Sunset Boulevard (1950)

 ●  English ● 1 hr 50 mins

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This bittersweet saga, set in '50s Hollywood, focuses on Norma Desmond, a silent-screen goddess whose pathetic belief in her own indestructibility has turned her into a demented recluse. The crumbling Sunset Boulevard mansion where she lives with only her butler, Max who was once her director and husband has become her self-contained world. Norma dreams of a comeback to pictures and she begins a relationship with Joe Gillis, a small-time writer who becomes her lover. Will Norma's dream of regaining her lost fame and fortune come true? How will her relationship with Joe turn out?
See Storyline (May Contain Spoilers)

Cast: Erich von Stroheim, Gloria Swanson, William Holden

Crew: Billy Wilder (Director), John Francis Seitz (Director of Photography), Franz Waxman (Music Director)

Rating: U (India)

Genres: Drama

Release Dates: 25 Aug 1950 (India)

Tagline: A Hollywood Story

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Did you know? Joe Gillis mentions that the painting of wild horses that covers the projection screen in Norma Desmond's mansion was given to her by "some Nevada Chamber of Commerce." This is a nod to retired silent movie star Clara Bow, whose husband Rex Bell, a former star of Western B-movies, was the president of the Nevada Chamber of Commerce, and later Lieutenant Governor of Nevada. Read More
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as Maximillian "Max" von Mayerling
as Norma Desmond
as Joseph C "Joe" Gillis
Supporting Actress
Supporting Actor
Supporting Actor
Supporting Actress
Supporting Actor
Supporting Actor
as Arthur "Artie" Green
as Morino
as Betty Schaefer
Supporting Actor
Supporting Actor




Production Company




Camera and Electrical

Director of Photography


Music Director

Costume and Wardrobe

Costume Designer


Film Type:
Feature Film
Colour Info:
Black & White
Sound Mix:
Frame Rate:
24 fps
Aspect Ratio:
2.35 : 1, 1.37 : 1
A Hollywood Story
Revealing Mistakes
The tire completely blows out on Joe's convertible, but as he drives it into Norma's garage we see that his tire is low but far from flat.

Revealing Mistakes
When Norma's car is pulling up to Studio 18, you can see that the driver is clearly not Max as Erich von Stroheim did not drive. Furthermore, the uniforms are quite different.

Revealing Mistakes
When Norma Desmond drives through the Paramount gate, Jonesy, the guard who let her in, dials his phone and speaks into the phone, asking for "stage 18" before the phone's dial has even returned to zero.

Revealing Mistakes
When Joe returns to the mansion after having been in the rain in a vicuna coat twice, the coat shows no signs of being wet.

Revealing Mistakes
In the scene when Joe Gillis awakes in bed, two of Norma Desmond's supposedly hand-penned script pages are exact mechanically-reproduced duplicates.

Revealing Mistakes
As the policemen run towards the pool, you can see the dead man's head lift up out of the water.

Crew/Equipment Visible
When Joe enters his bedroom and turns on the light, a crewmember's arm (with wristwatch) is visible in the mirror next to the door.

Crew/Equipment Visible
When Joe Gillis gets out of the pool and Norma offers to dry him off, several crewmembers as well as lighting, microphones, and other equipment, are reflected in Norma's large, dark sunglasses.

Crew/Equipment Visible
The shadow of a camera as it moves in on Norma's bed is visible on Joe's back.

While Betty stares at Joe and Joe asks "What's matter?" we can't see a pen in his hand (at least the pen is not in a perpendicular position) and we can't see a cigarette box in his shirt pocket. But next transition scene there is a pen in his hand (in a perpendicular position) and there is a cigarette box in his pocket.

When Joe Gillis is first reading Norma's script at her house, she tosses him a bundle of pages to read. The sheets in this bundle are all askew, but the bundle he catches is neat and aligned.

When Norma and Joe are being driven to Paramount, Norma raises her left hand to the left side of her face as Max adjusts the rear view mirror. After the cut, Norma's reflection in the mirror shows her hand immediately relocated to the right side of her face.

When Joe is initially examining the scripts, Norma is shown with a very short cigarette butt. The camera pans to Joe and then back to Norma, whose cigarette is now (seconds later) significantly longer.

