Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Joe Gillis gets his pool... the hard way.
“Audiences don't know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.”

There is a sub-genre in film noir: the Hollywood screenwriter film noir. The most well-known is Billy Wilders Sunset Boulevard (1950), a masterpiece to no doubt. A down on his heels screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) through a twist of fate finds himself wandering in the gothic mansion of silent screen star Nora Desmond (Gloria Swanson), during the funeral of her pet ape. And things only get more bizarre after that. At the time Swanson herself was fifty (a mere fifty!) and had been the grand star of the silent’s, she reluctanlty came out of retirement to play the role that would cement her in noir film history. This Hollywood tale was made in the fifties, the silent era was only thirty some years prior, but it might as well have been a hundred in Hollywood years. Written by Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M Marshman Jr., the dialog is just so damn brilliant!

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!

Joe Gillis: You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.

Norma Desmond: I am big. It's the pictures that got small.

Norma’s existence in her cold mausoleum of a mansion is spooky as any ghost story, especially since Holden’s Gillis, is narrating the story as he floats lifeless in Desmond’s pool. “The poor dope - he always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool.” But prior to his demise, Gillis finds himself for a short while hiding out in Desmond’s mansion and out of necessity becomes her lover (yes, Nora Desmond was the original cougar!)

As a writer, perhaps Joe Gillis should have know how this was gonna end?

She finds screenwriter Joe Gillis, a lone connection to the world she left behind her mansion’s cold iron gates.
"The whole place seemed to have been stricken with a kind of creeping paralysis - out of beat with the rest of the world, crumbling apart in slow motion." With her new lover, Norma dreams up the delusion that she’s going to have him write her comeback picture, that her audience has been waiting all these years for. When he tries to reel in her fantasy, and also tries to leave her, “There's nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you're trying to be twenty-five.” Well, tragically for Joe, his toe tag's not too far away.

Gloria Graham and Bogie take a real dark turn off lovers lane.

Humphrey Bogart’s Dixon Steele, is yet another victim to film noir and compared to his fellow fictional screenwriter, Joe Gillis, perhaps he ended up getting a more of a raw deal in the end? Also, made in 1950 (go figure?) was Nicholas Ray’s (Rebel Without a Cause) In a Lonely Place.  Bogie’s Steele, is a once talented screenwriter who’s in need of a hit film to get his back on top. At one of his local waterholes, he’s offered a book by a producer that he feels is beneath his talents. Feeling pressure to take the job, he reluctantly agrees to write the script. His big mistake comes when he asks the restaurants coat check girl, who's just finished the book to come home with him that evening, so she can give him notes to save him time.

Mildred Atkinson (coat check girl) : Before I started to go to work at Paul's, I used to think that actors made up their own lines.

Dixon Steele: When they get to be big stars, they usually do.

Only a few hours earlier she was in his apartment.

Early that morning the girl turns up dead at the bottom of a canyon. Upon being questioned by the Beverly Hills Police Department, Steele is saved with the alibi of an attractive woman, Laurel Gray (Gloria Graham) who lives in the same apartment complex. The two soon start a love affair; “I've been looking for someone a long time... I didn't know her name or where she lived - I'd never seen her before. A girl was killed, and because of that, I found what I was looking for. Now I know your name, where you live, and how you look.”
Laurel, becomes his muse; “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

Too good to last.

And all seems wonderful for them… except these lovers, live in the world of noir, where happiness is fleeting. With the girl’s unsolved murder looming over the two lovers, Steele begins to become unhinged.  We soon see the dark side to Steele, we see that he’s a man whose prone sudden fits of extreme violence and it’s scary. Poor Laurel, might as well be trying to have a relationship a werewolf (and Dixon's, just as tragic a figure.) Laurel becomes shaken, and soon starts to wonder (as the audience?) if he possibly did kill the poor coat check girl? There’s no happy ending here, like his Writers Guild brethren Joe Gillis, Dixon Steele dies, but he goes out the hard way; by heartbreak. The film’s last lines are noir; straight up, no chaser. “I lived a few weeks while you loved me. Goodbye, Dix,” Laurel tearfully says.


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