DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "Sunset Boulevard" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Nov 15, 2002.

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  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    [​IMG]

    Sunset Boulevard




    Studio: Paramount
    Year: 1950
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 110 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.33:1)
    Subtitles: English



    "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
    [​IMG]
    Many of you may not be too surprised that up until
    this point, I had never seen Sunset Boulevard,
    the most acclaimed classic Hollywood tragedy from
    Director Billy Wilder. I was absolutely elated that
    Paramount sent me an early copy to review because
    it was a film that I had always heard so much about
    over the years. It is also a film that managed to
    exceeded all my expectations -- an absolutely
    fascinating and riveting piece of filmmaking. Gloria
    Swanson's portrayal of Norma Desmond is nothing
    short of incredible -- almost a disturbing feat.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    This classic, tragic film was honored with eleven
    Academy Award nominations and the winner of three
    Oscars: Best Story and Screenplay, Best Black and
    White Art Direction/Set Decoration, and Best Scoring
    of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. What really
    surprises me is that although both were nominated,
    the film never won Best Picture nor did Gloria
    Swanson receive an award for Best Actress.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a worn-out, broke
    and callous young screenwriter who can't get the
    studio to buy one of his scripts. He's so broke that
    his car is about to be repossessed. Late one afternoon,
    while attempting to ditch a pair of repo men, he
    pulls off L.A.'s Sunset Boulevard and into the
    driveway of a run down mansion belonging to Norma
    Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Norma is a long forgotten
    silent movie celebrity whose brilliant acting career
    came to a sudden halt with the advent of the talkies.
    The insane old movie queen lives in the past, assisted
    by her devoted butler, Max (Erich von Stroheim). Norma
    dreams of making a comeback in in the movie business.
    She even has a director in mind -- her old colleague
    Cecil B. DeMille (himself). Joe schemes to get back
    on his feet by editing Norma's script which she plans
    to use for her comeback. Yet Norma quickly gets the
    upper hand, by making Joe increasingly dependent
    on her for clothes, a car and even a place to live.
    But in the end, it is Joe that pays the price for
    enduring Norma's insanity. Her final descent down a
    long staircase is perhaps one of the most memorable
    moments in film history. Anyone that hasn't seen this
    film will be held just as captivated as I was.
    How is the transfer?
    Paramount has done the ultimate justice to this
    gorgeous black and white film. I have never seen
    this on any other format previously, but I have to
    assume that there was an awful amount of restoration
    done to this film because it looks flawless. Beyond
    this film's nicely detailed razor-sharp transfer,
    what impressed me the most was the total lack of
    film blemish. The print looks totally pristine
    with blacks that look black (instead of gray), and
    not a hint of dirt anywhere. This is the kind of
    transfer that reminds you how beautiful B&W movies
    can be.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    The mono sound is very clear, although I had to
    add a bit of volume to my receiver to bring the
    sound up to proper level. There's a slight hint
    of background hiss, but unless you really listen
    for it, you wouldn't know it exists.
    Special Features
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    It won't take you very long to realize how much
    effort was put into this Special Edition. Wait
    till you check out the absolutely terrific Main
    Menu that replicates an old movie house screen
    with images from the feature playing upon it.
    What is interesting is to watch how awful the
    original condition of these scenes are and
    compare it against the brand new pristine print
