Sixty-two years after its initial release, Sunset Boulevard is ready for another close-up. Billy Wilder’s 1950 film about an aging, addled silent-film star has been restored and is coming to Blu-ray for the first time on Nov. 6.
Sunset Boulevard, which won three Oscars and has been named one of the best films of the 20th century by AFI, was one of the first movies to treat the Hollywood dream factory with bitterness and cynicism. It’s the tale of hack writer Joe Gillis (William Holden) — we first meet him floating lifelessly in a swimming pool — whose luck goes from bad to worse after he becomes entangled in the web of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a faded screen vamp clinging to delusions of a glorious comeback.
Wilder’s noir brilliantly flirted with reality: Swanson herself had been a huge silent-screen star who struggled professionally once sound was introduced; Cecil B. DeMille appears in a pivotal role as himself, while shooting an epic on the Paramount lot; and Desmond’s valet was played by accomplished silent-era director Erich von Stroheim. Upon seeing an early screening of the film, an angry Louis B. Mayer publicly confronted Wilder for his depiction of their industry and suggested he go back to Germany. Fortunately, Wilder stayed. The aging Mayer was fired from MGM the following year, and other studio heads were more forgiving. Wilder “recovered” to direct Sabrina, Some Like It Hot, and The Apartment, among other classics.
The new Sunset Boulevard Blu-ray includes extensive in-depth bonus materials, including a new deleted scene. Paramount has selected two striking images as potential covers for the new edition, and they’d like your input on which is best. One is a version of an original 1950 movie poster, with Desmond lurking over Gillis and his new screenwriter girlfriend (Nancy Olson). The other is a classic photo of Desmond admiring her stage pose in her bedroom mirror. Click below to view them both, in addition to a quick video clip to remind you of the film’s magnificence. Then be sure to vote on the image you prefer before the poll closes on July 27. The winner will grace the Blu-ray upon its release on Nov. 6.