SUNSET BOULEVARD. (1950) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

SunsetBlvd

SUNSET BOULEVARD. (1950) A PARAMOUNT PICTURE. DIRECTED BY BILLY WILDER. STARRING GLORIA SWANSON, WILLIAM HOLDEN, ERICH VON STROHEIM AND NANCY OLSON. ALSO FEATURING CECIL B. DEMILLE, HEDDA HOPPER AND BUSTER KEATON AS THEMSELVES. COSTUMES BY EDITH HEAD.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Say, don’t I know you from someplace? Aren’t you Norma Desmond, the silent movie star? Didn’t you used to be big?’

Joseph Gillis.

‘I AM big. It’s the pictures that got small.’

Norma Desmond.

‘They (the silent movie stars) had the eyes of the world back then. But that wasn’t enough for them. They wanted the ears as well. So they opened their mouths, and what came out? Talk, talk, talk…!’

Norma Desmond.

‘We didn’t need words back then. We had faces!’

Norma Desmond.

This magnificent film lost out on the Best Picture Oscar for that year to ALL ABOUT EVE, another excellent film. SUNSET BOULEVARD should have won, but some of the bigwigs in Hollywood weren’t exactly thrilled at the way their precious industry was portrayed as being so cynically soul-destroying and merciless towards the stars it routinely chewed up and spat out, and also ruthlessly dismissive of its older, washed-up stars. If you were hot, you were hot, and if you were not, well then, goodbye for ever and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Still, we know SUNSET BOULEVARD should’ve won the Best Picture Oscar and that’s what matters.

Beefcake William Holden does a stellar job as Joe McGillis, the hack writer who keeps trying to write that bestselling Hollywood film script that’ll make his name and keep him in clover for the rest of his days. At the moment, however, all his ideas are dull and derivative and he’s up to his cojones in debt, because Hollywood doesn’t pay you for rubbish script ideas, only for good solid polished script ideas, see?

Joe has just about decided to throw in the towel and return home to Dayton, Ohio, where he’ll go back to working for the local rag and live out his working life reporting on Bonnie Baby beauty contests and charity bring and buy sales, when a strange thing happens.

Whilst fleeing from a pair of heavies who want to re-possess his jalopy, he accidentally finds himself in the grounds of a fabulous but decaying old Hollywood mansion from the ‘Twenties, the kind of house that was built by the super-rich silent movie stars of bygone years for them to enjoy their wonderfully privileged lifestyles in.

Swimming pool, deserted now, ruined tennis court, unswept deserted courtyard. Joe is inclined to think that the queer but fascinating place has actually been abandoned when a strange female figure appears from behind a curtain and imperiously bids him to hurry up and get his arse inside. He’s just been mistaken for a monkey-undertaker (that’s right, you heard me, lol!), and he’s also just had his first experience of Norma Desmond, star of the golden era of the silent screen…

Norma Desmond is rude, haughty, selfish and self-obsessed. She lives in her crumbling mansion surrounded by framed photographs of herself in her hey-day and the memorabilia of her long-lost film career, including a home cinema on which she never tires of playing her old movies. Talk about narcissism.

She’s all alone but for a solemn little foreign man called Max who carries out her every wish and whim, no matter how ludicrous. Max has gone to ridiculous lengths to hide from ‘Madame’ the fact that her legions of fans have not only deserted her, but forgotten her as well. He’s an enabler to Norma’s sick visions of herself as still a huge star.

It would have been kinder altogether to let her know the real truth about her washed-up career twenty years ago, but Norma’s so used to thinking of herself as Queen of the Cinema Screen that maybe Max feels that the shock of a good hard dose of reality might actually kill her. Well, he should know. After all, he’s her butler, ex-husband and the film director who discovered her, all rolled into one obliging package, lol.

This is the bizarre household in which Joe finds himself suddenly embroiled. Madame takes an enormous liking to Joe, the prime slice of ‘Fifties beefcake, and immediately hires him to live in her house and edit a long messy screenplay she’s written, with herself in the starring role of Salome.

She has every intention of presenting it to her old director, Cecil B. DeMille, when it’s finished. It’ll be her comeback film, even though she hates that word, lol (she prefers ‘return’), and it will be humongous. The notion of a comeback is entirely in her own head, by the way, and everyone but Norma knows it, even the mysterious little Max.

