Sunday, 30 November 2014

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Farligt Møde
I know Hitchcock is a bit of a one-trick pony and that if you try long enough eventually you will get it right, but there is just no way around it, ”Strangers on a Train” is the most effective suspense thriller on the List so far. No exaggerations are needed in describing this movie, it is literally a film that finds me at the edge of my seat, a film that forces me to look away when the suspense is peaking, a film that is daring me to continue. This is a film from a Hitchcock in top shape.

Farley Granger, the accomplish with second thoughts in “Rope”, is back as a professional tennis player, Guy Haines, who again is faced with a lunatic dreaming of perfect murders. This time it is not a facistoid student with ideas of superior beings but a true and very entertaining nutcase, Bruno Anthony in the shape of Robert Walker. Guy is riding on a train when he is approached by Bruno. Bruno seems to know all about his private life and the particular predicament he is in. Guy is having a not so secret relationship with Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), a senator’s daughter while being unhappily married to the promiscuous Miriam Haines (Laura Elliott). Bruno is presenting him with a fantastic plan where he kill Miriam in return for which Guy will kill Bruno’s father. Guy is laughing it off as a (tasteless) joke and thinks no further of it until Miriam is found dead and Bruno seeks him out to fulfill his part of the deal.

Bruno Walker is a great character. Imagine Bill Murray transplanted back to 1951 being his usual underplayed crazy self. Something like “What about Bob?”. Robert Walker is so similar to Bill Murray that I would not be surprised if somebody told me they were somehow related. And Bill Murray is my favorite actor ever. End. Bruno Anthony is clearly a mental case, but with rich parents he is also privileged and does more or less what he feels like. He is charming and fun and very clever but also a total psychopath. In a scene we see his loving mother deriding him for his funny ideas like blowing up the White House, so we know he has a history of mad stuff before this round. When Guy does not follow through with his end of Bruno’s brilliant plan he first decides to remind him a bit and when that is not enough he starts pestering him and keeps showing up at the most inconvenient moments.

From Guy Haines end this is a nightmare. Yes, he hated his wife, but he would never have killed her. Or would he? That is what people around him are starting to think. And the fact that he did have that conversation with Bruno. Does that not make him an accomplish? That is what Bruno is trying to impress on him and he half think it himself. With one hand he is a public figure about to be married into an even more public family and with public aspirations in politics. On the other hand he is being stalked by this mad person who is trying to drag him into some crazy murder scheme. Suddenly he is very much alone.

Hitchcock has created a very clever movie where he balances the very morbid suspense theme with a very dark comedic theme. He has certainly done this before, numerous times, so often in fact that you could blame him for making the same movie over and over and with some right. In the case of “Strangers on a Train” he just manages to get that balance exactly right so that we feel the nightmare of Guy Haines and still can be amused of that lunatic Bruno Anthony. This could so easily have gone over the top and become an outright comedy. Not just because of Robert Walker’s character, but also because of the crazy stunts this forces the Anne Morton and her sister Barbara (Patricia Hitchcock, Alfred’s daughter) into. In a less expert hand it probably would, but Hitchcock manages to maintain the balance, even in the final and almost ridiculous showdown on the carousel. That is no simple feat.

At first I was a bit disappointed that Hitchcock had gone back to black and white considering how well he made the colors work in “Rope”, but in fact “Strangers on a Train” has so many noir elements going that this movie just had to be made with lots of dark shadows. Guy Haines has to feel that Bruno is some sort of dark alter ego, a crazy child within himself that is haunting him. That just would not work half as well in color.

My DVD comes with a British release version that should make Bruno even more of a lunatic and one of these days I will try that version. Certainly this is a movie that can handle a re-watch.


Thursday, 27 November 2014

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Omstigning til Paradis
One of the problems early cinema faced was to translate acting on a stage to acting on a screen without sound. In the beginning movies were simply filmed theater and the only concession to the film media were excessive nonverbal acting and intertitles en masse. It took a while, but eventually filmmakers learned to make use of the special possibilities the media gave and created a unique art form. Fifty years later we are right back at the beginning. “A Streetcar Named Desire” is simply filmed theater with the difference from fifty years earlier that no concessions are necessary.

