Sunset Boulevard is a new key catalog Blu-ray title released by Paramount Home Entertainment on November 6th, 2012.
This classic movie, subtitled A Hollywood Story, recounts the tale of a silent film star making a return to the silver screen.
Many elements of the movie mirror the story, including the return to the screen for silent star Gloria Swanson.
This edgy picture was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Sunset Boulevard the Movie
The film opens on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, with police cars racing to a murder.
The lifeless body of a young man, floats in the swimming pool of the palatial mansion of a famous movie star.
As the police converge on the house, Joe Gillis narrates the events leading up to the murder.
Six months earlier Joe was down on his luck, had trouble finding work as a screenwriter, and is on the verge of having his car repossessed.
Joe tries to persuade a Paramount Pictures producer to buy his most recent script, but fails when a script reader Betty Schaefer gives it a harsh critique.
Joe then attempts to borrow money from his friends, but ends up fleeing from repo men in his car.
When his tire blows out in front of a large and seemingly deserted mansion on Sunset, Joe decides to hide the car in the garage there.
However the house is not vacant, and Joe is mistaken for the undertaker to a recently deceased pet chimpanzee.
The woman who owns the house is long-forgotten silent-film star Norma Desmond.
When she learns that Joe is a writer, she asks for his opinion on an immense script she has written for a film about Salome.
While Desmond plans to have the film made for her return to the silver screen, Joe finds that the script awful, and Norma ends up hiring him as an editor.
Joe is put up in her guest room and Max has moves his belongings to the mansion on Norma’s orders without Joe’s permission.
Joe accepts the situation and begins living at the mansion.
As he works on Norma’s script, he becomes more and more entwined in her life, with no escape from the house.
Norma lavishes attention on Joe and buys him expensive clothing and other gifts.
When Betty Schaefer finds Joe and tells him that she wants to write a screen play with him, Joe can only do so in secret, but can he ever truly escape the clutches of Norma Desmond?
Sunset Boulevard is certainly an interesting film that deserves to be regarded as a classic and remains relevant after more than sixty years.
The film somewhat defies genre – while it has a number of characteristics of Film Noir it has scenes that clearly take it beyond.
The narration and snappy dialog as well as the flawed characters give the film somewhat of a Noir feel, though the film was clearly a big budget production in its time.
One interesting aspect of the film is that all the characters are opportunists, each with something to gain from the relationships they form.
There is a theme here of opportunism and the consequences, where the main characters sell out their values for personal gain.
Whether financial, professional or emotional, each of the key players sells out to get ahead, and as noted from the opening, with dire results.
It was also great that some key aspects of the film were actually quite real, like the movie set on Stage 18 at Paramount Studios.
Overall it is an excellent film, that has a sense of inevitability about it, given that a key plot point is given away at the start.
Nothing can really prepare you for the final sequence though, which has given us some quotable quotes to this very day.
The performances are excellent all round, though I was particularly impressed with Gloria Swanson and William Holden in the lead roles.
It was also interesting to see cameo appearances from silent era actors Anna Q. Nilsson, Buster Keaton, and H.B. Warner, as well as legendary director Cecil B. DeMille.
Additionally the cast included Erich Von Stroheim and Nancy Olson, who received an Oscar nomination, along with Jack Webb, Franklyn Farnum and Lloyd Gough.
The critical response to the movie was very positive, with an excellent Rotten Tomatoes score of 98% and IMDb score of 8.6/10.
The film has earned roughly $5M at the box office.
Sunset Boulevard on Blu-ray Disc
The video on the disc is an AVC 1080p encode at 31 Mbps, and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1.
Naturally the image quality is limited by the age and quality of the original negatives.
However the film looks clean and is certainly an improvement over standard definition.
To me one of the best things about Blu-ray and high definition is getting to see these classic films in a level of quality that has not been seen for years – or perhaps ever.
With the negatives cleaned up and the film weave removed, these classic films look great.
Check out the details page for Sunset Boulevard to see full resolution PNG screen captures taken directly from the disc.
The main audio is lossless Dolby True HD with 2.0 channels with 16 bits resolution at 48 kHz, though it is actually ‘2 channel mono’.
The disc is a dual layer BD50, with 41.0 GB used and is coded for All Regions.
Sunset Boulevard on Blu-ray Disc – The Bonus Features
The supplements for the movie appear to be largely comprised of footage assembled in 2002 and 2008 for DVD releases – mostly the latter.
There is however some new material, including a deleted scene titled The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues.
The song is sung by an ensemble cast and would have appeared in the New Year’s Eve party sequence after Joe leaves the house.
Additionally the original opening scene of the movie is revealed in the Morgue Prologue Script Pages.
Two versions of the pages are offered and you can navigate them with your remote control.
The theatrical trailer is also freshly presented in high definition on this release.
There is an audio commentary by historian and Billy Wilder expert Ed Sikov.