    of this DVD. Go ahead, use your remote, and play
    around with the menu selections. I think you'll
    be quite pleased with the clever crossovers as
    you go from one menu selection to another. This
    is not the kind of stuff you often see on a
    Paramount DVD, and I hope we see more of it. Bravo!
    Let's take a look at the wealth of extra material
    included on this DVD.
    We begin with a feature length commentary
    by Ed Sikov, author of On Sunset Boulevard:
    The Life And Times of Billy Wilder
    . I wasn't
    overly impressed with this commentary. In all due
    respect to Mr. Sikov, I found his commentary to
    be anything but relaxed -- far too dramatic, and
    sounding more like something read directly off a
    script or out of a book. We learn about the film's
    deleted original opening which has been discussed
    many times throughout the supplements. We learn
    how Wilder and writers Brackett and Marshman were
    eager to make this film an inside story of Hollywood,
    and how they chose specific locations in Tinsletown
    to get that flavor across. Sikov takes each scene
    and dramatically dissects it as if it were a class
    science project. There's some really in-depth
    information here about the actors, Billy Wilder's
    frame of mind, and even some Hollywood history to
    boot. However I must warn some of you that this may
    be a bit too much on the ears, and unfortunately,
    I gave up after 10 minutes of listening to various
    scenes.
    [​IMG]
    The Making of Sunset Boulevard is a brand
    new documentary that features author Ed Sikov. I
    found this featurette extremely fun, as it is
    just chock-full of stories about things that
    happened during the course of the filming and
    test screening. Right off the bat, we learn that
    the film originally opened in a very different
    manner. Through still pictures, we learn about
    an opening scene at the mortuary that didn't go
    over well with a screening audience. Next, we learn
    about the difficult task of filming the opening
    swimming pool sequence. Learn how mirrors were
    used to provide the desired effect. There's a great
    story about how outraged MGM's Louis B. Mayer
    became at a screening of the film. This was
    definitely not the image of Hollywood that Mayer
    wanted the public to see. Since I know so very
    little about Billy Wilder, there were some
    interesting stories to be told about the man and
    his filmmaking style told by the likes of critic
    Andrew Sarris, actress Nancy Olsen and Producer A.C.
    Lyles. There's even an interview with actress
    Glenn Close who plays Norma Desmond on Broadway.
    Close talks about how Desmond is one of the greatest
    characters of our time. What actresses were
    considered for the role of Desmond prior to Gloria
    Swanson? Mae West and Mary Pickford were two
    original considerations. It's interesting that
    Swanson fit the role to a tee, since she was an
    aged movie star on her way to making a film comeback.
    I don't think I have to urge any fan of this film
    to spend an extra 25 minutes and watch this
    absolutely engaging featurette that rises so far
    above the promotional crap that you see on other
    DVD releases.
    (length: appox. 25 minutes)
    [​IMG]
    Now this is really cool! At first glance, I was
    about to scoff at the simple-looking Hollywood
    Location Map that stood in front of me. It
    wasn't until I started playing around with my remote
    that I saw what a fascinating thing this was. It's
    like having your own little map of Hollywood. There's
    a star next to key sites that are represented in
    the film. There's Schwabb's Drug Store and
    Getty Mansion. My favorite location is
    Paramount Studios, which I have been to on
    several occasions. So I click on Paramount
    Studios
    , and suddenly, an entire new map of
    the studio lot unfolds. From here, I was able to
    click on various locations on the studio lot.
    As you click on each location, you watch a short
    clip that gives you a bit of history of your locale
    choice. Do yourself a favor and spend some time
    looking through this.
    [​IMG]
    A Photo Gallery offers nearly 50 still
    images from the Movie and Publicity.
    The most interesting collection of pictures for