Elia Kazan, a true actor’s director, staged “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway and when he translated it to the silver screen he hardly changed anything. Even the actors were mainly the same. There are a lot of good things that can be said about a faithful adaption, especially if the story is strong enough as it is. In this case two things are bothering me. By simply translating the movie the possibilities of cinema are practically ignored, like in those early movies. That means that everything hinges on the acting and dialogue of the characters. To last two hours that better be good, or this is going to be a long and boring film. Both are excellent, I just wonder if the story is strong enough.

The second problem is the manner of acting. On the stage all acting and dialogue are loud, clear and very pronounced. Exaggerated, so the audience has a chance of following the play. I understand the necessity, but I always found it a trifle annoying because it made the characters almost caricatures. What Kazan did here was that he let the actors act out the play as if they were of a stage, which to a large extent makes them, well, very theatrical and frankly annoying. For these two reason I probably liked this movie less than it deserves.

This is the story of three characters, Blanche, Stan and Stella. Stan (Marlon Brando) and Stella (Kim Hunter) are married and live in a small, cramped and way too hot apartment in New Orleans when Stella’s sister Blanche (Vivien Leigh) moves in.

Blanche and Stella are of some old school southern pedigree and where Stella has put that behind her for a normal and realistic life, Blanche still cling to it. All that pedigree, style, manner and fancy is a shield she uses to protect herself against the outside world. She measures her own worth on that scale and desperately needs confirmation that she is a young, beautiful and sophisticated southern belle. The more she crack up on the inside the more her shell becomes her reality and, frankly, she is totally cuckoo. It is curious to see Vivien Leigh in this role 12 year after she played the most famous of all Southern belles in Gone with the Wind. Here are all the manners, arrogance and speech but nothing of the steel and backbone of Scarlett. Blanche is entirely hollow.

Stanley is the absolute opposite. He is a Man (capital intended) in the most basic and archetypical form. His appearance exudes masculinity as he walks around in a sweaty t-shirt. He is no-nonsense and takes no shit from anyone and anybody who challenge him are met with fury. Stanley is the king in his own house. He holds poker nights, drinks, smokes and shouts exactly as he pleases and anything happening to him and his wife is his business. There is absolutely no restraint on him, no form or code that he follows or respects. Instead he is honesty in its most raw and animalistic form. This is only Marlon Brando’s second movie, but a massive breakthrough for him. The first thing I thought when he first appeared was that this was Brad Pitt somehow sent back to 1951 and I can certainly see how and why he became a massive sex symbol.

The plot is essentially the clash between these two characters. They are at every turn able to bring out the worst in each other. The more airs Blanche put on the more provoked and aggressive Stanley gets, which in turn makes Blanche retreat even further into her fantasy world of being a refined lady. Both of them are absolutely insane and cut off from any sort of normality, but they are also both right about the other. Stanley is calling Blanche’s bluff every time, he understands more than anybody that there is absolutely nothing underneath the shell and he is right, in principle at least, about protecting his friend Mitch and Stella against this fake woman, but his behavior is so atrocious and brutal that he does a lot more harm than good and only manages to burn his bridges.

Blanche on the other hand is entirely right when she exposes Stan as a beast of a man with no control, hardly better than an animal, and a man who is unsafe for Stella to be around. But Blanche is just so lunatic that coming from her the accusations sound weak.

Caught in the middle of these to opposite poles is Stella. She is supposed to be the pillar of sense in this game, but her oddity is that she is hanging on to these two loonies despite their obvious insanity. The why of that may be difficult to grasp until you catch the underlying current of emotion in the film. The steamy heat of New Orleans and the sensual music play on basic emotions and it is clear that raw sexual desire is what is keeping Stella and Stanley together. It is also clear that desire plays an important part in Blanche mental state. She desires to be wanted so bad that it is literally driving her crazy. What keeps her and Stella together is almost an opposite compassionate sisterly love, but that emotion has very hard conditions in this raw environment.

