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Featured Blu-ray Review: Sunset Boulevard

November 4th, 2012

Sunset Boulevard - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Sunset Boulevard is widely regarded as one of the best movies of all time. I certainly agree with that opinion and in my previous review I named the DVD release as one of the DVD Pick of the Week selections. Obviously I think the movie is a must have, but how is its Blu-ray debut?

The Movie

The film has one of the most famous openings of all times. After the credits, we see the police race towards a murder scene. When they get there, we see Joe Gillis floating face down in a pool. We also hear him talk about how this murder will be in all of the papers, because it involved an old-time major movie star, but he wants to set the story straight before the newspapers get involved.

His story begins six months earlier when Joe Gillis was a struggling writer. While he was still cranking out stories, none of them were selling. It got so bad that his car was to be repossessed. In need of about $300 to keep his car, he decides to call in a favor at a studio to sell a script. However, while the executive, Sheldrake, seems interested, one of the readers, Betty Schaefer, says it is derivative, not knowing the writer is in the room. No luck there. He tries to borrow money, first from Sheldrake, then from his friends, then from his agent. Still no luck. If his luck wasn't bad enough, while driving home, he is spotted by the repo men who try and get his car. There's quick chase, which ends in a blown tire, but Joe manages to limp into an old abandoned mansion.

However, the mansion turns out to not be abandoned and while Joe is looking around, the owner of the place calls to him asking why he is so late. He tries to explain to the butler, Max Von Mayerling, that this is a mistake, but he just instructs him to wipe his feet and go inside. Once inside, he meets a woman who thinks he's the undertaker there to bury her deceased pet chimpanzee. When he finally is given a chance to explain what happened, she throws him out. However, it is at this time that Joe recognizes her. She's Norma Desmond, a famous actress from the silent film era. He mentions she used to be big, to which she replies, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." When Joe tells Norma not to blame him, because he's only a lowly writer, she gets interested in him and demands he reads her script for Salome, which is to be her return to the big screen. It's bad. It's really bad. But Joe needs the money, so he flatters her and is hired to rewrite it.

At first Joe is rather pleased with himself for getting the job, but it turns out to be a lot more complicated than he originally anticipated, as Norma is a very controlling boss. She doesn't even let him go home that night making him stay in the room above the garage. The next morning when he awakes, he finds all of his stuff from his apartment in his new room. He was already thinking this place was a little crazy, but this is pushing him over the edge. If he weren't so desperate for money, he likely would have left at that moment. Instead, he decides to bunker down and try to finish the script as quickly as possible. Given what we see in the opening scene, we know this is a huge mistake.

Sunset Boulevard is without doubt one of the best movies of all time. The Oscar-winning script is excellent in creating mood and even though we know right from the opening scene how it will play out, there is a lot of tension in the film. It's almost like watching a soon-to-be victim in a horror film. Additionally, there's a lot of real history in this film. This film has a real connection to Hollywood history. Not only do we hear a lot of names drop, but there are lots of major Hollywood figures that have cameos here. This includes people who were major players at the time, Cecil B. De Mille, to stars of the silent era, like Buster Keaton. Even Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim have major connections to the characters they play. Speaking of the actors, the film's performances are incredible, absolutely flawless. If comes as no surprise that all four main cast members earned Oscar nominations. I am surprised none of them won.

I absolutely love this film. This is the third time I've gotten it on the home market, and it is absolutely worth picking up.

The Extras

We do hit some bad news here. The Blu-ray is mostly shovelware. The only new extra is a single deleted scene. On other other hand, there is a ton of extras ported over from the previous DVD release, including audio commentary track, making of featurette, retrospectives, featurettes on the actors, the music, etc. It is a loaded disc.

The Blu-ray looks great with a natural level of grain but a high level of details. There are no noticeable signs of print damage. The black levels and the contrast is excellent. It's one of the best looking Blu-rays from the era. The audio is starting to show its age a little more. The film was shot in mono and while the dialogue is clear, the effects don't have the oomph they would have if the film was made today.

As for the price, $19 is a little high for shovelware, and with only one new extra, it is shovelware. That said, it is an amazing movie and worth the price.

The Verdict

Sunset Boulevard looks amazing on Blu-ray and while the sound is showing its age and there is only one new extra on the Blu-ray, it is still worth the asking price.

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Filed under: Video Review, William Holden