Film Highlight: Sunset Blvd.


The Parkway kicks off its Monday-night film noir series with Sunset Blvd. Narrated by a dead man, predating other mean-old-broad thrillers by a decade, and arguably ushering in the postwar era of cinematic self-reflexivity (never mind about the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical), Billy Wilder's Hollywood Gothic from 1950 is pretty overrated but a classic nonetheless. As in so many Wilder films (e.g., Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Ace in the Hole), the protagonist is a working stiff on a downward slide—in this case, a flailing screenwriter (William Holden) whose unimaginatively hard-boiled voice-over narration types him as something of a hack. (Whereas Sunset Blvd.'s co-author Charles Brackett is a genius wordsmith who's either slumming for the sake of character or not quite working at the top of his game.) Nevertheless, in the Wilder mold, the more pathetic character is the woman who hastens the man's decline—in this case, a faded silent-movie star (Gloria Swanson) still harboring delusions of Hollywood grandeur. Appearing to pit the new industry against the old, Wilder's picture is actually not a lament for a lost style of cinema so much as a darkly comic noir about a femme fatale who's even scarier for being past her prime.