In the end however it is her baby that saves Stella from this madhouse. Here is a clean and true emotion and in that there is no room for Stan and Blanche.

This is an actor’s movie. Overacting maybe, certainly to my taste – there is a long way from northern Jutland to The French Quarter in New Orleans, but nevertheless strong performances. Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and, surprise, Karl Malden as Mitch, all received an academy award for this movie, though the one that really deserved it, if only for his sheer presence and shout of “STELLA!!!!”, Marlon Brando did not.

I understand the movie and I understand why it is famous, but it did not appeal very much to me. I disliked every one of the characters and was just waiting to the whole thing to blow up. Dysfunctional relationships is not my favorite topic and I generally try to avoid that sort of films. I do respect this one though and I certainly foresee a lot of interesting movies with Marlon Brando.  

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Ace in the Hole (The Big Carnival) (1950)

Ace in the Hole
Watching movies long after they are made allows us to look at them in ways contemporary viewers could not. A point in particular is that we can recognize a movie for being ahead of its time. This is certainly the case with “Ace in the Hole”.

This is a story about news people who go far outside what is morally and ethically right to boost a news item for maximum return. The item becomes worth much more than the people at the heart of it while the media have their own corrupt agenda that has nothing or little to do with the actual crisis. It is a very modern story and one that is very relevant today where media often are willing to go far out of their way to score points on a story.

The surprise here is that “Ace in the Hole” was made at the height of the McCarthy inquisition where anything that could be read as a criticism of American values would get a harsh reception, both in the legal system and in the public. Billy Wilder as both screenwriter, director and producer delivers a merciless criticism of journalism as sensationalist entertainment and thereby put a big, fat question mark on the integrity of a national institution. How did he dare? And how did he get away with it?

Well, the answer to the first question is simple: He was Billy Wilder, and he was scared of nobody. To the second question the answer is that Wilder had secured so much control on the movie that he could practically get away with anything. However the movie did not do well at the box office. Not in America, though it did do quite well in Europe, and the reason is probably that the public at this time was not ready for this kind of sarcasm.

It is a shame really because this is the kind of movie that, exaggerations aside, points out a real issue that the public has to deal with or at least be aware of, namely that of unethical journalism.

Anyway, I am way ahead of myself. “Ace in the Hole” is the story of newspaper journalist Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) who, having been fired from quite a few newspapers, finds himself begging for a job at a local newspaper in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tatum is a self-centered asshole who clearly thinks that he is too big a star for this place, but to my surprise he actually lands the job. Fast forward one year and Tatum is getting out of his mind with boredom. He is desperately waiting for that break that will give him fame and bring him back to the big city.

When a local fellow gets stuck in an old Indian cave Tatum sees his chance. This is the break he has been waiting for if he can just make the story big enough. Tatum is like the energizer bunny as he orchestrates the biggest story in years and soon he has the attention of media and public from all over the country who follow him and the story of poor Leo stuck in the mine.

It is very clearly wrong what Tatum is doing. They could have gotten Leo out in less than a day by shoring up the walls with timber, but instead they insist on a ridiculous drilling project from the top of the hill because this story need to last for a week. A single day simply will not do. Tatum get the law on his side by convincing the corrupt sheriff that this spectacle is just what he needs to get reelected and thus he cajole, tease or threatens everybody to work with him on this show. And a show it is. Soon the fields in front of the cave is a fairground with rides, music and food and none of it of course will help Leo a bit, but make Tatum fly plenty.

In all this hubbub we can almost forget that Tatum is an asshole. The energy he exudes is contagious and we almost admire him as does the young photographer Herbie (Robert Arthur) who becomes something of a fan. Tatum is driven and ruthless, but he is also capable and making it happen and is thus both hero and villain in one person.

Leo’s wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling) is just as rotten. She has stayed for five years in the middle of nowhere and just want to get out. She quickly finds out that the spectacle will give her lots of dough and thereby the means to get away in style. She cares nothing for Leo, but takes a liking to Tatum. Tatum will have none of that. To him she is a pawn who has to play her piece in the spectacle and that is all. It is easy to despise Lorraine, but she is also a person he is stuck in a place and marriage she does not want and so grabs the opportunity to fix that situation. That is not entirely unsympathetic.

