Sunset Boulevard (Blu-ray) (1950)

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Released 1-May-2013

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Ed Sikov, author "On Sunset Boulevard"
Featurette-Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning
Featurette-Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back
Featurette-The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard
Featurette-Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic
Featurette-Two Sides of Ms. Swanson
Featurette-Stories of Sunset Boulevard
Featurette-Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden
Featurette-Recording Sunset Boulevard
Featurette-The City of Sunset Boulevard
Featurette-Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard
Script-Morgue Prologue Script Pages
Deleted Scenes-The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues
Trivia-Hollywood Location Map
Featurette-Behind the Gates: The Tour
Featurette-Edith Head: The Paramount Years
Featurette-Paramount in the ‘50s
Gallery-Photo
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1950
Running Time 110:17
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Billy Wider
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Wiiliam Holden
Gloria Swanson
Erich von Stroheim
Nancy Olsen
Fred Clark
Lloyd Gough
Jack Webb
Cecil B. DeMille
Hedda Hopper
Buster Keaton
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Franz Waxman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 mono
French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English
French
Portuguese
Spanish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, constantly
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a struggling writer in Hollywood with a couple of B pictures to his credit; but he is broke, behind on his rent and his car is about to be repossessed. One day when fleeing from the repo men he has a tyre blowout and turns into the driveway of an old, decaying mansion on Sunset Bvld. The house belongs to the once famous silent screen actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson); the only other occupant in the gloomy house is her servant Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim). Joe is originally mistaken for someone else but he is offered a job helping Norma rewrite the script of her comeback (she prefers “return”) film, and moves into the house. In time Joe becomes Norma’s kept man, lover and companion. He is able to rationalise his position and swallow his self-respect until he meets and falls in love with Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) when Joe’s comfortable life begins to unravel.

     Directed and co-written by the master Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard was nominated for eleven Oscars; it won three (set direction, score, writing) but missed out on best picture and best director to All About Eve. Nevertheless, Sunset Boulevard is a brilliant, timeless film as relevant, intelligent and entertaining today as when it was made over 60 years ago. While it is set in Hollywood, the themes of Sunset Boulevard are universal; of illusions, self-delusion, exploitation, of people who, to a greater or lesser extent, make Faustian deals and lose their souls and their self-respect. Not that Sunset Boulevard is heavy going; indeed it is full of sparkling dialogue such as “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small” and wonderful touches, such as when Norma on the DeMille set has a problem with a sound boom, reflecting the advent of sound that ended her career.

     The acting is skilful and wonderful. William Holden was not the first choice for Gillis, Montgomery Clift accepted the role before having second thoughts but now it is hard to imagine anyone else but Holden in the role. Similarly, the role of Norma Desmond was offered to at least 5 actresses, including Mary Pickford, before Swanson accepted. She is suitably and deliberately melodramatic, with larger than life gestures. Norma Desmond could be pathetic, hanging onto her delusions, but Swanson makes her very believable and while demented, we still feel some sympathy for her in the scenes during her visit to the Paramount lot and the DeMille set, for example, which are poignant and beautifully written and acted. Against her histrionics Erich von Stroheim is the perfect foil; he is introspective, still and slightly sinister, but of course he is keeping secrets of his own.

     Sunset Boulevard starts and finishes with iconic scenes that stay in the memory; a body floating in a swimming pool, Norma’s descent of the staircase into the cameras she has craved. Sunset Boulevard is impossible to praise too highly: it is a genuine gold plated classic, still as relevant, intelligent and entertaining as when it was made. “All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up”.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Sunset Boulevard is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, the original ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     This is a black and white print of a film now over 60 years old. It has been restored and marks and scratches are absent and although there is some softness the film looks crisp and beautiful and the depth of field inside the cluttered rooms of the crumbling Desmond mansion is wonderful. Blacks are solid, shadow detail good although on occasions the blacks can blend into each other. Contrast and brightness is consistent.

     The print exhibits good film grain. There is frequent motion blur against mottled surfaces, such as the trees in the mansion grounds, and some aliasing but I suspect that this is more noticeable in HD as the print is otherwise so good.

     Subtitles are available in English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

     A beautiful black and white HD print of a 60 year old film.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio choices are English Dolby TrueHD mono, French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital mono, plus an English audio commentary.

     The film was made with a mono audio track and this is faithfully presented here. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, the effects reasonable and the Franz Waxman score is atmospheric and comes over nicely. There is sometimes a slight hiss in silences, but no pops or crackles.

     Lip synchronisation was fine.

     The audio reflects the original release and is fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Although the Blu-ray cover does not mention any extras, all the extras from the previous Region 4 DVD Special Collectors’ Edition are present on the Blu-ray, plus a number of additional featurettes. They are an interesting collection of featurettes, although a number repeat the same information and the same interviews.

Audio Commentary by author Ed Sikov

     Sikov is the author of On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder. He is full of information about both Wilder and Sunset Boulevard, covering the original opening scene, the casting, locations, script points and inside references and Wilder’s techniques, although I think he is a bit harsh on DeMille’s performance. There are some gaps in the commentary as the film progresses, but the score and wonderful dialogue is always worth listening to. A very good commentary.

Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning (22:47)

     Released in 2008, this featurette uses black and white stills, film footage and interviews with A.C. Lyles (Paramount producer), Stefanie Powers (companion of William Holden), Nicholas Meyer (author), Ed Sikov (author), Andrew Sarris (film historian and critic), Nancy Olson, who played Betty Schaefer in the film, and archive footage of Gloria Swanson. Topics covered include the character and methods of Billy Wilder, the casting of Swanson, Holden, von Stroheim and Olson and the costumes. Informative and interesting.

Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back (25:52)

     This featurette was released in 2002. A lot of the interview footage in the previous featurette with Lyles, Meyer, Sikov, Sarris and Nancy Olson is also here, and a lot of the same information is given. This one looks again at the casting, but also includes discussion of the original opening - the morgue scene that was abandoned after a test screening - the set and the Hollywood reaction to the film, including its failure to win the Best Picture Oscar. Also interviewed is actress Glen Close who played Norma Desmond in the Broadway musical version of Sunset Boulevard.

The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard (14:19)

     Best-selling author Joseph Wambaugh talks about Sunset Boulevard as a fan with emphasis on the noir elements such as the voice-over, and he also discusses where the film diverges from the more usual noir characteristics.

Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic (14:29)

     Again much of the same information as in the other featurettes is repeated, with parts of the same interviews with Lyles, Powers, Meyer, Sikov, Sarris, Olson the Gloria Swanson archival footage, and Glen Close. There is more about the reaction of Hollywood, including the non-Oscar, and the legacy of some of the dialogue, which has become part of modern culture.

Two Sides of Ms. Swanson (10:37)

     Brooke Anderson (granddaughter of Swanson) and Linda Harrison (an actress who co-starred with Swanson in Airport 1975) share their memories of Swanson. OK and a couple of black and white stills from her silent pictures are interesting.

Stories of Sunset Boulevard (11:22)

     We have seen most of this in other featurettes; the style of Wilder, the deleted opening and a few other pieces. About the only different section is Olson talking more about her scenes in the film. Uses black and white stills, film footage and interviews with Lyles, Powers, Meyer, Sikov, Sarris, Olson and the Swanson archival footage.

Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden (11:13)

     A.C. Lyles, Stefanie Powers, Joseph Wambaugh and Nancy Olson provide memories and anecdotes about the life and character of William Holden. There are also photographs and footage from some of his pictures including Stalag 17 (1953) and The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954).

Recording Sunset Boulevard (5:51)

     It seems that even though the soundtrack of Sunset Boulevard won an Oscar, the soundtrack album was not released at the time. Robert Townson is the producer of soundtrack albums and he discusses how he rerecorded the soundtrack for release in 2002.

The City of Sunset Boulevard (5:36)

     Borislav Stanic, author of Los Angeles Attractions, talks about some of the locations used in the film. Added interview comments by Ed Sikov.

Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard (14:27)

     Featuring interviews with John Waxman (son of Franz) and composers Elmer Bernstein and John Manceri plus black and white photographs, this is an excellent short featurette as it covers Franz Waxman’s early career in Germany, his meeting Billy Wilder and the subsequent flight from Hitler to the US, and also film scoring techniques in the 1940s and 50s and the music of Sunset Boulevard.

Morgue Prologue Script Pages

     The film originally opened with a scene at the morgue with Gillis’ body. There were two versions of the script, dated 21/12/1948 and 19/3/1949. This extra provides both versions of the script. The earlier version has icons on the screen at six places; when selected we are shown the sections of the footage shot that still exist. The film footage is silent, as the sound elements have been lost. An interesting piece. This opening may have looked OK in the script but it is easy to see why it was cut and the current opening works so much better.

Deleted Scene – The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues (1:26)

     A music scene at the New Years’ party just before Gillis’ arrival. Unrestored footage, and hiss on the audio.

Hollywood Location Map

     An interactive map highlights locations used in Sunset Boulevard, such as Gillis’ apartment and Schwabs Drug Store. Selecting the location takes you to film footage of that site while a voiceover provides some extra information. Worth a look.

Behind the Gates: The Tour (5:05)

     A short history of the Paramount lots from the earliest years in New York, through the move to Hollywood in 1914 and subsequent; with input from Paramount producer A.C. Lyles and film historian and author Rudy Behlmer. Quite interesting, but nothing to do with Sunset Boulevard.

Edith Head: The Paramount Years (13:43)

     David Cherichetti, biographer of Edith Head provides a brief look at her career and character, including her ability at self-publicity, her own dress sense and the winning of eight Oscars. The featurette includes lots of black and white photos, footage from a number of Paramount films and additional interview material with designers Tzetzi Ganev and Bob Mackie and actress Rosemary Clooney. Worth a look.

Paramount in the ‘50s (9:33)

     Made in 2000, this is part of a more extensive history of Paramount Pictures that concentrates on their films and stars during the 1950s. It starts with Sunset Boulevard, and includes footage from their biggest hits such as A Place in the Sun, The Greatest Show on Earth and White Christmas and stars including Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Superficial news type feature although some of the footage is interesting.

Galleries

     45 black and white on set stills. No music, use the remote to advance to the next still.

Theatrical Trailer (3:16)

     Sub-headed “A Hollywood Story” this old trailer still looks pretty good.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Blu-ray release of Sunset Boulevard is the same across all regions.

Summary

     Sunset Boulevard is a genuine, gold plated classic, as compelling now as when it was released 60 years ago. No self-respecting film fan should be without a copy of Sunset Boulevard in their library. If you already have the DVD, an upgrade is worthwhile as the film looks fabulous in this HD version and all the extras from the previous DVD Special Collectors’ Edition are present on the Blu-ray and some more. If you have yet to indulge in Sunset Boulevard, the Blu-ray is the way to see this fabulous film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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