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OK, so it was a one sided love story.

But, it made a great movie.

Sunset Blvd. is a classic example of film noir, great casting, great acting, and just how good Hollywood can be.

I'm ready for my close UP

The film opens at the end of the story with police cars tearing down Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.  A mansion where the body of a young man floats in the swimming pool looms into site.

Floating star

Joe, the floater,  played by William Holden, narrates the events leading up to his death, and a flashback begins.

Six months earlier, Joe was out of work as a screenwriter.

With a few undistinguished B movies to his credit, he’s broke, and tries to persuade a Paramount Pictures producer to buy a script, but a script reader trashes it as Joe hears all.

Dejected, he leaves and at an intersection, spots the repo-man.

He’s been out of work for a while.

During the chase, he blows a tire, spots a seemingly deserted mansion on Sunset, and wheels into the garage.


Looking over the decaying house, he hears woman inside call to him.

She’s “slightly” confused, and mistakes Joe for the pet undertaker who is to dispose of her recently deceased pet chimpanzee…see, it wasn’t just Michael Jackson.

Max, the ”slightly” scary butler shows him in.

Joe recognizes the woman as long-forgotten silent-film star Norma Desmond, played by an equally forgotten Gloria Swanson. When she learns that he is a writer, she asks for his opinion on an voluminous script she has written for a film about Salome of the Bible.  You know, John the Baptist, Herod, head on a charger, yeah, that one.

Norma, delusional at this point, hopes her script as a film will revive her acting career.

The script is so bad, that Joe, who really isn’t even a good writer, finds it awful, but flatters Norma, and weasels himself into a job as her script doctor.

Keeping it clean, Joe stays in a guest room over the garage…for the night.

The next morning, he objects when he sees that Max has brought his belongings, at the command of Norma, into the big scary mansion.

Feeling like a loser, he hates being dependent on her, but comes to accept his new life, eventually moving into the bedroom of Norma’s former husbands – there were several.

Realizing how clueless she is of the fact that her fame has died, he falls instep with the charade.

She refuses to hear any criticism and makes him watch her old films in the evenings.

Really, nothing creepy about that at all.

She still receives fan letters, which Joe later learns are all written by Max.

Max spends some serious time explaining just how fragile Norma’s state of mind is, and that she’s been suicidal in the past.

Over the next few weeks, Norma lavishes attention on Joe and buys him expensive clothing, including a tuxedo for a New Year’s Eve party attended only by the two of them.

Again, nothing creepy at all.

Horrified to learn that she has fallen in love with him, he tries to let her down gently.

No dice, she slaps him and retreats to her room.

Joe goes to see his friend, an assistant director, and asks if he can crash at his place for a while.

While there, of course, the friend throws a party, Joe meets the script reader who had trashed his script only to find out she’s his AD friend’s main squeeze.

Still unimpressed with most of his work, she believes a scene in one of his scripts has potential, but Joe no longer cares.

He phones Max back at the mansion, asks him to pack UP his gear, only to find out that Norma has attempted suicide – again. Overcome with guilt, Joe returns to the mansion, apologizes to Norma and kisses her…gag, hack, hack…and she draws him down to her bed.


Norma sends her script to close friend Cecil B. DeMille at Paramount.

The phone rings, it’s a Paramount executive, but Norma refuses to speak to anyone other than the great  DeMille himself.

Star treatment, all that stuff.

Fed-UP with the brush from Cecil, she has Max drive her and Joe to the studio in her 1929 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A luxury automobile.


DeMille gives her the star treatment all the while tactfully avoiding questions about her Solome script.

Many of the older hands; technicians, and extras recognize her and welcome her back.

Joe and Max, meanwhile, learn that studio merely wants to rent her car for a film set in the 1920s. Max, the wiser of the two, insists that they say nothing to Norma.

Later on, Max confesses to Joe that he was once a respected film director. He discovered Norma as a teenage girl, made her a star, and became her first husband. When she quit, he abandoned his career to become her servant because he could not bear to leave her.

Not creepy at all!

While Norma subjects herself to a rigorous series of beauty treatments to prepare for what she believes is her comeback role, Joe sneaks out at night to work with the script reader on a screenplay. Although she is engaged to Joe’s best friend, she and Joe fall in love.

Meanwhile over at Downton Abbey back at the decaying mansion, Norma finds the script with script reader’s name on it, she phones her and insinuates what sort of man Joe really is.  In case you haven’t picked UP on it, he’s a gigilo.

Joe, overhearing her, invites the script reader/love interest to come see for herself. When she arrives, he pretends he is satisfied being a gigolo. After she leaves in tears, Joe begins packing, giving UP on Hollywood, having decided to return to Ohio and his old newspaper job.

He makes Norma painfully aware of the truth — there will be no comeback, her fan mails comes from Max, and she has been forgotten. Disregarding Norma’s threats to shoot herself, he turns to leave, and in a fit of passion, she shoots him three times. He falls into the pool.

The flashback ends. Norma has completely lost touch with reality, and thinks the news cameras are there for her film shoot.

Max, still in love with her, plays along. The police reluctantly, but to get her to leave the house without dragging her out, do as well.

Max gives her what she craves so desperately: he sets up the scene for her and yells “Action!” Norma dramatically descends her grand staircase, talks about how happy she is to be acting again, and ends with the famous final lines, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Norma Desmond

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