And so everybody are lined up to milk this event to the max.

But then, at the crest of the wave, disaster strikes. Inside the cave the man whom we have almost forgotten is about to die and will not last till the drill reach him. It is also too late to go in the easy way. The entire spectacle comes crashing down around Tatum and he realizes that he with this project of personal fame has killed the very man he exploited. To make matters worse Leo never realizes that Tatum has fooled him, but to the end believes him his friend. The self-destruction of Chuck Tatum is spectacular.

Kirk Douglas is given a lot of great lines and he is the spokesman of the cynicism Wilder seems to have about media. For example he emphasizes the human interest angle and points out that people cannot relate to hundreds or thousands of dead, but one person in danger, that grabs the imagination of people. It is sad but true, even today. I think Wilder may be thinking with some bitterness about the holocaust where he lost family members, and object to how the media in that light can go overboard when it is just a single person who is in trouble. In line with Tatum’s role as both protagonist and antagonist he voices arguments both for and against what he as representative of the media is doing. At times emphasizes the greatness of the show while at others cynically mock it.

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the film actually follow many of the Film Noir tropes. Tatum is the anti-hero who through personal failings rides towards his doom, helped on the way by a vicious femme fatale. The hard, cynical tone is also in line with film noir and so is the gritted dialogue.

Billy Wilder’s charge against media abuse is witty, intelligent and biting in its sarcasm, but it is also a damn good movie and one that has not gotten old. Wilder, you old fox, you have done it again.   


Thursday, 13 November 2014

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Manden Uden Hæmninger
It is an interesting day today. I am writing this review on “In a Lonely Place” with half an eye on live streaming from the landing on a comet. Two things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other but the name. Philae and Rosetta are truly in a lonely place as well. If the landing succeeds I will likely mention it further down in my review. Meanwhile I will try to focus on the movie.

“In a Lonely Place” is a bit like an anecdote in Hollywood history. Squeezed in between some of Bogart’s great performances like “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The African Queen” “In a Lonely Place” is a much smaller movie and maybe overlooked for that reason. It is subdued and smaller in scale and that may in fact be its strength, because everything feels tight and claustrophobic to the extent that we as a viewer feel trapped as much as the characters. It may be a lonely place but it is also a very uncomfortable place and Nicholas Ray, the director manage to create a confined space from which there is no escape.

This is a portrait of a man with some serious mental problems. Humphrey Bogart’s Dixon Steele suffers from what I would guess would be bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness. He moves from manic obsession with his work to depressive stupor, from being the nicest guy around to a violent maniac and when he is having his fits, whether one way or the other he lives in his own pseudo reality where the world is at his feet / conspire against him. I have seen people being manic and even when it is in positive direction it is pretty scary. In this case it is scarier still because in many ways Dixon Steele is the same Bogart character he is in so many other of his movies. Same ticks, same look, same lines except here he spins entirely out of control. The amazing thing is how well Bogart does it. You would almost believe it is really him, which for the sake of Lauren Bacall, I hope it is not.

Gloria Grahame is the woman, Laurel Gray, who tries to live with him. He is easy enough to love when he is normal and his strangeness is at first is what makes him interesting, but soon enough she has to cope with his lunacy and that is not so fun at all. How can you love a man who can turn deeply paranoid and violent, who at the slightest trigger may have it in him to kill someone? The answer is of course that despite all the understanding in the world it is just not possible. In fact it quickly turns into a nightmare of fear and worry.

Dixon Steele is in a lonely place because he disappears into that paranoid world of his where nobody can follow him, but also because his actions makes people flee from him. His only friends are his agent, who needs him as a client and a drunken actor, who has nobody else. But Laurel Gray also finds herself in a lonely place fighting a one-woman battle against Dixon Steele’s illness. The sad thing is that her company may be the only thing that can help him, yet he makes it impossible and so there is only one way it can go.

