January 23, 2011

Bonus movie - Sunset Boulevard (1950)

This week we actually watched two movies.  "Don't Change Your Husband" was the official 4th pick for the project, but we decided to throw in "Sunset Boulevard" as a bonus since it ties in so nicely.  It's another Gloria Swanson movie, about an aging silent film star who didn't survive the transition to talkies and has gone insane in her dilapidated Hollywood mansion.

The truly interesting bit about this movie is how many references to real silent film are in it.  Had I seen this movie by itself without the background I've had these past few weeks I don't think I'd have enjoyed it as much.  But since I do have that background, every time some little reference was made I felt like I was privy to a hidden gem of knowledge.  One of my favorite references was a cool prop telephone that we had literally just seen in "Don't Change Your Husband"!  We commented on the phone while watching that movie, so to see it pop up again in this one was just a gleeful little nod to Gloria Swanson's own silent film past.

If you haven't seen "Sunset Boulevard", do so.  It's really good!  Most people know the line, "Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup" (although I've more often heard it quoted incorrectly as "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille") and it's usually said in a comical fashion.  But the original line is anything but comical.  It's actually heartbreaking, seeing this once great star so completely lost in madness.  That's actually the last line of the film and it was really powerful, especially the way Gloria Swanson delivered it.

I don't want to say much about the plot because I don't want to ruin it for anyone.  So instead I'll just say that it was definitely interesting to watch a 20 year old Gloria Swanson being cute and charming and then immediately jump forward thirty years and see her as a crazy person.  Her character, Norma Desmond, didn't survive the transition to talkies at all.  Swanson sort of did.  She'd actually not worked for almost a decade before "Sunset Boulevard"; it was a comeback film of sorts.  And surprisingly, it only got made because she was brave enough to take on the role.  Apparently other silent film greats such as Mary Pickford turned down the role because it was so negative.  So I say bravo to Gloria Swanson for being gutsy.

Now go rent this movie and enrich yourselves.  :D

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