After Joe takes a dip in the pool while Norma sits sunning herself, he gets out of the pool and dries his face and chest completely. In the next shot, he is dripping water from the face and chest.

The morning Joe Gillis wakes up after his first night in Norma Desmond's house, he sees all his belongings in his room over the garage. Angry, he puts on his jacket over his shirt and leaves the room. In the next shot, when he is walking down the stairs, his shirt is inside his trousers.

Character Error
When beauty experts give Norma facials and other beauty treatments, she is still wearing wearing makeup and false eyelashes, which would always be removed prior to normal skin care treatments.

Character Error
When Joe is sneaking out to work at the studio with Betty, he pulled the Isotta Fraschini out of the garage forward. When he came back, he also pulled it in the garage forward leaving proof that he was taking the car.

Character Error
Norma tells Joe that she's bought a "revolver," but the gun is not a revolver.

Character Error
When Norma is holding the screenplay being written by Joe and Betty, their names are joined by the word 'and'. This would mean that Joe (who is listed first) had written the entire screenplay, sold it to a studio, only to have Betty revise/rewrite the script. Since the two characters were working together, their names should have been joined with an ampersand ('&').

Character Error
Wallace Reid died in 1923, three years before Paramount's Marathon Street studio opened, thus he could not have had a bungalow on wheels on the lot as Max had pointed out (unless of course, he was pointing towards Sunset and Vine where Paramount had its lot at the time of Reid's death).

Character Error
Norma tells Joe how Mabel Normand was a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty with her in the old days, but Mabel was never in that group, having left Keystone for Goldwyn by the time they became a film staple.

Audio/Video Mismatch
When Max is telling Joe about directing Madam's first pictures, there is a bad dub of the word "sixteen". After the Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle trial and the subsequent establishment of the Hays Office to enforce the new Production Code, the producers were concerned that the original age of 14 would be considered child porn and had the line changed in post.

Audio/Video Mismatch
At the New Year's Eve party (at Norma's house), we hear someone plucking a violin, but when we look at the orchestra, they are all playing with their bows.
There's a little dig in the scene when Cecil B. DeMille finds out that Paramount has been calling Norma Desmond because it wants to rent her car for "the Crosby picture." The truth of the matter was that Bing Crosby was one of the very few actors to whom Billy Wilder had borne a grudge, mainly because Crosby had done the unthinkable during filming of The Emperor Waltz (1948), and ad-libbed dialog, something he and Bob Hope had done for years as standard operating procedure in their breezy "Road" pictures. Charles Brackett and Wilder were just as adamant that nothing in their scripts should be changed, and nothing new added.

In the penultimate scene, as Max tells Norma that "the cameras have arrived," the high strings in composer Franz Waxman's Oscar-winning score quote a chord from Richard Strauss's "The Dance of the Seven Veils" (from his opera "Salome", a reference to the now-mad Norma's final possession by the woman Salome with which she'd been so obsessed). The same musical quote from "Salome" is used again as she descends the stairs, where Waxman segues into his own original musical statement of "The Dance of the Seven Veils".

Billy Wilder was frustrated with people assuming that the ending was meant to be ambiguous and asking him what happens to Norma after the final dissolve. "I have no idea! All I know is that she's meshuggah, that's all. That's the end."

Gloria Swanson played her final descent on the staircase - and into madness - barefoot, as she was terrified of tripping if she'd worn high heels. Since her part required her to gaze at the newsreel cameramen and "fans" (the waiting police) gathered in the foyer below, she couldn't watch where she placed her feet. She burst into tears upon completion of the scene.

When Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond watch one of Norma's old silent movies, they are watching a scene from Queen Kelly (1929), starring a young Gloria Swanson. Erich von Stroheim, who directed Swanson in Queen Kelly (1929) plays Max the butler, who serves as the projectionist in the scene. Later in the film, Max tells Joe Gillis that he was the silent movie director who discovered Norma Desmond, and put her in films. According to Billy Wilder, it was von Stroheim's idea to use a clip from Queen Kelly (1929) in Sunset Blvd. (1950), as a way of "art imitating life." As well as starring in 'Queen Kelly' Gloria also produced it and fired Erich for causing costs to go double over budget and with no end to filming in sight.

