Billy Wilder’s noir-classic about death and decay in Hollywood holds up so well, with its power to provoke thought, laughter and shock, all at once. It was a special enjoyment that I watched this film again after so many years, and it blew me away all over again. Many stars of the time make cameo appearances and reflect their real lives in the film, almost as if they are making a commentary on the blistering changes taking place in the movie industry and in society.
Joe Gillis (William Holden), a broke and cynical screenwriter, attempts to ditch a pair of repo men one afternoon when he pulls off of L.A.’s famous Sunset Boulevard and into the driveway of a seedy mansion belonging to Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a has-been silent film goddess, whose brilliant acting career withered with the coming of talking pictures. So begins a new chapter in both of their lives. The troubled mysterious actress lives in the past, assisted by her devoted and intimidating butler, Max (Erich von Stroheim). Norma dreams of making a comeback in a remake of Salome to be directed by her old colleague Cecil B. DeMille (who appears in the film as himself), and Gillis finds himself seduced into her world, becoming a gigolo of sorts. The movie’s talent and insight have become ingrained in pop culture, and it’s one of those films that doesn’t merely entertain, but rips into your psyche, forcing you to learn more about yourself.
The wealth of Special Features include:
Commentary by Ed Sikov, Author of On Sunset Blvd: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder:
Ed Sikov delivers an eloquent and analytical commentary track, that includes an assortment of great facts regarding the film, its stars and the filmmakers.
Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning:
This featurette focuses on Billy Wilder, his cast, and the relationship that they developed as Sunset Boulevard began production. It alternates between cast and crew interview footage and behind-the-scenes shots. Film historians also discuss Wilder’s style and the process of developing the film from casting to the filmmaker’s usage of legendary costume designer Edith Head.
The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard by Joseph Wambaugh:
The way Sunset Boulevard is constructed using noir elements, is discussed by author Joseph Wambaugh.
Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic:
Filmmakers, critics and historians address the classic signature of Sunset Boulevard. The featurette includes interview footage of Gloria Swanson, reflecting on her memories of first screening the film, and how it was received. There’s also a lot of focus on All About Eve, the film that won the Academy Award over Sunset Boulevard that year, along with interview footage featuring Glenn Close, who played Norma Desmond on stage.
Two Sides of Ms. Swanson:
This featurette takes a deep look into actress Gloria Swanson, including her manners, nature and lifestyle, both on and off set.
Stories of Sunset Boulevard:
Film critics and crew comment on assorted stories from the set of Sunset Boulevard, including shooting decisions Wilder made, along with his filmmaking methods.
Recording Sunset Boulevard:
Franz Waxman’s Academy-award winning score for Sunset Boulevard’s is the focus of this featurette.
Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden:
Interview footage recalls William Holden, the actor that plays Joe Gillis, on his life both on and off set. It also discusses his later years, including his efforts in wildlife conversation.
The City of Sunset Boulevard:
L.A attractions author Borislov Stanic and Sunset Boulevard expert Ed Sikov identify locations that Billy Wilder used for the film, along with other films that have used the same locations. There’s an in-depth history of each location, as well as how they were manipulated to accommodate the film.
Morgue Prologue Script Pages:
Two options are available for this great featurette; the Original Morgue Prologue; and the Revised Morgue Prologue. Script pages are available for each, and a video camera becomes available to reveal the original, uncut version. It’s certainly one of the more interactive features on the DVD.
Behind the Gates: The Lot:
A.C. Lyles recounts Paramount’s production process changes, as the silent era gave way to the integration of audio and color.
Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard:
Franz Waxman’s son John, discusses his father’s musical career, along with Wilder’s participation on scoring Sunset Boulevard.
Hollywood Location Map:
Another interactive feature, that has a map of the locations of Sunset Boulevard.
Edith Head: The Paramount Years:
Biographer David Chierichietti chronicles the history of famed costume designer Edith Head, and a variety of films she worked on.
Paramount in the ’50s:
A ten minute featurette that discusses Paramount’s classic films of the 1950s, including of course, Sunset Boulevard.
This great gallery of stills covers production, the movie, and publicity shots.
Original Theatrical Trailer:
Also included with this comprehensive set, is Sunset Boulevard’s three-minute trailer, with William Holden’s narration.
The Sunset Blvd. DVD is presented in crisp full screen format, with a transfer similar to the 2002 Special Collector’s Edition, enhanced with additional tweaks. The sound is a rich and vibrant Dolby Digital transfer, with English, French or Spanish Mono and English, French or Spanish subtitles.