Sunset Blvd. [1950]

Billy Wilder's noir-comic classic about death and decay in Hollywood remains as pungent as ever in its power to provoke shock, laughter, and gasps of astonishment. Joe Gillis (William Holden), a broke and cynical young screenwriter, is attempting to ditch a pair of repo men late one afternoon when he pulls off L.A.'s storied Sunset Boulevard and into the driveway of a seedy mansion belonging to Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a forgotten silent movie luminary whose brilliant acting career withered with the coming of talkies. The demented old movie queen lives in the past, assisted by her devoted (but intimidating) butler, Max (played by Erich von Stroheim, the legendary director of Greed and Swanson's own lost epic, Queen Kelly). Norma dreams of making a comeback in a remake of Salome to be directed by her old colleague Cecil B. DeMille (as himself), and Joe becomes her literary and romantic gigolo. Sunset Blvd. is one of those great movies that has become a part of popular culture (the line "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up," has entered the language)--but it's no relic. Wow, does it ever hold up. --Jim Emerson

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