AFI Movie Club: SUNSET BLVD. – American Film Institute
Sunset Blvd. Film Still - Gloria Swanson



SUNSET BLVD. is celebrating its 70th anniversary this month! The quintessential LA film noir is ranked #16 on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Billy Wilder directed the movie, and Gloria Swanson’s iconic lines “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” and “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small” are ranked #7 and #24 on AFI’s list of the great movie quotes in cinematic history.

Click Here to Find Out How to Watch SUNSET BLVD. Now

SUNSET BLVD. – Reelgood

In this exclusive AFI Archive video, director Billy Wilder talks about how everything came together to make SUNSET BLVD.:

Movie Trivia about SUNSET BLVD.

The original script for SUNSET BLVD. was titled “A Can of Beans” to give the impression of a comedy because the writers were afraid the studio wouldn’t support a script that was critical of the film industry.

Co-writer Charles Brackett initially conceived of the idea as a Hollywood comedy in which an aging silent movie star overcomes adversity and makes a successful comeback. The idea would develop into a much more jaded appraisal of the film industry and the Hollywood Dream Machine as it evolved.

The film originally began with a scene in the LA County morgue in which Joe Gillis talks with the other corpses around him, before narrating his own story. However, after audiences laughed at the sequence during preview screenings, the morgue scene was cut in favor of the iconic swimming pool opening.

While William Holden would play the down-on-his-luck Hollywood writer Joe Gillis in the final film, initially Montgomery Clift was cast in the part. Mae West was considered for the character of Norma Desmond, but Gloria Swanson would ultimately land the role of the reclusive silent film star.

Gloria Swanson was 51 when she shot SUNSET BLVD. She worked in silent cinema in the 1920s, frequently collaborating with director Cecil B. DeMille at Paramount. More than 100 early photographs of Swanson at the height of her career are seen throughout the film.

The name “Norma Desmond” is generally thought to be a combination of the names of silent film star Norma Talmadge and silent movie director William Desmond Taylor, whose still-unsolved murder is one of the great scandals of Hollywood history.

In real life, Norma’s mansion was actually on Wilshire Boulevard, not Sunset Blvd. It had belonged to J. Paul Getty’s family and it would be featured a few years later in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.

SUNSET BLVD. is the first film in which Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim (Max Von Mayerling) worked together since QUEEN KELLY– an extravagant production that was never released in the U.S. in which producer/star Swanson actually fired von Stroheim. Footage of QUEEN KELLY can be seen in SUNSET BLVD. and it led to a belated release of Swanson’s version in 1957.

SUNSET BLVD. director Billy Wilder cast silent film stars in bit roles – including Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson, Gertrude Astor, Eva Novak and Franklyn Farnum.

When Gillis and Norma Desmond visit Cecil B. De Mille at Paramount, the director was actually filming SAMSON AND DELILAH in real life, which would become the top-grossing picture of the year. Billy Wilder wanted star Hedy Lamarr to have a cameo in SUNSET BLVD. but her rate was too steep.

Several movie executives were irate when they saw how Hollywood was depicted in the film. At the premiere, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer denounced Billy Wilder, saying, “You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you! You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!”

SUNSET BLVD. was nominated for 11 Academy Awards® and won three Oscars®, including Best Writing, Best Art Direction and Best Music.

SUNSET BLVD. was the last film Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett collaborated on after working together for 14 years on projects, including NINOTCHKA and THE LOST WEEKEND.

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.
-How does the film depict the rocky transition from silent cinema to “the talkies”? What was the ripple effect throughout the industry with the introduction of sound? How did it impact the careers of silent film stars?
-What characteristics of film noir exist in SUNSET BLVD., and how does it represent the darkened cynicism of post-World War II cinema?
-What is the impact of the swimming pool opening and the choice to make Joe Gillis the narrator?
-What do you think Norma’s pet monkey represents at the beginning of SUNSET BLVD?
-Why do you think Billy Wilder filled SUNSET BLVD. with stars from the silent era? What effect does it have on the production in terms of being self-referential?
-How would you characterize Norma Desmond? Do you see her a tragic or aspirational figure? How do the people surrounding her, including her loyal servant Max, prop her up?
-How would you describe Joe and Norma’s relationship? How is it exploitative on both sides, and how does it differ between the one he has with script reader Betty Schaefer?
-What does Joe’s car symbolize to him throughout the film, and why does it mean so much to him?
-What do you think the film ultimately has to say about the Hollywood Dream Factory and its assembly line of writers and stars?
-How would you rate SUNSET BLVD?

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Comments (1)

General Public Users, Do not delete

I think desperation is a major theme of this move; desperate for freedom (enough money to keep his car, a regular job, Betty Schaefer’s screen writers ambition, Artie Green for a higher profile director role) Norma is desperate for recognition, for youth, fame, companionship, children (hence the monkey), Max is desperate to stay close to Norma, someone he loved and married, for a job, even as a servant to her. Joe is desperate for freedom with the screen writing job with Norma and love with Betty. He’s not willing to give up one for the other. And Norma has completely lost who she is, at what time of life she is in and desperately wants to regain her status as a Hollywood star. This is my FAVORITE movie.

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