Skip to main content

Sunset Boulevard review

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.

More info

Available platformsMovie