boulevard’: The Life and times of Billy Wilder” gives a very interesting and in depth commentary covering all aspects of the production, beginning with a script read of the film’s original planned opening.
Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning (22:47): A special featuring actress Stefanie Powers (Holden’s last girlfriend), director Nicholas Meyer, Producer A.C. Lyles, Ed Sikov (mentioned above) and actress Nancy Olson speaking about Billy Wilder, both his life and his work. They also talk about the casting of the film and the behind the scenes contributions of Cecil B. DeMille.
Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back (25:52): Sikov, Olson, Lyles, film critic Andrew Sarris and actress Glenn Close talk about the film, including the changed opening scene and the locations used. They also talk about the public’s reaction to the film and it’s legacy.
The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard (14:19): Joseph Wambaugh, a former Los Angeles policeman and author of such books as “The Choirboys,” talks about what he refers to as one of his favorite films.
Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classis (14:29): Sikov, Sarris, Meyer, Close and Powers talk about the critical reaction to the film. They also discuss it’s dark look at Hollywood, the many awards it received and the Broadway musical, which Close starred in.
Two Sides of Ms. Swanson (10:37): Brooke Anderson, granddaughter of Gloria Swanson and actress Linda Harrison talk about Gloria Swanson’s career, both before and after “Sunset Boulevard.”
Stories of Sunset Boulevard (11:22): Sarris, Sikov, Olson and Meyer talk about the film’s famed opening sequence, Olson’s work on the film and the filming of the film’s closing scene.
Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden (11:13): Powers, Lyles, Olson and Wambaugh share memories of Holden and his career.
Recording Sunset Boulevard (5:51): Robert Townson, producer of the 2002 re-recording of Franz Waxman’s score and Sarris discuss the music behind the film.
The City of Sunset Boulevard (5:36): Borislav Stanic, author of the book “Los Angeles Attractions,” Olson and Sikov talk about the various shooting locations, some still around.
Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard (14:27): composers Elmer Bernstein and John Mauceri are joined by film music historian John Waxman and take an in depth look at the life and works of composer Franz Waxman.
Morgue Prologue Script Pages: A great look at reproduced versions of the film’s original and revised script pages for the filmed then cut opening scene. Also provided is a chance to bring up the original footage (minus sound). Another fine piece of history is Wilder’s “want list” of actors for the roles, including misspellings. For Joe Gillis (referred to as Dan in earlier drafts) his first choice was Montgomery Lift (sp). Clift was actually cast in the role but dropped out two weeks before filming began.
Deleted Scene (1:26): a brief musical number called “The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues.” The song is clever and full of insider names but really does nothing for the film.
Hollywood Location Map: An interactive map that lets you click on various locations to bring up a short video piece on each one.
Behind the Gate: The Lot (5:05): Lyles is joined by author and film historian Rudy Behlmer on a short history tour of Paramount Studios and its famous gate.
Edith Head: The Paramount Years (13:43): An interesting look at the life and career of costume designer Edith Head and her work on this and other films, including “The Greatest Show on Earth,” “Wings” and “Roman Holiday.”
Paramount in the 1950s (9:33): A look at one of the most productive decades in the studio’s history, when they released films like “A Place in the Sun,” “Come Back Little Sheba,” “The Greatest Show on Earth,” “Shane” and others.
Galleries: A collection of photographs taken on set as well as for publicity.
Original theatrical trailer