'Sunset Boulevard' undergoes repairs

“Sunset Boulevard,” the classic Billy Wilder film noir on the dark side of the movie business, is restored to its original black-and-white beauty.
BY GENE TRIPLETT etriplett@opubco.com Modified: November 21, 2012 at 1:25 am •  Published: November 23, 2012
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Andrea Kalas and her crew have been doing some repair work on “Sunset Boulevard.”

The classic Billy Wilder film, that is, not the actual Los Angeles street.

This vintage cinematic masterwork about the dark side of the movie business has been given a digital overhaul that restores the moody, black-and-white noir beauty that held audiences in its thrall when it first opened on the big screen Aug. 10, 1950.

It's now available in a pristine Blu-ray edition from Paramount Home Video.

“I think a lot of people really are connected with Hollywood and the history of Hollywood, and this is such a great movie that tells that story so well, because it was made at the time it was, and it has so many people who made that history actually in the film, that I think helps people connect with it,” said Kalas, who is vice president of archives at Paramount Pictures.

The film stars William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim and Nancy Olson, with a script by director Wilder (“The Lost Weekend,” “Some Like It Hot”), producer Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr.

It tells the story of Joe Gillis (Holden), a struggling screenwriter who's trying to elude a couple of repo men who are after his car for overdue payments. To shake his pursuers, he pulls into the garage of what appears to be a vacant old mansion, only to discover that it's inhabited by forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond (Swanson, actual former silent film star) and her stone-faced butler Max, a forgotten silent film director who's also Norma's ex-husband (Stroheim, actual great German director).

Gillis quickly learns that Norma is obsessed with a triumphant return to the screen that she's certain is destined to happen, and she's even written a massively epic and exceptionally bad screenplay that she wants Gillis to doctor for her. Gillis plays along in order to keep himself financially afloat, but soon finds himself in a psychological trap, a young man kept by a middle-age, seriously disturbed, suicidal woman.

And to complicate matters, he falls in love with a young studio script reader named Betty (Olson) who could be his emotional and artistic salvation, but is it too late for him to be saved?

Stars play themselves

A whole roster of real old-time stars play themselves, and Norma's friends, including Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner, Franklyn Farnum — even Cecil B. DeMille and Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper — also play themselves.

It's pretty interesting, even telling, that the people who helped pioneer the Hollywood film industry, only to be all but forgotten by 1950, were willing to lend their real names and selves to the making of this disturbing Tinseltown tale. And Swanson herself submitted to unflattering makeup and harsh lighting that emphasized her advancing age.

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