Joe soon finds himself rapidly becoming more than just an editor to the delusional Norma. He’s her gigolo now too, her toyboy, her plaything, and with every gift of cufflinks, gold cigarette cases and vicuna coats she buys him, he feels worse about himself. (What’s a vicuna, by the way? Does anyone know? Is it an animal or summat?) Norma has bought him lock, stock and barrel, and they both know it, and their card-playing friends (the waxworks) know it too.

Worst of all, he gives up writing altogether and just gives in to this meaningless lifestyle of indolence and luxury. Just look at the most uncomfortable New Years’ Eve party ever at Norma’s house! This is his life now, and how sad it is too.

In case you guys think all this indolence and luxury sounds terrific, and nice work if you can get it, etc, hear ye this. Anyone with a gift for writing, or indeed painting, playing music or running very, very fast, can’t just squash this gift into an old biscuit tin and slam a lid on it. It will out, like a plague of zombies under the stairs.

Joe’s real gift for writing ‘outs’ when a pretty young reader of scripts for Paramount Pictures, Betty Schaefer, encourages him to re-write a tired old script of his into something new and vibrantly exciting. He enters into this project with Betty with great enthusiasm, but their writing sessions have of necessity to be a secret from the jealous and possessive Norma.

Norma, you see, has a disturbing habit of harming herself, or even just threatening to, every time Joe’s five minutes late coming back from ‘t’ privy. Max and now Joe have got to watch her pretty closely because of it, just like Norma is watching Joe. What a strange, uncomfortably paranoid household it is!

It’s not like Norma wouldn’t have any reason to be jealous, either. Pretty soon, the sparks flying between Joe and Betty are enough to ignite a fire on the Paramount lot where they meet in secret, in Betty’s little office.

But there are two things standing in the way of their happiness. One thing is Joe’s own hatred of himself for submitting to being Norma’s kept man. After all, he could have said no, couldn’t he, if he wasn’t so morally weak and detestable in his own eyes? The other thing, of course, is Norma Desmond herself…

There are so many iconic scenes to single out for praise. I adore the monkey burial ceremony, carried out in the dead of night ‘with all the solemnity of a state funeral.’ Also, Buster Keaton and two other stars of the silent era, Anna Q. Nilsson and H.B. Warner, playing cards (bridge?) with Norma while Joe looks on, bored, emptying the ashtray when Norma tells him to like a good, obedient little stud. (H.B. Warner, by the way, plays Mr. Gower who clouts George Bailey over the ear in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE!)

Then there’s Cecil B. DeMille, resplendent in his riding boots, playing himself when Norma makes her first visit to Paramount Studios since her career as a silent film star ended, and the uncomfortable scenes where poor Norma undergoes a series of gruelling ‘beauty treatments’ in order to look young and beautiful for her big ‘comeback.’

The poor, poor woman. It’s all an illusion, a big rip-off. Being boiled, squeezed into bandages and made to look like a gimp-slash-mummy will not lead to her appearing one iota younger or feeling a jot happier.

(Joan Crawford goes through the same ridiculous tortures in the film MOMMIE DEAREST). It’s hard for women to look at these scenes when we’re fully aware that Norma’s only fooling herself. How out of pocket would she have been as well?

Her final scenes- ‘I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille’- are pretty damned near heart-breaking to witness. Oh Norma, poor poor Norma. Has she cracked under the strain of it all? And will Joe find the courage to walk away from all that lovely money for ever, to live as an impoverished script-writer with the real love of his life, Betty Schaefer? You’ll have to watch this legendary movie for yourselves to find out, folks. Enjoy your stroll down Sunset Boulevard…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE LOST WEEKEND. (1945) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

ray milland & jane wyman - the lost weekend 1945

THE LOST WEEKEND. (1945) DIRECTED BY BILLY WILDER. BASED ON THE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY CHARLES R. JACKSON. STARRING RAY MILLAND, JANE WYMAN, PHILIP TERRY, HOWARD DA SILVA, DORIS DOWLING, MARY YOUNG AND FRANK FAYLEN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

That a film of this calibre was made as early in cinematic history as 1945 is a fact that constantly staggers me. This is a powerhouse of a screenplay, but don’t just take my word for it. Ask the Academy, the Academy that bestowed upon it the Award for Best Screenplay in the year of its release.