    me, however, were the Production stills.
    This was an opportunity to see some very candid
    photos taken on the set. It's an opportunity to
    see some rare unseen moments with actors Swanson,
    Holden, Stroheim, Olson and even the great C.B.
    De Mille. It's amazing to look through the
    Publicity photos and see the immense effort
    and quality inf promoting films back in the golden
    age of Hollywood. These highly stylized B&W photos
    are just gorgeous to look at. A real treat!
    [​IMG]
    Morgue Prologue Script Pages contain two
    existing versions of the script for the original
    Morgue Prologue, as I have discussed in this review.
    As you go through these pages, a movie reel icon
    appears that lets you view the uncut shot (which is
    completely silent). I like the way this entire
    feature was laid out. It enables you to read the
    script while being able to access seconds of footage
    that pertains to that exact point in the copy. You
    get a really accurate idea of how the original
    opening of the film played out and I am certainly
    happy that this footage has even been included on
    this DVD.
    [​IMG]
    Edith Head - The Paramount Years is a short
    look at the 60 year career of Hollywood's legendary
    costume designer who worked at Paramount Pictures.
    I was amazed to see the her work shown in clips
    from films like Wings, The Greatest Show On
    Earth
    and White Christmas. Her career
    began on the Paramount lot in the early 20s and
    through the years she had a very friendly
    relationship with all the up and coming starlets,
    invoking some of her original costume ideas
    upon them. It was her unique way of making the
    people around her feel so important that made
    Edith Head one of the most important people on
    the Paramount lot. She earned 8 Academy Awards during
    her entire career.
    (length: approx. 13 minutes)
    [​IMG]
    The Music of Sunset Boulevard is a look
    at German-born composer Franz Waxman who settled
    in America, making his career in Hollywood with
    a series of film scores including The Bride of
    Frankenstein, Captains Courageous
    and Peyton
    Place
    . But before he could get his musical
    training at such a young age he had to make a deal
    with his father to first try a "real" profession.
    See this feature and learn what that profession was.
    This is a nice piece that is supported with
    interviews from Franz's son, John as well as composer
    Elmer Bernstein.
    (length: approx. 14 minutes)
    Finally, Paramount didn't forget to include the
    film's original theatrical trailer.
    I also wish to commend the studio for doing what
    most others don't -- including subtitles on all
    their Special Feature material. I can't begin to
    tell you how much more pleasurable it is to watch
    these extras with the aid of subtitles. While it
    helps me immensely as a reviewer, it's an asset
    for those who are hearing impaired. Nice job!
    Final Thoughts
    It was nearly 24 hours ago that I watched Sunset
    Boulevard for the very first time. This entire
    day, my mind was filled with its haunting images.
    This is one of the greatest classics I have ever
    seen -- truly the "meat and potatoes" of what had
    to be the finest film that Hollywood ever produced.
    [​IMG]
    To watch this film some 50 years later on DVD with
    its stunning, immaculate transfer is a real treat.
    I know how long fans have patiently awaited for
    this film's release to DVD. One look at this transfer
    will give you an idea of the amount of time that
    must have been spent on the restoration. It is very
    rare that you see old B&W films look this good.
    In addition, every ounce of the supplemental
    material is interesting to watch. These aren't
    the cheaply produced promotional pieces that I
    get sick of watching time and time again. Every
    featurette is a keyhole look at a golden moment
    in Hollywood history.
    I can't say enough about Sunset Boulevard.
    It's a film that I hope every member of this forum
    will take the opportunity to watch. I am so very
    proud of Paramount Pictures for putting considerable
    effort into this film's restoration and supplemental
    material.
    Release Date: November 26, 2002
     
