Inside Sunset Boulevard: Part 2
Sunset Boulevard tells the ill-fated story of Norma Desmond, an aging silent film star, and Joe Gillis, a down-on-his luck screenwriter. Although Joe’s chance meeting with the more-than-eccentric Norma appears initially to be his salvation, in due course, it turns out to be his doom. Check out this second in a series of posts that offer a plethora of titillating tidbits and intriguing items of interest about this great film.
- The cinematographer on Sunset was John Seitz, who also photographed such classics as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, and Sullivan’s Travels.
- Erich von Stroheim, who played Max Von Mayerling, was Gloria Swanson’s director for Queen Kelly, footage from which was seen in Sunset. It was von Stroheim’s idea to include the footage in the picture. After only a third of the shooting was completed, Swanson fired von Stroheim from the picture. The film was not completed, and virtually ended Stroheim’s career as a director.
- Queen Kelly was financed by Joseph Kennedy, who was Gloria Swanson’s lover at the time.
- Throughout the film, Max never calls Norma by name, always referring to her as “Madame” – until the last scene, when he asks her, “Are you ready, Norma?”
- Sunset Boulevard is #12 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Films of All Time.
- The original opening of Sunset Boulevard featured Joe Gillis’ corpse being wheeled into the L.A. county morgue and then carrying on a conversation with his fellow cadavers about the cause of their respective demises. But at 1949 previews of the film in Evanston, Illinois; Poughkeepsie, New York; and Great Neck, Long Island, audiences howled with laughter at the scene. Billy Wilder wisely changed the opening and the film opened six months later.
- Sunset Boulevard was Nancy Olson’s second picture. She was 21 years old when filming began. She went on to appear with William Holden in three more pictures, including the noir Union Station.
- The exterior mansion used in the film was owned by the ex-wife of J. Paul Getty and was located on the corner of Wilshire and Irving. The structure no longer exists. The interiors were created completely on a set.
- Jack Webb, who played Joe’s friend, Artie, is best known to modern audiences as the star of the long-running TV series Dragnet. Webb first conceived the program as a radio series in 1949, the year that Sunset Boulevard was filmed. He went on to appear in three more Wilder films (Sabrina, Stalag 17, and Fedora) and became one of Wilder’s closest friends.
- Sunset Boulevard won three of 11 nominations. Swanson lost Best Actress to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday. William Holden lost to Jose Ferrer in Cyrano deBergerac, Nancy Olson to Josephine Hull in Harvey, and Erich von Stroheim to George Sanders in All About Eve. For Best Film, Sunset lost to All About Eve. The film’s wins were for Best Original Story and Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.
Stay tuned for Inside Sunset Boulevard: Part 3!