Gloria Swanson almost considered rejecting the role of Norma Desmond after Billy Wilder requested she do a screen test for the role. Her friend George Cukor, who initially recommended her for the part, told her, "If they want you to do ten screen tests, do ten screen tests. If you don't, I will personally shoot you." Swanson agreed to the audition, and won the role.

At Cecil B. DeMille's first appearance, his on-set cry of "Wilcoxon!" is directed toward his associate producer, Henry Wilcoxon, who had starred in his epics Cleopatra (1934), The Crusades (1935) and Unconquered (1947), later moving to a position behind the camera as DeMille's associate until the older man's death in 1959.

In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #16 Greatest Movie of All Time.

Set non-holiday all time house record of $166,000 at Radio City Music Hall when it opened.

To help promote the film, Gloria Swanson did a 3 month tour of 36 cities in America and Canada.

Gloria Swanson was paid $50,000 + $5,000 per week for any time over schedule.

Norma's "gondola bed" was originally white, and was featured in Twentieth Century (1934) with Carole Lombard and John Barrymore.

Joe Gillis mentions that the painting of wild horses that covers the projection screen in Norma Desmond's mansion was given to her by "some Nevada Chamber of Commerce." This is a nod to retired silent movie star Clara Bow, whose husband Rex Bell, a former star of Western B-movies, was the president of the Nevada Chamber of Commerce, and later Lieutenant Governor of Nevada.

The musical version of the movie opened in London on July 12, 1993 and ran 1529 performances. It opened on Broadway at the Minskoff Theater on November 17, 1994, ran for 977 performances and won the 1995 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Book and Score.

Billy Wilder originally wanted another silent star, Pola Negri, to take the part of Norma Desmond. Upon telephoning her, however, Wilder found that Negri's Polish accent, which had killed her career, was still too thick for such a dialog-heavy film.

Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett's 17th and final screenplay collaboration. After the completion of "Sunset Boulevard," Wilder shocked his longtime collaborator by announcing that he wished to dissolve their partnership. this was the result of a fierce quarrel over a montage scene in the film. The two men never worked together again.

Despite the fact that Erich von Stroheim plays a butler/chauffeur, he could not drive in real life. During the scenes in which he drove, the car was towed by another car. In the scene in which he drives Norma Desmond to Paramount Pictures at the studio gates the car was pulled by men with an out of camera rope. 'He still managed to hit the gates, he had no co-ordination' said Billy Wilder in an interview for the book 'Sunset Boulevard From Movie to Musical'. According to the DVD commentary by Wilder biographer Ed Sikov, this story was most likely invented/exaggerated by Billy Wilder.

William Haines, along with fellow silent screen veterans Buster Keaton and Anna Q. Nilsson, was approached to play one of Gloria Swanson's bridge partners. Swanson herself reportedly asked him to do it. Haines declined and fellow screen veteran H.B. Warner took the part.

The writers feared that Hollywood would react unfavorably to such a damning portrait of the film industry, and so the film was code named 'A Can of Beans' while in production.

Hedda Hopper and Buster Keaton, who make cameos as themselves in the movie, both died on the same day: February 1, 1966.

In 1998, the American Film Institute selected this as the 12th greatest film of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time.

In 1989, the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress selected this film as one of twenty-five landmark films of all time.

Erich von Stroheim dismissed his participation in this film, referring to it as "that butler role."

The role of Norma Desmond was initially offered to Mae West (who rejected the part), Mary Pickford (Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett realised when talking to her that her image of America's Darling made her unsuitable for the part), and Pola Negri ( Billy Wilder rejected her as her thick accent would cause too many problems) before being accepted by Gloria Swanson.

Mae West rejected the role of Norma Desmond because she felt she was too young to play a silent film star.

The directions made by the Paramount guard for Norma and Joe to go meet Cecil B. DeMille on "Stage 18" is accurate: this stage, one of the largest on the Paramount lot, was known for years as "The DeMille Stage," and now is called "The Star Trek Stage", as all the "Trek" movies and some scenes from the TV shows have shot there (the TV series, from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) onward had their main sets right across the studio street on Stages 8 and 9, which are right below the second-floor office occupied by Betty Schaefer in Sunset Blvd. (1950). Those offices later became the home of the "Star Trek" art department.)