  2. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    Ron,

    Thanks for the excellent review, I can't wait to get my filthy paws on this disc. This has been one of my most eagerly awaited titles since DVD was born, and after seeing these images, my desire has only grown. Wilder is by far my favorite movie writer/director and after reading about your positive reaction to "Sunset Boulevard", I would highly recommend you check out some of his other movies. My recommendations would be (Stalag 17, Sabrina, The Apartment, The Lost Weekend, & The Fortune Cookie) These are all readily available on DVD, but none have received the royal treatment they deserve, but all are quite enjoyable. I would also suggest "Double Indemnity" which is probably my favorite Wilder film, but the transfer on the now OOP Image disc is quite poor.

    My sig, was taken from I.A.L Diamond's speech at the AFI awards for Wilder in 1986. Diamond was Wilder's writing companion for the final 30+ years of his career starting with "Love in the Afternoon".
     
  3. BarryR

    BarryR Supporting Actor

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    The 26th can't get here soon enough. [​IMG]
     
  4. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Ron,
    Today, I've spent several hours with my dvd and I must say that Paramount did Wilder right with this dvd release. Nancy Olson, who is only surviving member of the cast still looks great and seeing her with Holden in Sunset Boulevard reminded of the several films they did together back in the 1950's.





    Crawdaddy
     
  5. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I'm preordering it this weekend. Fantastic work, Paramount and LDI!

    Perhaps Universal could allow LDI do get their hands on Double Indemmnity for restoration... I finally saw the transfer used for the DVD (on TCM) and it looked downright pitiful.
     
  6. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

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    Look forward to this disc, sounds great.
     
  7. Patrick_S

    Patrick_S Producer
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    Great view Ron, I saw this film for the time just a little over a year ago during the AFI 100 challenge.

    Since then I've watched it a couple of more times. My enjoyment for this film only increases with each viewing.

    I'll certainly be picking this one up on release day.
     
  8. Deepak Shenoy

    Deepak Shenoy Supporting Actor

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    Thanks Ron for a great review and for helping people of this forum discover a must-see classic. I have seen this movie on TV many times, but watching it on DVD in a pristine print will be like watching it again for the first time. I can't wait !
    Patrick, now that Criterion is releasing Universal's noir classic The Killers, I am hoping that Double Indemnity isn't too far behind. I agree that the print used for the DVD (which I have) is pathetic compared to some of the excellent B&W transfers we have seen for movies from the same time period.
     
  9. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

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    Bump!

    I think this thread got lost in the shuffle over the weekend.
     
  10. TomF

    TomF Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for the excellent review! Can't wait to get this one.

    You mentioned Gloria Swanson losing Best Actress. Judy Holliday won that year for Born Yesterday beating out both Swanson and Bette Davis in All About Eve. Holliday was good, but I thought Swanson and Davis were much better.

    Did they talk about other actors considered for the Holden role? I've read that it was actually created with Montgomery Clift in mind but he turned it down. He had an affair with an older woman in real life and I guess was afraid of the publicity.
     
  11. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    The fact that neither Swanson or Davis won Oscars for what were both two of the greatest performances on screen proves how little the Oscars mean.

    Back to the DVD...

    If the picture quality is anything like the screen shots, WOW! Thank you Paramount.
     
  12. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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  13. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    Thanks for the review, Ron. Another on my list.
     
  14. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Yes, that's discussed as far as Clift turning down the role and the featurette suggest that Holden was the better choice for the role after all.





    Crawdaddy
     
  15. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    So the Oscars serve a purpose because of the people who get snubbed? I'm sure that many more people are aware of Sawnson and Davis' work in SB and AAE than Holliday's in BY (in fact, people often accidently credit Davis as winning the oscar that year).

    If you want more conclusive proof about the oscars' worth, or lack there of, just look at Hithcocks' filmography. Not only did he never win, but his films were hardly nominated for anything.

    I'm not going to say any more since this Ron's review is clearly the wrong place to be having this agrument
     
  16. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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  17. Werner_R

    Werner_R Stunt Coordinator

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    I've also never seen this movie but it's on my to buy list, I hope a R2 release will be happening sooner then later [​IMG]
     
  18. streeter

    streeter Screenwriter

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    Ron, you said all special features have subtitles. I think this is great, but does that include the audio commentary as well?
    It's about time that the studios start being nicer to the deaf and hard of hearing.
     
  19. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    Ken_McAlinden,
    I'd argue that on the whole, these lists/awards don't generate discussion because most people hold them in such high regard. Furthermore, these lists/awards tend to only recognize films made in the Hollywood narrative mode, which helps perpetuate the myth that there is only one way to make a film, and that the Hollywood narrative is superior to all other modes of filmmaking.
     
  20. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Seth,
    See discussion above which is proof of itself [​IMG]. PM with comments or start new thread in Movies if you want to further elaborate.
    Regards,
     

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