Creepy and original, it's `Sunset Boulevard' The final...


November 15, 2001|By Michael Sragow

Creepy and original, it's `Sunset Boulevard'

The final attraction of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions' fall film series, "Emigres and Divas: The Muse in Exile," is Billy Wilder's creepiest and most original movie, Sunset Boulevard, showing at 7:15 tonight in the Preclinical Teaching Building, 725 N. Wolfe St.

The anti-hero of this charged 1950 melodrama is a debt-ridden screenwriter, Joe Gillis (William Holden). On the lam from the finance company that's trying to repossess his car, he wheels into a seemingly abandoned estate that actually belongs to silent-era legend Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).

Desmond, plotting her return to the screen, hires Gillis to edit her handwritten pet script, an elephantine version of Salome. He figures he can take her money and run, but soon he settles into being her gigolo.

Desmond and her butler, Max (Erich Von Stroheim), are Old Hollywood in all its crazy grandeur. The character of an idealistic studio reader (Nancy Olson) is Young Hollywood: She wants Gillis to write something "true and moving." Gillis, who narrates the picture in a sharp, amusing tough-guy lingo, represents the Hollywood norm: Compromise has become a habit with him.

Wilder brought out the best in Holden, whose guilt-wracked Gillis, beaten but alert, connects the pieces of the film.

But the director also basked in the worn glamour of Swanson's Desmond, giving her lines as pungent as Margo Channing's in All About Eve (another 1950 release) and an exit as potent in its own glittery way as Blanche DuBois'.

The series is presented by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions' Office of Cultural Affairs. Admission is free. Cookies and coffee will be served before the show.

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