Sunset Boulevard

Critics Consensus

Arguably the greatest movie about Hollywood, Billy Wilder's masterpiece Sunset Boulevard is a tremendously entertaining combination of noir, black comedy, and character study.



Total Count: 62


Audience Score

User Ratings: 53,304
User image

Sunset Boulevard Videos

Sunset Boulevard Photos

Movie Info

Aging silent-film star Norma Desmond ensnares a young screenwriter in this poison-pen valentine to Hollywood.

Watch it now


William Holden
as Joe Gillis
Gloria Swanson
as Norma Desmond
Erich von Stroheim
as Max Von Mayerling
Nancy Olson
as Betty Schaefer
Fred Clark
as Sheldrake
Jack Webb
as Artie
Franklin Farnum
as The Undertaker
Franklyn Farnum
as Undertaker
Charles Dayton
as Finance Man
Hedda Hopper
as Herself
H.B. Warner
as Himself
Ray Evans
as Himself
Bernice Mosk
as Herself
Larry Blake
as 1st Finance Man
Eddie Dew
as Assistant Coroner
Billy Sheehan
as 2nd Assistant Director
Roy Thompson Jr.
as Shoeshine Boy
Ruth Clifford
as Sheldrake's Secretary
Bert Moorhouse
as Gordon Cole
E. Mason Hopper
as Doctor/Courtier
Yvette Vickers
as Girl on Telephone
Eva Novak
as Courtier
Al Ferguson
as Phone Standby
Stan Johnson
as 1st Assistant Director
Bill Sheehan
as 2nd Assistant Director
Julia Faye
as Hisham
Gertrude Messinger
as Hair Dresser
Ralph Montgomery
as First Prop Man
John Cortay
as Young Policeman
Gertrude Messenger
as Hair Dresser
Joel Allen
as Second Prop Man
Jay Morley
as Fat Man
Howard Negley
as Captain of Police
Ken Christy
as Captain of Homicide
Len Hendry
as Police Sergeant
Arthur Lane
as Camera Operator
Archie R. Dalzell
as Camera Operator
James Hawley
as Camera Assistant
Edward Wahrman
as Camera Assistant
Sanford E. Greenwald
as Newsreel Cameraman
Howard Joslin
as Police Lieutenant
Larry J. Blake
as 1st Finance Man
View All

News & Interviews for Sunset Boulevard

Critic Reviews for Sunset Boulevard

All Critics (62) | Top Critics (11)

  • [Gloria Swanson] proves that in the years she has been off the screen she has lost none of her glamour, the magnetism that made her an outstanding personality of the early Hollywood days.

    Jan 27, 2019 | Full Review…
  • The conception owes something to Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, but the film builds a myth of its own, one that taps into something essential about stardom.

    Sep 14, 2018 | Full Review…
  • A tour de force for Swanson and one of Wilder's better efforts.

    Aug 14, 2007 | Full Review…
  • ...They rate a nod for daring, as well as credit for an all-around filmmaking job that, disregarding the unpleasant subject matter, is a standout.

    Jun 28, 2007 | Full Review…
  • One of Wilder's finest, and certainly the blackest of all Hollywood's scab-scratching accounts of itself.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Still the best Hollywood movie ever made about Hollywood.