The story is wrapped up in a noir framework with a murder and a nagging suspicion. The police suspects Steele to have killed a woman and we just do not know if he really did it, nor do any of the characters involved. It is a neat whodunit story and there are many beautiful noir elements, but they are only wrapping to the real sorry about the horror of mental illness. The seemingly aimless drive in the night that opens the movie is very symbolic for the lonely existence of Dixon Steele, in his mental illness.

This is also another skewering of Hollywood, which seems to have been the theme of 1950. Most of the characters are living on the fringe of glamorous Hollywood, but in circumstances not particularly flashy. It portraits people who sacrifice their creativity in order to produce inane scripts for inane movies in order to make a living. These are the actors who never quite made it and a manager grasping for straws. It is the Hollywood of lost dreams. To me it does not feel so much like a skewering. This is more or less what we have come to expect for most people who battle it out in the film industry, but I suppose in 1950 this was a bucket of cold water on all those hopefuls who dreamed of a career there.

The movie is produced by Bogart’s own production company Santana Productions and it is curious that Bogart chose this story considering how unflattering it is to his character. He is essentially showing a dark flipside to all the heroes he has played. But maybe it was the challenge in it, the chance to do something different with a role that appealed to him and certainly Bogie nails it here. Watch this movie for Bogie and the cinematography if not for the rather depressing story. This is the performance of a real star.

In the meantime Philae has landed on the comet. They are not entirely sure how it has fared yet, but it seems to be okay. I could not help cheering with the staff in the control room, it is quite amazing when you think about it. I read that somebody suggested that Bruce Willis could go and fix the harpoon, he should have some experience with drilling on a comet… But this is a story that needs no extra Hollywood glamour. Sometimes reality is pretty cool.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Young and the Damned (Los Olvidados) (1950)

Fortabt Ungdom
Ah, Bunuel, Bunuel, what to do about you?

No doubt Luis Bunuel is something of an enfant terrible among directors and this, his fourth movie on the List, only confirms that position. After years out of the spotlight Bunuel pops up in Mexico doing his own version of realism. Note that this is the guy who practically invented cinematic surrealism and is known to have a rather… subjective… attitude towards realism and documentarism. So, what is such a fellow doing in this new realm of realism? And what sort of realism is this?

To answer this you need to know that Bunuel was politically somewhere to the left of Lenin and very much a political person. Combine this with an anarchistic urge to provoke and you have… a modern artist I suppose. Well, what you get is a movie who will highlight a social issue and not pull any punches in driving home the points. In fact it is likely to manipulate you as viewer to react to it and this is exactly the kind of movie “Los Olvidados” is.

“Los Olvidados” means “The forgotten ones” and the English title is “The Young and the Damned” and that sums it up pretty neatly. It is essentially a portrait of poverty in Mexico City in the eye height of big children and teenagers. Not so much a list of all the ailments of these people but more the catch 22 the youngsters are caught in where the dynamics of their poverty is generating the very things that bring them down and ruin them not just economically but also morally.

There is an excellent featurette included on the DVD with Derek Malcolm, who describe it as a boxing match where you are hit in the stomach every two minutes and a movie with only one good person, a person who is essentially outside the story. All the characters in this dismal place are morally ruined by their poverty and do horrible things to each other.

We follow the boy Pedro (Alfonso Mejía), though it takes a while before we realize that we are following him, who really wants to do good, to be a better person, but he keeps running into a wall and is back worse than he started. His father is long dead and his mother (Stella Inda) is working all day to put food on the table for the crowd of children she has. She has practically and certainly emotionally cut off Pedro because he hangs out with the other street children. This throws him into the arms of the leader of the street gang, an older boy/young man Jaibo (Roberto Cobo). He is a true asshole. He has escaped from juvenile prison and now enjoys the awe and admiration from the younger boys. He steals, assaults and extorts people as if it was his birth right and he is the father figure Pedro is missing. Could you possibly think of a worse role model?

