When Comedy goes Dark
January 22 SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) 1 hr and 50 min.
Screenplay writer Joe Gillis [William Holden] is unable to get work In 1950s Hollywood. Trying to escape creditors, he gets a flat tire and parks his car at an old mansion on Sunset Boulevard. Owner and former silent-movie star Norma Desmond [Gloria Swanson] is demented and is certain she’ll return to film stardom. She wants Joe to move in and help her write a comeback screenplay. Gillis becomes her lover—but falls in love with young Betty Schaefer [Nancy Olson], and Norma gets dangerously jealous…
As a practical joke, during the scene where Holden and Olson first kiss, director Billy Wilder let them carry on for minutes until Holden's wife, who happened to be on set, yelled “Cut!” Montgomery Clift quit the production because he was, like the character of Joe, having an affair with a wealthy middle-aged former actress, Libby Holman, and was scared the press would find out. The photos of young Norma Desmond that decorate her house are genuine publicity stills from Gloria Swanson's heyday.