Hollywood is the setting and the subject of this films hard look at the people who are striving for fame and those who lose it. Joe (William Holden) is a writer who is struggling and stubbles on what appears to be an abandoned house. The residents are an Ex silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her Butler Max (Erich Von Stroheim). Norma wants to stage a return to the screen, and has a rough draft of a script; Joe the writer sees an opportunity to take advantage of the situation to his benefit. What he does not count on is Norma’s over powering control on everything she comes in contact with. She is a deeply wounded individual that craves the fame that has slipped away and she filled the gap with a fantasy world that traps Joe as a love interest. Joe sells his soul and becomes a kept man for a chance to stay in Hollywood for his shot at fame. When he realizes that his life and dignity are in a conflict he decides to make a change and it comes at great cost.
I was so disturbed by the characters in this film and was uncomfortable with the spiral they were on. I can see this as a cautionary tale about how you boil a frog. Joe started out small with one compromise here and there, and it’s soon he was in way over his head. Norma was in character and so visually expressive like the characters she played in those silent films. Her pain came from a loss of fame from a bombed performance and her difficult nature to work with. She never recovered from that loss. I think her relationship with Max did not help her situation and his dedication in keeping her safe deepened her fantasy. Joe and her relationship started over the body of a dead ape, Norma lost a play thing and found another. She found something that was going to fill the missing parts of her soul.
The narration of Joe as he was floating in the pool at the beginning was well played, I loved the shot of coming up from bottom of the pool. I am amazed at the subtext of the actors who were in it and their relationship with each other and the characters. Erich Von Stroheim Directed Gloria Swanson when she was a Silent film star. Max in the movie directed Norma in her past. Billy Wilder did an excellent job of holding up a mirror to some personality types in Hollywood. He told a very pointed story that made history, as uncomfortable as I was with this story, I enjoyed this film.
My take away:
Most of my take aways were on well this story was told. A movie with a sad ending can be an excellent subject. I truly loved Joe’s journey. I am reminded of another movie where the end of the movie was given away and it still made for a great story. Fallen started out telling us a story about how the main character almost died. All the stories about Hollywood seem to show us the bad things. Are there no good stories about Hollywood and fame? The only character I felt for was Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson)she was the only pure spirit in the god forsaken city.
I watched this movie on DVD from Netflix.