Unrated, 1 hr. 50 min. Directed By: Billy Wilder. Release Date: Aug 4, 1950. DVD Release Date: Nov 26, 2002.
I vaguely remember Gloria Swanson being lampooned in cartoons when I was a kid, to include a character named “Gloria Swansong” from one of those duck-involved cartoons from Disney in the late 80s or early 90s. I’m thinking the one where Scrooge McDuck had a vault where he kept all his money and the whole show was about him protecting it from people that might steal it. You’d think he’d be rich enough to own a few banks. That character, whatever show it came from, might have been to make fun of this particular performance. I know people love it, but about 20 minutes into the movie I was so done with the dramatic posturing and theatrical voice (which may or may not have been Swanson’s own) that I had problems liking Norma Desmond, although I did feel sorry for her. Sorry that the best performance of her Art, as she might put it, was this completely delusional bit of frippery. But, I’ll forever remember this singular performance, and that’s nothing to sneeze
While I liked William Holden’s performance a little better, I found little to like about his character: it’s just really, really hard for me to like someone as scheming and opportunistic as Joe Gillis, and I’m fairly sure no one was meant to like him. If they were, Billy Wilder would have tried a little harder. And, it’s not as if Billy Wilder films aren’t filmed with protagonists where you have to stop and think about how much you’re rooting for them to overcome whatever obstacle the film is about.
I know it doesn’t sound like it so far, but I enjoyed this movie. And, it’s probably going to continue to sound like I didn’t because now I’m going to bitch about the music. Not only was it nearly deafening, it never seemed to match the action on the screen. Good music can help reinforce what’s going on the screen, creating emotional “peaks”. Bad music conflicts with the screen’s images, or tries to create emotions that you probably wouldn’t have if you were in the event you were watching. Tell me, would you be terrified if you were in a car chase with folks who wanted to peaceably (and legally) repossess your automobile because you stopped making payments? You might be annoyed, or even anxious, but fear wouldn’t be in that mix, and the music kept trying to suggest that it should be. It wasn’t the only time.
So, basically, you should check this out. It has some serious flaws in my mind, and it won’t go down as my favorite on this list, but it is definitely worth checking out.