    Sep 29, 2005

    Andrew Sarris

    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Sunset Boulevard

  • Mar 07, 2018
    There is a lot to love about this movie, which is loaded with great performances, and intersects film noir with fading Hollywood stardom. It grabs us from the start with police called to the scene of a mansion with a body floating in its pool, and as we listen to a deadpan narrator. Director Billy Wilder gives us the first of what will be many great shots, this one from what appears to be the bottom of the pool, with policemen in the background standing over the body. The film then flashes back to a young writer (William Holden), down on his luck and pressured by repo men, trying to figure out a way to sell his work or borrow some money. He pulls into the driveway of a mansion by chance, and finds himself slowly entangled in another trap, that of an aging Hollywood star (Gloria Swanson). The feel is eerie from the start, as she seeks funeral arrangements for her pet chimp, lives in boundless ostentation, and has a single companion, her solemn servant (Erich von Stroheim) who plays an organ that otherwise wheezes drearily when the wind blows through it. While her pool and tennis courts have fallen into ruin, she lives in the past, surrounded by her own photographs and watching her own old movies. Out of what he feels to be necessity, he begins working for her and living with her, hating every moment. Gloria Swanson, who was 51, turns in an outstanding performance, and has several fantastic scenes. The one where she and Holden sit in the dark with the projector light going through smoke is brilliant, and one of my favorites. Another is him dancing with her on the floor that she says Valentino had danced on, surrounded by an orchestra and expecting other guests, only to realize there will be none. The one where she imitates Charlie Chaplin, complete with a little tramp outfit, is truly special. Wilder is excellent at gradually revealing just how far gone she is. It was a nice touch of his to include silent movie stars as her bridge companions in a small scene, including Buster Keaton, and to see Cecil B. DeMille on the set at Paramount was fantastic. We see both her delusion of still being an important star as she rolls up to the gate house in her expensive old car (an Isotta-Fraschini), and yet we also see her past stardom recognized by one of the gate keepers, and then people on the set when they realize she's there. It's a very touching moment. Things get more complicated when Holden begins working with the fiancé (Nancy Olson) of his affable friend (Jack Webb, soon to be better known for Dragnet). Not all of the scenes revolve around Swanson, and the one where Holden and Olson play act a romantic scene at a party is intelligent, funny, and utterly charming. The film gives us a behind the scenes look at Hollywood - brainstorming over scripts, the writing process, the vanity of those in the limelight, and the opulence. Swanson gets a little over the top at times especially towards the end, but the film feels both sadly true, and yet also fantastical, with her mansion other-worldly and not unlike that of the one Miss Havisham has in 'Great Expectations', as Holden observes early on. With such a setting and those poignant overtones, and having excellent direction, cinematography, script, and cast, it's hard to go wrong with this one.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 14, 2016
    Part film noir, part comedy, part satire. Sunset Boulevard opens with a slain man recounting how he was murdered, the audience is about to learn about the mystery through a flashback on fame, fortune, love and deceit. It is a tragic version of Singing in the Rain, the acting was superb, the techniques in noir films were decisively used to make the film as hilariously terrifying as possible. Norma Desmond is definitely Gloria Swanson's best role. I loved everything about the film: the pace, the twists, the depiction of aging movie stars, the mise en scene. It's a remarkable experience, definitely a must watch.
    Sylvester K Super Reviewer
  • Apr 05, 2015
    There's been plenty venomous critiques of Hollywood, but none quite like this . . . an eerie, almost Gothic Noir about madness and desperation.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 11, 2014
    Ever since film became a widely-spread medium, filmmakers have turned the camera on themselves or the industry that produced them. There is a rich pantheon of films about cinema, and about Hollywood in particular, ranging from the satire of Robert Altman's The Player and the mystery of Mulholland Drive to much ropier efforts like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn. All of these examples, however, owe some kind of debt to two films released in 1950, both of which revolve around the mental frailty of fading actresses. One of these films was All About Eve, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's captivating melodrama with a barnstorming performance by Bette Davis. The other was Sunset Boulevard, the first of many triumphs that would befall Billy Wilder in this decade. While Sunset Boulevard has become almost universally admired, Wilder's approach is very different to most other directors who have dabbled in this area. Works like Vertigo, Peeping Tom and 8 1/2 are deeply auteurist: they are very consciously the product of a singular vision, with the film being shaped and driven by the director's personal relationship to the medium. Wilder's approach, on the other hand, is much more understated. Throughout his career he deliberately eschewed the techniques of conscious imagery employed by Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, believing that it distracted from the material. For