The writing translates itself easily into a fantastically tight film about the grim subject of alcoholism that I’ve watched several times now without once getting bored. Let’s take a look at the film and see if I can’t infect you guys with a little of the enthusiasm I feel for it myself. Don’t worry, it’s a nice infection, not the kind that leaves you with rheumy eyes and a shiny red hooter to rival Rudolph’s…!

Ray Milland, an actor who’s also co-starred with the divine Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER and the screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s THE PREMATURE BURIAL, is utterly superb as the alcoholic would-be writer, Don Birnam.

I say ‘would-be writer’ instead of actual ‘writer’ because he hasn’t written a word since University, when his Hemingway-esque short stories were the pride of the college rag.

Now, some twenty-odd years later, he’s a full-blown alkie, unemployed (and unemployable?), living on his brother Wick’s charity and wallowing in self-pity, self-loathing and self-disgust every day until the pubs open. Then you’ve lost him. Till he’s chucked out at closing-time, that is…

Even his barman and confidante Nat, of Nat’s Bar, knows that Don Birnam’s an alkie. Nat’s not without human feelings, though, and he can’t help his revulsion when Don bails out of a cleansing weekend away in the country with his brother Wick on account of the booze. As in, Don is hoping to get in some serious boozing while the cat’s away.

Desperate for a drink, Don’ll do anything to get one. He’ll beg, borrow, steal, wheedle and cajole until he’s got one. But you can’t stop at just one, of course. Or ‘natch,’ as Gloria would say. You’ve got to have another one, and another one, and so on until you eventually wake up on your own couch without any memory of how you got there. Given all the things that could have happened to Don, he’s lucky it was only the couch…!

Don isn’t so lucky the time over this particular ‘lost weekend’ that he wakes up in the alkie ward of a hospital. You’ll be back, matey, the rather smug orderly tells him. It’s got you in its grip and it won’t quit. I’m paraphrasing here but you get the gist.

Don breaks out of this terrible place, convinced he’ll never get the DTs as the orderly Bim has foretold for him. Another guy in the drunk-tank of the hospital had those. Surely nothing like that can ever happen to him, he’s not a lowlife scumbag loser like those lads at the hospital. But the dreaded DTs follow Don home. After meeting them in person, Don begins to feel like there’s only one way out for a washed-up failure like him…

A word about the ladies in the film. Helen St. James, Don’s girlfriend, is passionately played by Jane Wyman, who later went on to portray the fearsome, ball-breaking business tycoon Angela Channing in glamorous television soap opera FALCON CREST.

Helen adores Don, despite his affliction or maybe even because of it. Maybe she’s the kind of dame who finds herself a mess of a guy and tries fervently to fix him. She devotes herself to Don, probably to the detriment of her own work at TIME magazine. She worries about him incessantly and vows to stay with him regardless of his alcoholism, but she’s deluded. Don is the only one who can fix Don, but Don isn’t ready to man up yet and just quit.

What Don does to Gloria, the feisty but lonely prostitute who frequents and meets clients at Nat’s Bar, Don’s favourite spot, is not nice. Even Nat thinks it’s despicable for Don to make the needy girl think he’s going to take her out on a date when all he’ll ever want from her is a few bucks to buy his next fix of booze. Taking Gloria for a fool is not Don Birnam’s finest hour.

I sympathise with Don up to a point. Not the alcoholic bit, I hasten to add! But I was the bright shining star of the school and college magazines also, who then got all caught up in the business of ruining relationships and having kids and who subsequently never wrote another word for nearly twenty years. I allowed myself to be distracted by the nuts-and-bolts of life instead of just sitting down and damn well writing about it.

Every time I had a spare minute, which luckily wasn’t very often, I hated myself with a passion for not writing. Now I write every day, thank God. But this is why I totally feel Don’s pain. No-one self-loathes like a writer who’s not writing. Trust me, I know. Do make sure you watch this magnificent tour de force of a movie. Your life will be the richer for it.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

ray milland & jane wyman - the lost weekend 1945