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Sunset Boulevard: 4K Restoration (1950) - Blu-ray Review

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Sunset Boulevard

When the “Yes” men start telling you “NO”, you are probably approaching the trash-lined gutters along Sunset Boulevard.  Hollywood is clearly sending you a message.  You are no longer needed . . . or are you?!?!  Well, if Billy Wilder (director of The Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) has anything to say about it then go on and second guess those messages.

"an intoxicating classic that can be watched and re-watched over and over and over again"


Sunset Boulevard is more than a movie.  It is a trance and, once you allow its images and its characters (as lovely and as selfish as they are) to wash over you (which is easily done), you too will find yourself sitting in the dark watching silent movies alongside the fabulous Gloria Swanson as she plots her BIG return to the silver screen.  

There are few films as dreamlike and as operatic as Sunset Boulevard.  It’s just as fact.  Without this movie, we have no Twin Peaks, no David Lynch, and probably our horror - yes, horror - films would look a hell of a lot different.  This film and its structure is all about the surreal sensation of floating . . . in a pool next to the lifeless body of William Holden.

Brilliant from beginning to end, this film about Hollywood and its peculiarities features cameos from silent cinema stars Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner, and Anna Q. Nilsson as white, satin-lined coffins for chimpanzees and classically cool lines - “I am BIG, it’s the pictures that got small.” - collide to create an intoxicating classic that can be watched and re-watched over and over and over again.Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard is NOT about a comeback.  It’s strangeness is its richest character in and of itself.  Oh, there might be a dead monkey just up the stairs from where one struggling screenwriter reads melodramatic plot-lines, but none of that matters when he promises to straighten them out while peering out the window of a dilapidated mansion.  So begins  his descent.

This is a stylized entry into film noir territory where the characters - no matter how glamorous they appear on the screen - are absolutely the ugliest to each other.  It is a film where opportunism grinds itself into dust, but remarkably - as psychotic as it might sound - the film, concerning itself with Hollywood and the movie-making business, has become more realistic since its debut in 1950 and that is one of the reasons why this film is a true REEL CLASSIC.

Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder and released by Paramount Pictures, Sunset Boulevard tells the tale of Joe Gillis (William Holden), a struggling screenwriter with only flat and trite ideas for flicks, and his relationship with a former silent cinema star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), whom he meets on a whim, trying to outrun repossession goons.  Gillis has nowhere to turn.

Desmond has an idea for her return to the screen and Gillis - who needs the money - agrees to get the job done. Desmond is afraid of the world outside her window.  She only watched silent movies and refuses to admit that she used to be someone, but caught under her languid spell even Max (famed director Erich von Stroheim), her butler, seems damned normal.  But nothing in this forgotten mansion is as it seems.

But what happens here will not be forgotten.  Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and winner for Best Writing, Best Art Direction and Best Music, Sunset Boulevard was named by the American Film Institute as "12" on its list of the Greatest American Movies and it clearly shows thanks to this inspired restoration.  

Co-starring Nancy Olson, Jack Webb, Lloyd Gough, Fred Clark, famed director Cecil B. DeMille, and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, Sunset Boulevard is now on blu-ray thanks to Paramount's 4K restoration.

5/5 stars

Sunset Boulevard

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Criterion
Available on Blu-ray
- April 25, 2017
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Subtitles
: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Audio:
English: Dolby TrueHD MonoFrench: Dolby Digital MonoPortuguese: Dolby Digital MonoSpanish: Dolby Digital Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Gloria Swanson gives a career-defining performance as faded silent screen star Norma Desmond in director Billy Wilder's dark and masterful film classic, Sunset Boulevard. William Holden is Joe Gillis, the young, down-on-his-luck screenwriter whom Norma drafts to help provide her with a workable script for her planned "return" to the modern-day screen. Erich von Stroheim is Max von Mayerling, Norma's devoted servant and chauffeur, who harbors a few personal revelations of his own. Hollywood has never taken a more ominous, compelling or electrifying look at Hollywood than in this brilliant, Oscar-winning tour de force that still mesmerizes with its witty, sardonic script, unforgettable cast, and provocative storyline. The exceptional cast also includes Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough, Jack Webb and -- as themselves -- Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson and H.B. Warner

Video:

Paramount Home Media Distribution presents Sunset Boulevard with a fully restored 1.37:1 transfer.  The shadows are deeper and stronger as an acetate 35mm duplicate negative was used as a primary source for scanning in 4K to create the highest picture quality possible.  There are so many new details to decipher thanks to this 1080p transfer.  And, as original documents from Wilder were followed during the restoration, the new transfer more accurately reflects what he was intending the picture to look and feel like.  And it all works to create an experience that is unlike any other in Hollywood’s history.

Audio:

Dialogue-focused and direct, the Dolby TrueHD Mono soundtrack attached here is plenty solid for the death and decay along Sunset Boulevard.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • There is a great commentary from Ed Sikov, the author of Billy Wilder’s biography

Special Features:

This release has about two and a half hours of bonus material that attempts to shine light on the making of the film, its stars, and its history.  Fans of this movie and its legacy are absolutely going to love the attention and respect paid to it here.

  • Commentary by Ed Sikov, author of On Sunset Blvd: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder
  • Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning
  • Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back
  • The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard
  • Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic
  • Two Sides of Ms. Swanson
  • Stories of Sunset Boulevard
  • Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden
  • Recording Sunset Boulevard
  • The City of Sunset Boulevard
  • Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard
  • Morgue Prologue Script Pages
  • Deleted Scene—"The Paramount-Don't-Want-Me Blues" (HD)
  • Hollywood Location Map
  • Behind the Gates: The Lot
  • Edith Head: The Paramount Years
  • Paramount in the '50s
  • Theatrical Trailer

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 5/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

5/5 stars

Sunset Boulevard

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime:
110 mins
Director
: Billy Wilder
Writer:
Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder
Cast:
William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim
Genre
: Drama | Noir
Tagline:
A HOLLYWOOD STORY: Sensational...Daring...Unforgettable...Sunset Blvd.
Memorable Movie Quote: "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!"
Theatrical Distributor:
Paramount Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
August 10, 1950
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
April 15, 2017.
Synopsis: Norma Desmond is an aging silent film queen who refuses to accept that the world has forgotten her. She hires a down-on-his-luck screenwriter named Joe Gillis to help write a movie to restart her dead career. While Joe believes he can manipulate her to his benefit, but he soon finds out he’s dead wrong. Joe’s conflicting feelings towards their awkward relationship and Norma’s diminishing grasp on reality leads a grim death.

Sunset Boulevard

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