Wilder, a film began not with the director's vision, but with the script and the characters that flowed from it. Perhaps this is why his work is more celebrated in film circles than among the wider public: everyone knows the imagery of Hitchcock, while few could name three of Wilder's films of equal quality. Sunset Boulevard was once described by film critic Richard Corliss as "the definitive Hollywood horror movie", and it isn't hard to see why. There is a ghoulish, almost Gothic feel to the cinematography, similar to what Hitchcock achieved on Rebecca but with a greater emphasis on decay and the grotesque. John F. Seitz had worked with Wilder on The Lost Weekend and Double Indemnity, and reutilised a trick he developed on the latter picture: before every take he sprinkled some dust in front of the camera to give the impression of mustiness. Aside from the visuals, the horror aspects are also reflected in the plot. Sunset Boulevard is famously narrated from beyond the grave, taking the film noir device of the unreliable narrator and making it seem all the more disembodied. The film begins and ends with the recovery of a corpse, and when Joe Gillis first arrives at Norma Desmond's house, he is mistaken for the undertaker. The whole story is about characters barely clinging onto life, with both Gillis and Desmond in great danger of being swept away by new, younger, better talents. While the horror aspects draw out the similarities between the characters, Wilder also uses the language of film noir to illustrate their differences, particularly their stylistic ones. Gloria Swanson's character is preening and melodramatic, while William Holden is more naturalistic; they form two different reactions to the underlying atmosphere of cynicism and desperation that film noir does so well. But while the differences are played up, the film never becomes a pantomime, and like on Double Indemnity the narrative is never overbearing or excessive. Sunset Boulevard has a number of fascinating themes and ideas, all of which are realised in a substantial yet tantalising way. One of its main ideas is the heartlessness of Hollywood, a business built upon glamour that rarely lives up to its reputation. It's a place that turns ambition into world-weariness, success into mausoleums, and shows no mercy regardless of whether you're a penniless writer or an insanely rich (and just plain insane) star of yesteryear. Ultimately, everyone's fate is the same: abandonment, emptiness and death, and we have little control over any of these. This theme is reinforced by the intimidating architecture, utilising the same sort of technique that Roman Polanski would later apply in his Apartment Trilogy. Even without the Gothic visuals, Desmond's house is an unnerving place to be, with people always being shot in middle- or long-distance so that they look tiny against the staircase, doors and columns. The titular street is almost personified in the opening shot, bringing an eerie, ever-present stillness to an ever-changing world. The film is also very interested in the fleeting nature of fame, epitomised by Desmond's famous remark: "I am big! It's the pictures that got small". There's a fantastic scene about halfway through where Desmond has shown up on Cecil B. De Mille's set, and a spotlight happens to fall on her. While the spotlight is on her, people recognise, crowd round and adore her - but then the director orders it away and the movers and shakers move on. It's a beautifully sad metaphor, realised cinematically through an unfussy but meaningful gesture - that really is Wilder in a nutshell. There's also a minor comment in the film about the rivalry or rift caused by the introduction of sound. Desmond's comments about faces being replaced by endless talking make an interesting point about changes in acting styles, and how technological changes can lead to art forms being lost. While The Artist approaches this issue in an optimistic manner, arguing that there is room for every kind of style of filmmaking, the characters in Sunset Boulevard have very little to hope for. The film also deals with the issue of madness, offering a number of explanations for Desmond's mental state. Rather than simply under-write her as non-specifically senile, the film explores how her madness may spring from a fear of abandonment, arguing that such attitudes are an inevitable product of the star system, where people are raised up and then quickly forgotten. Equally, her dismissive attitude towards the "mediocre" talent of the day presents a different position - that madness is the product of obsessive nostalgia, and that insanity results from failing to embrace change. On top of all its richly-layered themes, the film is a self-reflexive treat in terms of its casting. Aside from the brilliant central performances by Holden and Swanson, it boasts a supporting cast of Hollywood greats playing themselves (or versions thereof). Erich von Stroheim, who worked with Swanson on the ill-fated Queen Kelly, channels into his character all the humiliations he had suffered at the hands of Hollywood studios. Buster Keaton looks as melancholy as ever as one of Swanson's "waxworks", and Cecil B. DeMille remains deeply powerful, even without his iconic jodphurs. Sunset Boulevard is a truly great film with a wealth of fascinating ideas, which remains one of the greatest films ever made about Hollywood. While Mulholland Drive and Peeping Tom are ultimately more mesmerising, it is still an all-round triumph with a great script, a fantastic cast and inspired direction from Wilder. It is essential viewing for anyone interested who is interested in Hollywood - in other words, it's essential viewing for everyone.
    Daniel M Super Reviewer

Sunset Boulevard Quotes

News & Features