Monday, May 26, 2014

CMBA Blogathon: Fabulous Films of the 50s. Sunset Blvd

This is my contribution to the CMBA Blogathon: Fabulous Films of the 50s.

I've always wanted to do one of my snarky photo reviews of Sunset Blvd so when the topic for our latest CMBA Blogathon was announced I was thrilled to have a good reason for doing so.


Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond
William Holden as Joe Gillis
Erich von Stroheim as Max Von Mayerling
Nancy Olson as Betty Schaefer
Jack Webb as Artie Green
Cecil B. DeMille as himself
Hedda Hopper as herself
Buster Keaton as himself
Anna Q. Nilsson as herself
H.B. Warner as himself

Billy Wilder

Edith Head

If you're ready, someone needs their closeup and a lesson on boundaries!

Just to make sure you ended up in the right place. By the end of this you'll probably wish you had taken a detour to Wilshire and Highland.

Not even 30 seconds in and we have ourselves a serious situation. I know this because coppers don't just plow into rich peoples shrubs unless it's an emergency.

A floater! I love a good murder mystery and with that title I'm anticipating a lot of glamour, suspense and a few Mickey Spillane type characters with a Johnny Stompanato cameo.

I can't imagine what this poor sap went through or who he last saw to have that terrified look on his face. Lucky for us the stiff is also narrating so we're going to go back and find out how he got here. 

A penniless writer falls in love with a beautiful courtesan...Wait, that was Moulin Rouge.. A penniless writer hears a knock at the door...

Just two goons here to repo the car.

Our lead sneaks out to his hidden car. Those idiots never think to check behind Rudy's shoeshine stand. 

Rudy: See ya around, Joe Gillis!
Joe: Thanks Rudy! 
(I hope nobody shoots Rudy. He seems like a swell guy just tryin to make a honest buck.)

Joe heads over to Paramount to pitch his 100th movie. If writing doesn't work out he should give acting a shot. Handsome fella!

Meet Sheldrick the producer. I can already tell this is going to be a disaster. His secretary probably looks like Agnes Moorhead and sounds like Hedy Lamarr on her first day in Hollywood. 

Not the secretary but a very bold copy writer named Betty. Joe's writing stinks which we already knew. Successful writers don't end up begging for work to men named Sheldrick.

If the party you need a loan from lies down, best just find another way. Use that writer brain and think of something easy that won't get you killed like....

 ...Dropping by Schwab's hoping to run into Lana Turner. You devise a plan to kidnap her and hold her for ransom. Keeping in mind it's 1950 so Lana might not bring a huge payday. Just stay calm, Joe. You just need enough to pay 3 car payments. 

Next up is the golf course where Joe's agent not only denies him a loan but fires himself. (Why hasn't anybody gotten shot yet, or even shoved?)

I think something bad is getting ready to happen. This is the outskirts of town. Overgrown shrubs, no star map stands, not even a lady picking the worst time possible to walk across the street pushing a baby carriage. I feel it's a trap. Just turn back Joe, before you hit Santa Monica pier and get the overwhelming desire to pull a Norman Main.

Joe, having the worst day on earth, sees the repo guys. It stinks for him but I think this movie is about to see its first high speed chase or maybe a shoot out. 

Our creative genius pulls down the visor hoping to not draw attention. You couldn't borrow a bowler hat and a fake mustache from the prop dept?

 A blown tire. Well, that was anticlimactic.

Joe pulls into what he thinks is an abandoned garage. (If you've ever wondered what parking looks like for the Tower of Terror, this would be it!)

In the next stall is a super fancy automobile. These people are either eccentric royalty or he's stumbled upon the Hanna Barbera backlot.

 Too bad you didn't bring a rake and some gardening gloves. You could make a small fortune pruning and clearing a path to the fire exits. 

 Joe just wants to lay low for a bit but the butler, Max has other ideas. For some reason I'm getting the feeling The Eagles got their inspiration for Hotel California while watching this movie late one night.

 OH, Joe, your luck might be changing. The homeowner is a feeble blind lady. So just act like you're raking leaves for a few hours then get your $40 bucks and head back into the realm of the undead.

