#102 Sunset Boulevard

Watched: April 30 2017

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Thematically linked to All About Eve, though centred on Hollywood rather than Broadway, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of broke screenwriter Joe Gillis (Holden) and former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Swanson), who embark on a strange and ill-fated relationship when he accidentally seeks refuge in her decrepit Hollywood mansion on the day of her chimp’s funeral.

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No, we did not make that up.

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When Norma learns that Joe is a writer, she asks him to read through and rewrite her script for her epic comeback Salome and, being down on his luck and about to return home to take an office job, Joe agrees and moves into the faded star’s equally faded mansion.

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Despite the state of the mansion, the floors are waxed to perfection and the quartet has been polished for the occasion

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Joe soon gets used to the lifestyle offered to him by the delusional Norma. Even though he understands that her aspirations to return to the screen are completely unrealistic and he knows that to the outside world she’s a has-been, he, like Norma’s creepy butler Max (von Stroheim), plays along and feeds into her false sense of relevance.

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That’s not all he feeds into if you get our drift… He’s a kept man, is what we’re saying.

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As Norma’s delusion of grandeur increases, Joe’s satisfaction with his life of leisure decreases, and he starts working on the side with Betty Schaefer (Olson) with whom he collaborates on an original screenplay. Norma starts to suspect that her boytoy is getting some on the side, and she is not happy…

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“I let him watch my movies with me and this is how he repays me?!?”

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Now, this film is a classic for a reason. It’s endlessly quotable with a Gothic setting and extremely memorable characters, in particular the unstable, possessive, explosive, toxic and fabulous Norma Desmond. Even our old favourite Buster Keaton makes an appearance, as do old-timey stars Hedda Hopper, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson and, famously, Cecil B. DeMille.

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Guess who’s ready for her close-up…

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Sunset Boulevard is a sort of Gothic Film Noir and we loved it completely. It’s one of those films you’ve seen parodied, referenced and referred to, and heard quoted, so many times that you start thinking you’ve actually seen it, but in our case that turned out to be false (for some reason, although this is right up our alley). There’s madness, love, satire and men who (once again) feel they need to make hard decisions for women who love them, without giving them the unbiased facts and letting them choose for themselves. Loved, loved, loved it.

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Ah – Buster. We still love you dearly.

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What we learned: Great stars have great pride.

Next time: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

#99 In a Lonely Place

Watched: April 24 2017

Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Martha Stewart (no, not that one)

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 34min

In a Lovely Place

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Dix Steele (Bogart) is a successful screen writer whose career is in a bit of a slump. He is about to adapt a novel into a screenplay, and as he cannot be bothered reading the source material, he invites the adorable Mildred (Stewart) home to tell him the story. She cancels her date and goes home with him, and at the end of the night he gives her money for a taxi and sends her on her way.

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Dix is too busy creeping on his neighbour to pay attention to the girl in his apartment

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When Mildred turns up dead the next day, Dix becomes the prime suspect; he was the last one to see her alive, he has a violent temper and also a somewhat unsettling fascination with murder. In addition, he doesn’t really seem too bothered by the whole affair, which is always a red flag for law enforcement (we have learned through movies). However, his neighbour Laurel Gray (Grahame) provides an alibi as she witnessed Mildred leaving the writer’s apartment, and the police let him go.

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Seems the whole creeping-on-the-neighbour-thing went both ways

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The two start a relationship (which is kind of a bad idea since she’s basically the only thing standing between him and a lengthy prison sentence) and quickly start spending all of their time together with Laurel working as Dix’s secretary/assistant. While their relationship seems to be mostly good, Laurel is gradually exposed to her boyfriend’s explosive temper and, as in Suspicion, starts doubting his innocence and her own safety.

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Not the face of a happy woman

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We won’t reveal too much of what transpires, but In a Lonely Place is a captivating Noir thriller and we never tire of watching Humphrey Bogart being super cool and somewhat menacing, though here also strangely vulnerable. Gloria Grahame is also excellent and holds her own with her iconic co-star.

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In between the tension and doubt there are also sweet and romantic moments

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It’s an excellent film with a compelling (though ultimately fairly unimportant) murder mystery and a very intriguing relationship. The characters are flawed and deeply human, and while their choices may not always be good, they are understandable.

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They could have been so good together…

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What we learned: First chance we get, we’re legally changing our names to Dix Steele.

Next time: #100! Los Olvidados (1950)

#71 The Lost Weekend

Watched: December 19 2016

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling

Year: 1945

Runtime: 1h 37min

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The Lost Weekend is a classic tale of an alcoholic writer who is struggling to create his masterpiece while keeping the severity of his habit from his girl and his brother.

Don Birnam (Milland) is packing for a weekend away with his brother Wick (Terry) and is desperately trying to find an opportunity to smuggle some whiskey into his luggage, as his brother is not exactly impressed by his alcohol consumption.

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His bartender isn’t particularly impressed either

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After failing to bring with him his hidden whiskey, Birnam decides to stay in the city and get drunk rather than join his brother for a sober weekend in the country. Like a true addict, he’ll do anything to get a fix, and while he’s funny in his quest for a drink, it is also incredibly sad to watch a talented and generally good man go down this road of self destruction.

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It’s almost as if someone is trying to say that his life is ruled by drink

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The four day weekend (such luxury!) includes, but is not limited to, him hurting his long suffering girlfriend Helen (Wyman), flirting with (and also hurting) fellow barfly Gloria (Dowling, who’s incredibly hip with the lingo!), trying to pawn his precious type writer, ending up in the alcoholic ward of a hospital, ditching church to rob a liquor store instead (it’s a choice), and finally succumbing to delirium and depression.

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Like Mina, he is also attacked by bats, but that’s a whole other story

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The Lost Weekend is based on a (fairly autobiographical) novel by Charles Jackson, which we have not read, but definitely should. It is a powerful and realistic story which does not shy too far away from the horrifying truth of substance abuse. When younger, we may have seen the character of the young alcoholic writer as romantic, but we are far older and wiser than we once were (but not, you know, too old. Just charmingly so. And very wise.) and we now see the tragedy of it all. In the end, the talented but dried-up (in some sense of the phrase, at least) artist is saved by love and purpose, although how long it will last we will never know. Unless we dig into the life of Charles Jackson, we suppose.

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In a way he is also, somewhat ironically, saved by his bartender.

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Milland won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of Birnam, and the film was also awarded Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing in 1946. If that’s not enough incentive for you to watch this classic, there’s really nothing more we can say.

What we learned: alcohol may help creativity but it will stop you actually realising your ideas.

Next time: The Thin Man (1934) – new addition to the list