Sunday, January 1, 2012


“I am big…it’s the pictures that got small”… Norma Desmond

Sunset Boulevard is undoubtedly a film noir classic and is considered to be one of the most noteworthy films in American cinema history.

Nominated for eleven Academy Awards and winning three, the film was selected for perseveration by the National Film Registry. It has at times ranked in the top 10 films ever made and remains on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best American films.

“Sunset Boulevard” was released in 1950 by Paramount Pictures. It was directed by the great Billy Wilder.

The film tells the story of Joe Gillis, an unsuccessful screenwriter, played by William Holden who stumbles across the Hollywood mansion home of yesteryear in which Norma Desmond lives. A faded silent movie star, Gloria Swanson plays Norma. The film also stars the legendary director Erich Von Stroheim who plays Max, Desmond’s butler.

Swanson was indeed one of the great stars of the silent era. Swanson worked at Paramount Pictures and with Cecil B DeMille. For a time she was the highest paid star in Hollywood. In that respect she was born to play the role. Some say that the role was based on another silent film star, Norma Talmadge. The similarities however happily end there. The scene in which she appears with DeMille (who plays himself) and meeting Desmond after a long absence is a heart-warming one in terms of their history and careers. DeMille refers to Desmond as “Young Fella” in the scene, a name he lovingly created for Swanson.

Several of Desmond's lines, such as, "All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up," and "I am big, it's the pictures that got small!" are widely remembered and quoted from the film.

The film has also been talked about for its film noir cinematography which is of course dark.

From this film classic is a pink chiffon nightgown was worn by Gloria Swanson.

The gown carries a Paramount costume label bearing Swanson's name sewn inside the front.

The gown features chiffon pin pleats with a bow at the centre of the chest and two ribbon shoulder straps on either side.

Edith Head designed the costumes. In collaboration, Billy Wilder, Edith Head and Swanson agreed that Desmond the character would have kept up to date with trends and styles in fashion, so Edith Head designed costumes closely resembling the Dior look of the mid-1940s.

Edith Head in later years discussed working on the film as being "the most challenging of my career,". The approach she gave to the task was explained as "Because Norma Desmond was an actress who had become lost in her own imagination, I tried to make her look like she was always impersonating someone." Edith Head would also rely on Swanson's expertise as in her words, Swanson was the past that was being recreated and Swanson lived that time.

Edith Head also designed the costumes for William Holden and the minor characters; but for authenticity, Wilder instructed Von Stroheim and Nancy Olson to wear their own clothing.

The costume can be seen in two sequences in the film. The first is Joe Gillis’ first day at the Desmond mansion when he finds his belongings have been moved from his apartment and into her mansion. Norman tells him “he will like it here” and the wonderful line…”Do you want this job or don’t you?”…yes he wanted the job but at what price. The costume comes in at 12.38:

The second scene it is worn in we get to see the more manic, delusional and shall we say psychotic Norma when she believes that her script of Salome is to be made by Paramount and Cecil B DeMille. In the scene she is saying good night to Joe and at the same time accusing him of going out. Joe tells her he hasn’t done anything to which she replies…’of course you haven’t, I wouldn’t let you”. The costume comes in at 1:08:

And here is the original trailer for the film:

The theme of the film is best summed up in the closing monologue of Norma..

“I can’t go on with this scene, I’m too happy. Mr. DeMille do you mind if I say a few words? Thank you. I just want to tell you all how happy I am to be back in the studio making a picture again. You don’t know how much I’ve missed all of you. And I promise you I’ll never desert you again because after ‘Salome’ we’ll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life. It always will be. There’s nothing else. Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!… All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Gloria Swanson stood 4' 11½". Her stature and presence on the screen however soared.

Swanson appeared in a few more films after this role however in reality they did not compare. She is also remembered for her cameo appearance in the 1975 film “Airport”.

Gloria Swanson died on April 4, 1983 in New York City at the age of 84.


  1. I am so pleased you're back - and what a return - an Edith Head costume for Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BLVD! I hope you don't mind but I was quite inspired and 'tweeted' this post on Twitter.

    It's always interested me that the distance between 1930, the dawn of the sound era, and 1950 seems so much greater than it is - a mere 20 years. Gloria Swanson was but 50 when she portrayed Norma Desmond and Wm. Holden was in his early 30s. However, SUNSET BLVD. gives the impression that she is closer to 65 or 70 and old enough to be his grandmother. Though the years between the silent age and mid-century were not that many there was, somehow, an enormous cultural gulf.

  2. Hi and thanks for the nice words as always! Yes took a little break but I'm back!

    This is one of my favourite films. There is so much to see and always something new each time I see it, even now.

    I had never thought of that in relation to the age difference but you are right. We see Norma as older and Joe as much younger. The reality is that today she would just be a cougar and Joe would probably be interested! LOL it does seem to create an enormous cultural gulf as you say.

    There is so much material out there in relation to this film. It is so interesting to read. Especially in relation to Edith Head and her vision for the costumes in this film. I love how she wanted Norma Desmond to have the current Dior look as star who remained in fashion. Swanson did look good in this film. I am very happy to have a little part of it now.

    And yes please tweet away!

  3. I've missed your write ups on your collection too! Welcome back! The gown is fantastic! And what a great piece from the one film Gloria is most remembered for.
    I think I'll feature your article on my blog so my readers don't miss it.
    Looking forward to what you have in store for us in 2012.

  4. Hi Page! Thanks for the nice comments. I did have a little break or more the case that life got a bit busy on me!

    Thanks for the nice words on the Swanson. It is a great gown and a great film. And I do agree that for all the vast collection of films that Ms Swanson did, she will be remembered best for Sunset.

    Thanks for featuring my article...please do!

    Lots more for 2012 yes...just need to make time for it!