This recording by the author of On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder was originally on the 2002 DVD release of the movie.
The commentary covers the original opening and goes on to discuss the origins and development of the movie.
As a Billy Wilder expert, we also hear about Wilder’s early life and his relocation to California.
It comes across like he is reading a script that he wrote, though there is a lot of in depth information presented here.
Sikov also plays a major part in the featurettes, including Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning.
This 2008 era featurette runs 22 minutes and also features segments from the 2002 interviews.
This supplement goes into the genesis of the movie and talks in depth about the people behind the film, with a focus on writer/director Billy Wilder.
Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back is a 2002 featurette that covers the film in a fairly wide sense.
Here we get extensive interviews with Nancy Olson and even earlier interview footage with Gloria Swanson.
Policeman turned writer Joseph Wambaugh presents The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard.
This 14 minute segment discusses the Noir aspects of the movie, including the voice over technique used throughout.
It also notes the differences, especially the fact that the main female character is far from the standard femme fatale character.
Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic covers the critical success of the film and the strong reception over the years.
Gloria Swanson’s grand daughter and co-star Linda Harrison weigh in on the actress in The Two Sides of Ms. Swanson.
More background on the movie is offered in Stories of Sunset Blvd.
Again there is some overlap with some of the other behind the scenes featurettes, though there is also some new stories to share and some of the anecdotes from previous supplements get more screen time in this featurette.
Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden is a 10 minute retrospective on the lead actor of Sunset Boulevard.
Stefanie Powers, who had a long relationship with Holden in later years, is a key contributor to this one.
Costars and friends weigh in on their experiences with the iconic actor.
Recording Sunset Boulevard is a shorter segment where Robert Townson discusses the score by Franz Waxman.
The music from the film went on to win best original score at the Academy Awards.
In 2002 the score for Sunset Boulevard was re-recorded for release, including the music from the original opening that never saw release.
The real locations from the movie are covered in The City of Sunset Boulevard.
The house used for the exteriors was actually located on Wilshire Boulevard and was owned at the time by J Paul Getty.
The interiors of the house were of course built on a sound stage.
Many of the locations no longer exist but of course the Paramount locations are still there.
The composer of the score is the focus of the Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard featurette.
Waxman’s son John is the main contributor here, and Waxman’s history in Europe and then Hollywood is revealed.
The way that scores were written and recorded in the fifties is also discussed.
The Hollywood Location Map feature puts up a map of Hollywood and allows you to select various locations for the movie.
Each segment is pretty short, but you get background on Schwabs Drug Store, Norma Desmond’s car, three locations at Paramount Pictures, the Getty Mansion where the film was largely set and Joe Gillis’ Apartment.
Much of the information here was already presented in The City of Sunset Boulevard however.
The history of the infamous Paramount studio is covered in the 5 minute segment Behind the Gates: The Lot.
The story covers the origins in New York through the shift west to Los Angeles, all the way to modern times.
Edith Head: The Paramount Years covers the work of costume designer Edith Head and her work on a plethora of Paramount movies.
Edith worked of films from the first Academy Award winner Wings, through Sunset Boulevard to Hitchcock films like To Catch a Thief and Vertigo.
Edith won 8 Academy Awards in her 60 year career.
This segment is also included on the To Catch a Thief Blu-ray release.
The era of the movie is covered in the Paramount in the ’50s retrospective.
This supplement opens with Sunset Boulevard and goes on to discuss films like A Place in the Sun, Shane and Roman Holiday.
Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were also key for Paramount in the fifties.
This release also includes image galleries that can be navigated at will.
Production stills and behind the scenes photographs are presented for your perusal.
All in all there are well over two hours and a half hours of extras that uncover all kinds of background on the film and its contributors that will no doubt go down well with fans of the movie.
Sunset Boulevard on Blu-ray – Final Thoughts
Sunset Boulevard is an excellent film that is truly a classic and well deserves a place in the serious collector’s library.
The image quality on Paramount’s Blu-ray release is as strong as can be expected given the original elements and the supplements are extensive.
The retail price is $26.98, though you can order it right now at Amazon for $18.99, saving 30%!
- Commentary by Ed Sikov
- Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning
- Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back
- The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard
- Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic
- The Two Sides of Ms. Swanson
- Stories of Sunset Blvd
- Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden
- Recording Sunset Boulevard
- The City of Sunset Boulevard
- Franz Waman and the music of Sunset Boulevard
- Morgue Prologue Script Pages
- Never-Before-Released Deleted Scene – The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues
- Hollywood Location Map
- Behind the Gates: The Lot
- Edith Head: The Paramount Years
- Paramount in the ’50s
- Theatrical Trailer
Intense, enthralling, and unforgettable, Sunset Boulevard stars Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a faded silent-movie star, and William Holden as Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter whom she enlists to help her make her triumphant “return to the screen.” Directed by and co-written by Billy Wilder, this mesmerizing Hollwyood classic won three Academy Awards.