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Sunset Boulevard (Blu-ray Review)

Intense, enthralling, and unforgettable, Sunset Boulevard stars Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a faded silent-movie star, and William Holden as Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter whom she enlists to help her make her triumphant “return to the screen.” Directed by and co-written by Billy Wilder, this mesmerizing Hollwyood classic won three Academy Awards.  Meticulously restored frame-by-frame, Paramount Studios has released Sunset Boulevard on Blu-ray for the first ever. The Blu-ray also contains over 2 1/2 hours of bonus materials. Let us see how the Blu-ray stacks, shall we? Yes, we shall.

Film 

Joe Gillis (William Holden) is attempting to write the next big hit, or anything that will sell for that matter. Joe is being continuously hounded by creditors at every stop. On one particular and uneventful day Joe sees these ‘repo men’ and makes a break for it in his car. Dodging these guys Joe ends up in the driveway of a dilapidated mansion of someone that may be important. In fact, it looks abandoned, which would suit him just fine. He needs to hide his car.

We know better than to think the mansion is abandoned. Max (Erich von Stroheim), the butler, and a harsh and shrewd sounding voice of woman ask him to come in at once. Max is a pretty scary looking fellow. He’s got that Uncle Fester thing going, but without the humor. If looks could kill you would be dead. Incidentally, that shrewd sounding voice belongs to none other than silent-movie star maven, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). This of course is 1950, so her era heyday has long left her behind.

Joe is taken back a bit as she confuses him for someone else that she expected. Joe tells Norma that he’s a screenwriter and that he would be happy to write for her. Norma gives him a shot, but it’s not as easy at it looks or sounds. In joining forces with Ms. Desmond, Joe must put his soul up for sale. He ends up becoming her gigolo. Hey it’s and games until the woman that is paying for everything is bat-shit-insane.

Norma has delusions of grandeur and Joe has to facilitate her demands. Whether it’s with producers, movie studios, Desmond is a real pain in the arse. Max seems to be the only person that can talk and reason with her in a calm manner. Max hides a secret of his own, as well.

Again, the Blu-ray Gods have blessed me with a classic title that I have only heard of but never seen. It’s also one of those movies that have some of the most quotable lines, but they always went over my head, because I’d never seen it before.

The film succeeds the way it does, because of the way it uses real-life events and then molds it to celluloid. It’s one of those “life imitates art” types of film, literally. Gloria Swanson was a very famous silent film actress in real life, but some of the movies she was in were very expensive productions and they bombed at the box-office, which saw her popularity decrease. She even took a break for few years here and there. Sunset Boulevard was actually her first film in a few years. Erich von Stroheim was her director in the silent film days, as well. It’s a role that Swanson knows all to well, because she has lived it in real life. She’s an ultra rich has been actress-recluse that holds parties for no one in particular and throws bridge parties for herself and some of her has been actor friends. We get several cameos by former stars of the silent-film era – one that even includes Buster Keaton in a ‘silent role,’ if you will. Joe can only sit there and take it, because he has just hit the lottery in terms of style and living and he does not want to ruin a good thing. What’s funny is that he doesn’t really have a choice in the matter.

In addition to Sunset Boulevard being a great film it’s also a great noir piece. There’s murder, intrigue, mystery, drama, shadows, and everything a typical noir tale entails. It’s got something for everybody. It was also filmed right here in Hollywood, so be sure to take a look at the special features so you can take a tour of some of the places that Sunset Boulevard was filmed at.

I can’t say enough great things about the film, so I will just say that if you’re a true fan of the film medium then you do need Sunset Boulevard in your collection.

Video  

Sunset Boulevard is presented in 1080p, 1.33:1 full frame. Okay, let’s just get it out of the way and say that Sunset Boulevard is a reference quality Blu-ray in terms of video presentation. I watched the film and it was like watching the Citizen Kane restoration. It’s certain that the same level of TLC went into restoring Sunset Boulevard. Grain levels are outstanding. I notice absolutely zero flicker or strobing during dissolves and transitions, which is a common thing in classic black and white films. It’s almost unavoidable. As far as balance goes, Sunset Boulevard is a black and white feature, so all the levels in the grey scale are up to snuff. Flesh tones look smooth and very detailed – you can see every pore on everyone during those close ups. Edge enhancement is nowhere to be found, contrast levels are natural and never show up as boosted or tinkered with. Dirt, debris, scratches, hairs, are absent. There are no signs of DNR or softness anywhere on this high definition presentation. Sunset Boulevard looks ravishing on Blu-ray.

Audio 

Sunset Boulevard is presented in Dolby TrueHD Mono. This is a lossless Mono track, but it does serve the material well. Dialogue is crisp and centered and is integrated really well with all of the othe sound effects, music, and what not. The center channel does all the heavy lifting here and it succeeds without ever sounding thin or echo-y. You’ll never need to turn up the volume to hear what the actors are saying, which is a testament on how strong this TrueHD track really is. It’s a winner.

Extras 

Sunset Boulevard is packed with extras, but the majority of them had been ported over from the previous DVD editions on to this Blu-ray. They’re presented in SD, with exception of the never-before-seen deleted scene and the theatrical trailer. Those two features are presented in HD for your viewing pleasure. If you’re a native ‘Angeleno’ like I am you will marvel at the history and production aspects that went into making Sunset Boulevard. It was all made in our backyards.

  • Never-Before-Released Deleted Scene – The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues (HD)
  • Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning
  • Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back
  • The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard
  • Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic
  • Galleries
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD)

 Summary 

Sunset Boulevard is a bit of a sad tale mixed with some melancholy and bathed in noir. It’s one of those cautionary tales of life imitates art and art imitates life. It’s as if the source material just wrote itself as opposed to being actually factual to a certain extent. Paramount Studios has done a remarkable in resorting the picture to its former glory and should be sought out immediately. If you’re a student of film, screenplay writer, etc., then this is required viewing.

 

 

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

1 Response to “Sunset Boulevard (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Great movie. Solid review G.