 Hear No Evil has passed on. If there's any chance of See No Evil and Speak No Evil jumping out of the bushes later...Oh, I can't let my mind go there. I'm already nervous. We're one piano organ and a dark cloak away from me watching this with one eye open. I just know that monkey didn't die from old age.

 This is the face of a guilty woman. An aging silent screen star who probably has a basement of animal carcasses contorted and dressed like ballerinas.
Although I'll give her style points for the turban and perfectly placed mole. 

 Joe didn't come to help bury monkeys. He's a starving writer who just wants someone to show him the exit before everyone not being buried gets locked in their cages for the night.

 The first rule of fright club is to recognize the aging star who's been gracious enough to give you a few moments in the main parlor. 

 Joe:  OH, of course! I loved you in Sadie Thompson. Norma: That wasn't me! Joe: The framed publicity stills say otherwise. Norma: Cut!!!! Wilder, I told you my old publicity stills everywhere would confuse the inferior. 

 Norma: Since you're here and a writer, mind looking over my Salome script? I've been working on it for 3 years.
Joe: Any chance I can check in next door with Janet Gaynor first to see what she's offering?

 White Zombie glare says not a chance!

 Norma lets it be known that she's not fond of the word comeback. It's return. Stars return...All the great ones return in 1950 to compete against one another then a sniveling idiot named, Judy Holiday shows up and tears their world apart. Take a deep breathe, Norma!

 I'm just going to scoot this chair up against the wall so I can watch you float back and forth like Bram Stoker.

 It's time for a celebration! I bet Janet Gaynor doesn't keep champagne and caviar on ice for last minute guests. This is a five star institution. 

Max draws the drapes. I bet it's time to sacrifice another monkey.

Then Norma breaks out the Nosferatu claw and things really get creepy.

The last thing anyone needs when sitting across from Desmond is more lighting. You're not helping her situation, Max!

Things were going so smoothly then the baby coffin arrives. (Wilder couldn't have given Bela Lugosi a cameo here to lighten the mood?)

Our hero narrates that he's nauseous from the champagne and tuberose but we all know it's from the rotting monkey flesh down the hall. 

Or it could be the moth balls keeping Norma fresh as she chain smokes and lurks. She's always lurking from somewhere. Ready to pounce in her leopard pantsuit from 1930. Mind your manners Miss Desmond. We all know you haven't had a visitor since Sadie Thompson Birth of a Nation hit theaters. 

Joe is working his pitch to edit her Salome script and it's going well but I can't focus on anything with the Nosferatu claw. She's going to blow this! 

Oh, wait! She's going to hide the claw. I was going to suggest a nice lace glove or hiding behind a changing screen until the deal was done. 

Norma wants to know his sign before agreeing to hire him. He's one lucky Sagittarius. Was the monkey a Leo? 

Norma: I taught Greta Garbo how to hold her cigarette like a lady, ya know. Poor thing. I hear she's a recluse now. Holed up somewhere in a marble palace with just her glamor photos.
Joe: What's her record with pets?

With a writing job you a get suite above the garage as long as you need it. Sorry about the thicket and full body scratches as you make your way to the door. Just think, if your tire had held up you could have made it down the road to Luise Rainer's place. 

Max tells us this room hasn't been used for a long time. Joe lacks any curiosity or maybe he just doesn't care anymore because any reasonable person would ask how the monkey died or what happened to the last guest who happened upon this place by accident.

Max schools Joe on Norma's popularity. She get tons of fan mail. She is still one of the greatest stars to ever make her way to Hollywood on skates and her good looks. 

Finally left alone, Joe checks out the view. At one time this was a tennis court where stars of the 20s played. Now used as the backdrop for
- insert your worst nightmare here-

The pool could use a bit of TLC. Just check out of this place before Mothra wakes up. Sure, you may miss something interesting you can tell your kids some day. But why risk it?

Enjoy yourselves, rats. In another few minutes I picture you fitted for tuxes and added to the funeral brochure as honorary pall bearers.

It's time to bury the monkey in a hole in the backyard. He doesn't even rate one of the empty spots in the mausoleum?

Joe wakes the next morning thinking it was all a bad dream. I can understand why he feels that way since he still has his kidneys.

Either Max doesn't require a lot of sleep or the monkey funeral was shorter than I imagined because he's delivered all of Joe's belongings from his apartment. 

