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



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#1 of 47 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted November 15 2002 - 11:16 AM

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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

 

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 47 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted November 15 2002 - 12:46 PM

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 of 47 OFFLINE   BarryR

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Posted November 15 2002 - 01:24 PM

The 26th can't get here soon enough. Posted Image

#4 of 47 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted November 15 2002 - 02:18 PM

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.





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#5 of 47 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted November 15 2002 - 03:04 PM

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 of 47 OFFLINE   Kirk Tsai

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Posted November 15 2002 - 05:21 PM

Look forward to this disc, sounds great.

#7 of 47 OFFLINE   Patrick_S

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Posted November 15 2002 - 05:24 PM

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 of 47 OFFLINE   Deepak Shenoy

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Posted November 15 2002 - 11:43 PM

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 of 47 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted November 18 2002 - 04:48 AM

Bump!

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

#10 of 47 OFFLINE   TomF

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Posted November 18 2002 - 05:05 AM

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 of 47 OFFLINE   Seth_S

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Posted November 18 2002 - 05:37 AM

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.


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 of 47 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 18 2002 - 06:25 AM

Quote:
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.

The fact that Judy Holliday did win an Oscar for her best performance ... and that we are still discussing Holliday, Swanson, and Davis' (and Anne Baxter's) performances today ... and that all of the above performances are available on DVD as of next week, suggests that the Oscars may serve a purpose after all. Posted Image

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#13 of 47 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted November 18 2002 - 06:47 AM

Thanks for the review, Ron. Another on my list.
¡Time is not my master!

#14 of 47 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted November 18 2002 - 07:43 AM

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.

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.





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#15 of 47 OFFLINE   Seth_S

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Posted November 18 2002 - 08:17 AM

The fact that Judy Holliday did win an Oscar for her best performance ... and that we are still discussing Holliday, Swanson, and Davis' (and Anne Baxter's) performances today ... and that all of the above performances are available on DVD as of next week, suggests that the Oscars may serve a purpose after all.


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 of 47 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 18 2002 - 08:22 AM

Quote:
So the Oscars serve a purpose because of the people who get snubbed?
As long as it generates interest and discussion, yep. Same goes for the AFI, Sight & Sound, etc. lists.

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#17 of 47 OFFLINE   Werner_R

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Posted November 20 2002 - 12:45 AM

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 Posted Image

#18 of 47 OFFLINE   streeter

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Posted November 20 2002 - 03:18 AM

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.
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#19 of 47 OFFLINE   Seth_S

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Posted November 20 2002 - 05:17 AM

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 of 47 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 20 2002 - 05:50 AM

Seth,
See discussion above which is proof of itself Posted Image. PM with comments or start new thread in Movies if you want to further elaborate.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
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