We see some truly horrible scenes where the gang assaults a cripple and a blind man and Pedro witnesses Jaibo kill Julian, one of the few teenagers in the neighborhood who actually tries to get out of the slum. Jaibo accuses Julian of telling on him and for this he has to be brought down. Jaibo’s reign of terror demands that people are more afraid of him than the police. Sounds like Mexico today if you ask me. Jaibo is also the wall that Pedro keeps running into. Pedro misses his mother, especially after the murder on Julian has shown him where his path is leading him and he decides that he will reform and be a person his mother can be proud of, but every step of the way Jaibo shows up and ruins things. Jaibo is probably thought of as the symbolic rope that prevents the poor from escaping their fate. In fact you will probably do well looking for symbols in this film, this is Bunuel after all.

But Jaibo is not the only asshole in this movie. Everybody do terrible things. Pedro’s mother is no saint. Besides cutting off a son who needs her she is also a whore who sleeps with Jaibo of all people and, it turns out, does not know the fathers of her children. The blind man is a terrible task master for the lost child Ojitos. Ojitos himself encourage the killing of the blind man and the “angel” girl Meche helps her father get rid of the body of her friend by dumping him on a landfill to avoid the police. As a viewer you cannot latch on to anybody because they will all let you down and the message is clear, left to their own the poor will never break free, but keep being stuck in the muck. Admirable message, true, but it makes for a very difficult watch. If I compare it to “Ladri di Biciclette” there was also a film where the world is cruel to father and son and no immediate hope of absolution, but in contrast to that film we have nobody to sympathize with. Pedro is the closest one, but do we really want to root for him? Yes, in the end we do, because we feel the sincerity in him. He wants to be trusted. His mother did not give him that trust, but he finally finds one and, bang, Jaibo ruins it all again. We are as frustrated as Pedro and I know why Pedro just want to beat the crap out of Jaibo. In a standard movie he would do exactly that, but this is Bunuel and he does not like to give you what you expect. That would be against his message.

I am not masochist enough to like this movie. It hurts too much. I also understand why it did not work at the box office. This is a movie that the audience hated but the critics love and true enough, despite being withdrawn after only three days in Mexico it went on to win Best Director in Cannes and currently has a rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. So Bunuel manages again to provoke and throw a social issue in our face. It works, I have to give him that, you understand that we need to do something against poverty (surprise!), but man, I feel terrible watching this.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Sunset Boulevard
”Sunset Boulevard” is a movie I have been looking forward to a long time. It is one of those I have heard spoken of with great admiration, but never actually seen before. That is a line that I have come to repeat a great many times over the past few years and this is certainly a case in particular. I am not sure what I expected, maybe a harsh critique of Hollywood or some spectacular performances, but I certainly did not expect this to be a film noir. But film noir it is and very much so.

We have a story narrated in flashback with an opening scene revealing that something is terribly wrong. The male lead is heading for his doom through a combination of ill fate and personal failings and we have the most sublime and extravagant femme fatale in movie history. Add to that a black and white cinematography that emphasizes the dark, derelict and, well, bizarre and we are in solid film noir land. I am not complaining, to me that is an added bonus, I love noir.

As a noir “Sunset Boulevard” is interesting, even captivating, and as a viewer it keeps me at the edge of my seat, not through some criminal scheme but with the tension between the characters and the weirdness that seem on the edge of exploding into a monumental disaster. When the disaster does happen, cause it does indeed, it still feels unexpected and surprising and yet the most logical and fitting conclusion to the story. That is not small feat. Billy Wilder has shown again and again that can make excellent film noir (“Double Indemnity” for instance) and I suppose it was a fitting framework for the movie.

Framework is actually not a bad term, because the film noir cinematography and storyline is not the main feature of this film. The main feature is Norma Desmond and all she represents. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is an aging woman who used to be a megastar back in the silent era. In the transition to sound she got left behind like so many others of Hollywood’s great, but Norma Desmond remained in the dream of her greatness unwilling and unable to face the reality that she is not 25 years anymore and that her career is over and gone. Even the mansion she lives in cries of has-been. When the male lead Joe Gillis (William Holden) first arrives at the house he compares it to Miss Havisham’s mansion in “Great Expectations” and that is truly a fitting comparison. Where Havisham stopped time at her wedding Desmond stopped time when her career ended.