They save the organ playing for mornings around here. But where is Norma?

OH, there she is lurking from across the room. Looking Queen Kelly fresh this morning.

His back rent has been paid in full. Okay, I don't think Rainer would have been that generous. She probably would have offered him a day old scone and some change for a taxi back into civilization. Perhaps I've been too hard on Norma and I'm willing to give her a pass on the monkey. Sure it was a tragic accident.

The next thing we know it's two weeks later and Joe doesn't appear to be chained to the floor or under the influence of drugs. Mothra has moves. And I'm grateful to Billy Wilder we were spared any and all seduction that got us to this point. 

You just know Joan Crawford saw this scene and snarled. 

And Bette Davis snarled at this scene. Don't get mad Bette. Margo Channing could have had publicity stills on every surface. 

It's movie night at the Tower of Terror. 

I wear fitted pedlum and pencil skirts when I watch home movies too. I don't know what kept men made in 1950 but whatever it was, Joe deserved a raise. Not necessarily because of Mothra but Max. He has to be judging as he roams about not noticing how weird they're being.

Joe: Any chance we're going to watch Judy Holiday in an advance screening of BORN YESTERDAY?
Norma: Cherish your kidneys?

The claw is back! How much more will Joe endure before he makes a break for it? How much did spare tires cost during the 50s? 

He must really enjoy Norma Desmond movies. That's all that's shown around here. Poor guy can't even get a Laurel and Hardy short to break up the monotony. 

....Or just wake up super early before the organ starts, fix your flat and get the heck out of here!

OH, we get impromptu acting/ranting from Mothra. Something about having faces, not needing a voice and a dig at Greta Garbo. I'm guessing this is how most cults get started.

It's not all romantic evenings alone. Card night with the wax works. 

Anna Q. Nilsson looks amazing for 130. I bet she would have attended the monkey funeral if she'd been invited. Something tells me she's up for anything and the more mysterious the better.

H.B. Warner showed up thinking he was being given an honorary Oscar.

Then there's Buster Keaton who showed up for the high end caviar trolley and also to get an evening away from Eleanor. 

It took long enough but the repo men finally figure out where Joe and his jalopy are hiding out. Personally, I would have sicked Anna Q. on them. 

Norma is up 70 cts and the ashtrays are full. Anna Q. doesn't look all that pleased to be interrupted either. Poor people and their real world problems. 

J.B.: Commoners!
Buster: So, you really thought you were getting an honorary Oscar tonight?

My father taught me how to change a flat when I went off to college. Page 1, Joe Gillis ZERO!

Norma sidles up to point out they have a car. No worries! I'm sure like everything else, it will be fixed up and working like new before the sun rises. Everything happens around this place once all normal people go to bed. 

Just like magic their chariot is in top notch condition. Leopard interiors and the gold phone works well enough to dial up Max who's only several inches away. Joe looks thrilled to be seen out in public with Norma. Hopefully the road maps have changed since the last time they took to the open roads. 

Joe needs a new wardrobe if he's going to hang out with Norma and her wax works buddies. At this point I've decided Joe deserves what he gets. I keep thinking he'll sneak a HELP ME note to the tailor when Norma isn't looking but not a peep. 

It's already December at the Tower of Terror and the yard hasn't changed. I guess outdoor activities are off the menu. At least until Norma gets her pasty complexion and corneas conditioned to except sunlight. 

 The guest room has sprung a leak so Joe has to move into the main house. Norma certainly is agile and Joe is a heavy sleeper. How do you not hear her sidling over the roof while clawing her way through it?

 He gets the ex husband's old room next to Norma's. That's not creepy at all.

Nor is the fact all the locks and knobs have been removed due to Norma's propensity for suicide attempts. Other rules in the main house. No razor blades and the gas has to be turned off at night. So you'll be cold and unshaven but at least you'll be close enough to Norma at night in case you get urges. 

Max also reveals he writes the fan letters to Norma. This is really sad and sure to perk up Joan Crawford. (It's only a movie, Joanie! Everyone loves Gloria.)

On a lighter note, it's New Years Eve and Norma is throwing a lavish party with an orchestra and enough funeral wreaths to make anyone cheer up.

