Actress and screenwriter balance each other out through trouble (Creative Commons/ drmvm1, licensed under CC By-ND 2.0)
Actress and screenwriter balance each other out through trouble (Creative Commons/ drmvm1, licensed under CC By-ND 2.0)

Hollywood is a cruel place, a land littered with some of the brightest stars but also some of the most dimmed and discarded ones.

"Sunset Boulevard," directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden as Joe Gillis and Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, explores this harsh Hollywood reality in a haunting film noir.

The film begins with Frank Waxman's "Sunset Boulevard Prelude," an eerie and sinister score.

Narrated by Joe, a screenwriter, the film begins with a homicide squad rushing to a mansion where a man has been murdered. But Joe quickly takes viewers back to the events leading up to this event in a flashback.

Joe finds himself at Norma's mansion after receiving harsh criticism for a script and subsequently escaping a group of men trying to repossess his car. Obsessed with returning to superstardom and relevance, she shows Joe a script she hopes to star in. Handsome and charming, he convinces the desperate woman to hire him to work on this comeback script.

The film's strong and poignant writing is especially evident in the scene where Joe pulls into the driveway. He says "I had landed myself at the driveway of some big mansion that looked rundown and deserted. At the end of the drive was a lovely sight indeed – a great big empty garage just standing there going to waste."

Norma is much like her mansion, "rundown and deserted" by an industry that both made and broke her. She was a tool, exploited until she was no longer needed; but to Joe, she was the great, empty garage going to waste—a garage he could use to hide from his financial difficulties and to gain some relevance as a Hollywood screenwriter.

Without giving too much away, the film has a common Hollywood ending—not the kind we seen on the big screen, but those that are steeped much more in reality: personal disaster and mayhem.

Swanson's portrayal of the unhinged actress driven mad by the collapse of her Hollywood-made fairytale is stirring. She has a unique way of acting with her eyes, which bulge and penetrate with every impassioned line, her days of entitlement as a Hollywood darling evident in her swift and harsh demands. Holden is as charming as ever, his wry humor and suave juxtaposed powerfully against Swanson's more unstable character.

Unlike its doomed characters, "Sunset Boulevard" remains a staple of American cinema, its relevance and eminence transcending generations.

Reach Staff Reporter Agnessa Kasumyan here.