CLOSE UP ON SUNSET BOULEVARD: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream

Sam Staggs, Author . St. Martin's $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-27453-5

Staggs serves up another round of popcorn in this highly enjoyable follow-up to All About "All About Eve," plumbing the depths of the noir homage to the silent era, Sunset Boulevard. The book traces the film's history from the studio pairing of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett as screenwriters to the Academy Award disappointments to the film's rebirth as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in the 1990s. Staggs's research is impressive: in addition to traditional print sources, he tapped unexpected sources, such as the film's previously uninterviewed supporting actress Nancy Olson, and explored nifty locales, like Norma Desmond's would-be neighborhood. The intrepid reporting results in little-known film facts: how co–art director John Meehan conceived and set up the face-down water shot of the dead Joe Gillis (William Holden) and why then-megastar Montgomery Clift did not want to play opposite older female character Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Also entertaining are Staggs's descriptions of the many behind-the-scenes cat fights. Some of Staggs's film analysis—such as his take on the "crowd-pleasing kitsch" sound movies of Cecil B. DeMille—is standard, but his opinions on the Wilder-Brackett and Wilder–I.A.L. Diamond pairings are sharp and original. There are also plenty of edifying sidebars on topics such as the history of Norma Desmond's exotic car (the Isotta-Fraschini), changes made to the script and "Smiling Franklyn Farnum," the silent western star who plays Norma Desmond's pet undertaker. Staggs has succeeded in presenting another remarkable film study. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Jim Donovan. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/01/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4668-3046-2
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