In a sense the movie is a portrait of Norma Desmond and it is not difficult to imagine this portrait being based on some real characters in Hollywood. Maybe Billy Wilder had even been contacted by a Norma Desmond the way she contacts Cecil B. DeMille. Who knows? It is through the eyes of Joe Gillis we see this woman. He is down on his luck and with no small amount of sarcastic bitterness himself, so when he describes her manners, gestures, ludicrous manuscript and raving insanity it is both funny and immensely tragic. Should we laugh or cry at this woman who fools herself and makes a laughingstock of herself in the eyes of everybody else? Gillis despise her but he also pity her and so helps uphold her illusion. Of course it helps that he needs her money and she still have loads of it. In fact everybody around her helps her maintaining her illusion. Some for her money, at the studio out of respect for what she used to be, her card playing friends because they are of the same stock and some like Max, the butler, (Erich von Stroheim) out of love.

Who are Billy Wilder after in this movie? Is it the aging stars who will not face reality who he intends to expose? Or is it the movie industry and all that surrounds these stars that he is aiming at for their hypocrisy and leeching on the poor insane? Probably both, but as much as Norma Desmond is revealed as a delusional and dangerous spider queen there is also not a small amount of love for her and her kind as if they were unjustly forgotten. Certainly it is a very intelligent script and a stark portrait.

In hindsight Gloria Swanson is the most unforgettable feature of the film. She was not anywhere close to the first pick for the role, but I could hardly think of anyone better. In some ways she was a Norma Desmond, having experienced the stardom and adoration as a silent star, but failing to make the transition to sound. The difference was that she had accepted her fate and was quite lucid about it, yet I am sure it was not difficult to identify with Norma Desmond. When she enters the gates of Paramount studios in her old car and relish at her return it was also Swanson’s glorious return and Cecil B. DeMille was also her old director with whom she had her great successes. Norma exclaims that without her there would not be a Paramount and that too could be said of Gloria Swanson. But similarities aside Gloria Swanson is magnificent as Norma Desmond. This is Oscar awarding performance as I ever saw it. Wow! She steals the picture in every sense of the word and without having seen Judy Holiday who actually won the award I would still claim she was robbed. A statue for Swanson would have had the added benefit of being a fitting lifetime achievement considering that her career basically ended before she had a chance to win any (though she was nominated twice before her career faded during the transition).

Billy Wilder has included a ton of references, which makes this a great movie for film nerds as well. Making Erich von Stroheim Desmond’s butler, first director and first husband is both really weird and telling of the characters of Max and Norma, but also fitting in the sense that Stroheim was also a “broken” director (though he, once he gave up direction, became an excellent actor), he directed Swanson in some of her most disastrous movies and the one they screen in the movie was essentially the one that broke them both: “Queen Kelly”. Norma’s card playing friends, the waxworks, as Gillis calls them, were in reality all stars that did not make the transition, most notably Buster Keaton. Their inclusion in the film is like an afterthought, but a very poignant one. There are many more references and I can only recommend the extra material to the DVD which revels in them and rightly so.

All this fails to emphasize the brilliant script. Apparently Wilder did not allow a single change to the dialogue and yet it is spot on. This movie is as stuffed with quotable lines as “Casablanca” and many have entered the pop-culture since. In fact the movie would be great if it was just Swanson saying her wonderful lines. Just awesome.

I have not mentioned Nancy Olson as Joe Gillis love interest although she was nominated for an Academy Award. The reason is simply that apart from filling her role well, she is quite forgettable next to the massive presence which is Gloria Swanson.

Yes, I loved this movie, no doubt about it. I think moviegoers where spoilt in 1950 having both “All about Eve” and “Sunset Boulevard” to watch. Two phenomenal views on the entertainment industry and both with something so rare as excellent female roles and truly original stories.