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Of all the films to have torn into Tinseltown over the years, few have the molars to match this vicious classic. It's a twisted tragi-romance, told in suitably gothic-noir shades. And it starts, boldly, with the narrator/hero dead.

In flashback, we see Joe Gillis (William Holden), a jobless screenwriter fleeing from his creditors, stumble into the blighted mansion of decayed silent-movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). He becomes ensnared in her plan for a comeback. But Desmond is cuckoo, Gillis is out of his depth and they're both lost in La-La Land - with down the only way out...

As a critique of a soul-corroding industry, this is exhilarating, exacting stuff. The script is withering but keen and the performances resonant - particularly '20s film star Swanson's towering study in boggle-eyed madness and Hollywood dreams gone bad. One-time director-turned-declining-star Erich Von Stroheim adds a telling layer to the film's hall of Hollywood mirrors; look out for a washed-up Buster Keaton in a cameo, too.

Best of all, it's oh-so-sour. Apparently, MGM honcho Louis B Mayer even accused Wilder of biting the hand that fed him. If Wilder was, though, it was in the best possible way: in its precision, perversity and stinging wit, Sunset Boulevard still has mighty sharp teeth.

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, News Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Emily Murray. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.