Stream It!: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, Amazon Prime, and Warner Archive Instant.]

New on Netflix: Sunset Boulevard

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A bunch of new stuff hit Netflix at the beginning of the month, as usual, but the immediately standout was Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Wilder is known for his cynical yet often uproarious approach to his films, and here he turns that cynicism directly toward Hollywood, making one of the most scathing and ruthlessly entertaining movies about the movies you’ll ever see.

In true film noir fashion, our hero (?) tells the story of his inevitable undoing in flashback – but not only is he in existential defeat, as noir heroes usually are, he’s actually already dead, floating facedown in the pool of a decaying mansion on Sunset Blvd. His relationship with faded silent screen star Norma Desmond (played by silent screen star Gloria Swanson) takes up the bulk of the film, and Norma is a gloriously over-the-top character. This film is not going for realism in any way, but it’s about as perfect an encapsulation of Gothicism in a Hollywood setting as you could wish to see.

All the extra little touches Wilder brings are great, too, particularly in the casting. Erich von Stroheim plays Desmond’s butler, but he also used to be her director – Stroheim himself was a director (and actor) in the silent era, and directed Swanson in the unfinished Queen Kelly, footage from which is used within Sunset Boulevard. Stroheim’s relationship with Hollywood studios was notorious, baggage which certainly informs the critique Sunset Boulevard makes about the way the system chews people up and throws them away when it gets done with them. It’s kind of amazing Wilder even got this film made in Hollywood, to be honest – he doesn’t say a lot of good things about the system.

Double Feature: All About Eve

all_about_eveIn looking for a good double feature to go with Sunset Boulevard, I first thought of other films about Hollywood with similarly dark tones – Mulholland Drive, The Bad and the Beautiful, etc. But none of them were streaming. I thought I was going to have to go with a typical director pairing and choose Double Indemnity (which would be a good double feature, mind you), but then I thought why not pair one of the greatest films about Hollywood with one of the greatest films about the stage – and they just happen to have been made the same year!

All About Eve follows eager fan Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) as she worms her way into the life of established stage star Margo Channing (Bette Davis), but her intentions may not be the best. This is one of Davis’ absolute best roles; Margo’s combination of star power and neuroticism make her one of the great characters of the screen, while Baxter amazingly holds her own as the scheming Eve. That they were both nominated for Best Actress Oscars is fitting, though they may have split the vote (the Oscar went to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, a good film, but it ain’t All About Eve).

The rest of the cast is a dream, too, with Thelma Ritter especially shining, as always, as Margo’s no-nonsense maid Birdie, the only one of Margo’s crowd who sees right through Eve. The other person with Eve’s number is drama critic Addison Steele (George Sanders), whose acerbic wit grants many of the film’s devastatingly good one-liners. Look for a young Marilyn Monroe as “a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts.”