The antique car used as Norma Desmond's limousine is an Isotta-Fraschini, and once belonged to 1920s socialite Peggy Hopkins Joyce. It was a gift from her lover, automobile magnate Walter Chrysler.

The "fee" for renting the Jean Paul Getty mansion was for Paramount to build the swimming pool, which features so memorably.

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 he was scared the press would start prying into his background.

As a practical joke, during the scene where William Holden and Nancy Olson kiss for the first time, Billy Wilder let them carry on for minutes without yelling cut (he'd already gotten the shot he needed on the first take). Eventually it wasn't Wilder who shouted "Cut!" but Holden's wife, Ardis (actress Brenda Marshall), who happened to be onset that day.

The movie's line "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" was voted as the #7 movie quote by the American Film Institute. (It is also one of the most frequently misquoted movie lines, usually given as, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.") "I am big! It's the pictures that got small." was voted #24, out of 100.

When crew members asked Wilder how he was going to shoot the burial of Norma's monkey, one of the film's most bizarre scenes, he just said, "You know, the usual monkey-funeral sequence."

Norma Desmond says she paid US$28,000 for the Isotta-Fraschini car. US$28,000 in 1929 (the year of the vehicle) is worth ~US$347,472 in 2009.

The photos of the young Norma Desmond that decorate the house are all genuine publicity photos from Gloria Swanson's heyday.

When Norma Desmond says to the guard at the Paramount Studio gates 'Without me there wouldn't be any Paramount Studio' the words could apply to Gloria Swanson as she was their top star 6 years running.

In one of the opening shots the camera looks up from the bottom of the swimming pool at the face of Gillis' body floating in the pool with police on the poolside looking down. It's not possible to shoot through water and get a clear image beyond. This was solved by placing a large mirror on the bottom of the pool and shooting into it's reflection. This wasn't the original opening and was filmed long after completion of filming.

The name Norma Desmond was chosen from a combination of silent-film star Norma Talmadge and silent movie director William Desmond Taylor, whose still-unsolved murder is one of the great scandals of Hollywood history. (On the morning of Febriary 1, 1922, Taylor was shot and killed in his Hollywood bungalow. His killer was never identified.)

Montgomery Clift, signed to play the part of Joe Gillis, (on advice of Libby Holman) broke his contract just two weeks prior to the start of shooting. Billy Wilder quickly offered the role to Fred MacMurray, who turned it down because he didn't want to play a gigolo. Marlon Brando was considered, but the producers thought he was too much of an unknown as a film actor. Gene Kelly was then approached, but MGM refused to loan him out. Reluctantly, Wilder met with William Holden, who hadn't done much after the great Hollywood innovator Rouben Mamoulian's Golden Boy (1939). Holden's films after that time had not impressed Wilder (in the 1940s Holden's movies were decidedly mediocre). They eventually worked together on several films and became longtime friends. It was largely from his association with Wilder that Holden would enjoy the greatest acting successes of his career in the 1950's.

The "Desmond mansion" was located not on Sunset Blvd, but at 3810 Wilshire on the corner of Crenshaw and Irving Blvd. It was built in 1924 by William Jenkins, at a cost of $250,000. Its second owner was Jean Paul Getty, who purchased it for his second wife. Mrs. Getty divorced her millionaire husband and received custody of the house; it was she who rented it to Paramount for the filming. The only addition was the swimming pool which wasn't equipped with means of circulating the water so was useless after filming. The pool was used in it's empty condition in the film Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. The mansion was torn down in 1957, and a 2 storey office building for Getty Oil built on the site and still stands on the spot.

Upon seeing the film at a star-studded preview screening at Paramount, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer screamed at director Billy Wilder that he should be tarred, feathered and horse-whipped for bringing his profession into such disrepute. Wilder's response was a terse, "Fuck you."

In "On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder", Ed Sikov relates a story about Wilder's explanation of the true meaning of the strange dead chimp scene from the start of the film. Sikov says that during the mid-1990s, both Wilder and former First Lady Nancy Reagan Reagan were at a party for an opening of one of the productions of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on the film, when, with Reagan nearby, an older woman approached Wilder with a question about what the chimp scene meant. Wilder's typically outrageous answer, probably intended to shock the former First Lady as much as to inform the woman of the true meaning of the scene, was, "Don't you understand? Before Joe Gillis came along, Norma Desmond was fucking the monkey."