This has put Joe in such a festive mood he doesn't even notice the claw. Well, okay he looks like he's going to barf but I'm sure that's just jitters since midnight is just around the corner.

Joe: Norma, can I help you with your wiglet placement and the bald spot situation before the guests get here?
Norma: I had the tile floors waxed. Rudy Valentino told me to put in the tile. Who needs wooden floors, other than poor people who can't afford tile or New Years Eve parties for two. I mean 100. 
Joe: Where's Max? He said there would be cake and he would lead me to some underground tunnel where I can claw my way out before midnight.
Norma: But, Joe, I'm not wearing a wiglet. 

Let's have cake then tango like it's 1929.

Off with the veil! I've heard about these kinds of Hollywood parties. I bet the orchestra has never seen anything like this though but I'm sure Max had them all sign confidentiality agreements.

Realizing not even the wax works are attending, Joe tries to figure out how to get out before midnight to salvage what's left of his year.

 Well, played Norma! You left the couch half way on the dance floor in case Joe couldn't wait to get you in a reclining position. That's what fancy orchestras and walls of carnations do to average people. 

 If Cary Grant had been cast in the lead he would have already made off with the jewels and been half way to the airport by the time the orchestra hit the first notes of  Auld Lang Syne. You're such a disappointment, Holden!

Norma lets Joe know they'll get the pool ready for summer. I'm glad to hear that. We can't get back to the first scene until you get the backyard situation taken care of, Norma.

Oops! Norma gets rejected. She's perfectly stable so I'm sure he can walk out without incident as long as he's wearing a bullet proof vest.

Do we just keep playing like nothings happening or crawl behind the palms?

Joe manages to escape and finds his way across town to a party without tuberoses or jeweled grandmother types. I'm glad he escaped but I can't help but worry about the orchestra he left behind. 

We finally get to meet his best pal, Artie who's been worried Joe went missing. Only if you consider reliving 1920 with a crazy person as missing.

Even though Betty and Artie are now an item it doesn't seem to detour Joe. She's soft, under the age of 50 and doesn't smell of mothballs and desperation.

Now that he's broken free he dials up Max to have his luggage sent over to Arties.

Norma found your razor. (He heard the rules of fright club, we all did. Why in the world did he leave a razor lying around?)  I just hope the orchestra made it out alive. 

She's still capable of making the claw so I think she'll survive this one.

As much as it's raining out why not drag that bed vessel out into the street and give the old girl a proper viking funeral? Joe's such an old softy.

 My darling Joe.  IT'S ALIVE!

Max is wearing white the next morning which can mean only one thing. She shed her skin and they consummated their relationship last night.

Pesky Betty tries to hunt Joe down but she gets denied by Max. You don't go meddling into other peoples lives once they've built a love nest. Regardless if it's made on lies and manipulation.

Mama got the pool ready just like she promised. 

I'm glad to see the gardening has been done and Joe is getting outside even if he's not allowed to go past the end of the driveway.

Joe: Do you have another face, like a summer face and not the snarl face? I'm barely clothed so give me something pleasant.

Nope, nope, nope! Sorry Billy Wilder. I can't behind this relationship. Even with you giving Gloria softer lighting and a very large hat.

We're out for the evening and Joe couldn't be more thrilled. Mothra crawled back in her cocoon or is that a chinchilla? 

We're back at Schwab's! Mothra ran out of Seconal or as she calls it her super secret seduction potion for Joe. What? You don't think he's being drugged? You saw that pool scene.

OH, look who's here. Betty and Artie. 

Well, she's not Lana Turner but close enough on short notice. I wonder if Norma would mind if I loaded her in the car?  What the Tower of Terror needs is my long lost sister.

Billy Wilder ups the weird! Max Sennett Baby, really? Wouldn't have been my first guess or 50th here. 

As Norma goes to change for her next routine, Joe daydreams about Betty. You've wasted what seems like 10 years in this asylum Joe. It's time to map out an escape route before you end up like Hear No Evil. By the way are you ever going to get around to asking who or what killed the monkey?

Guessing by the look on his face Norma is back and she's dressed like Theda Bara in CLEOPATRA.

No, even scarier. Why would you do Charlie that way, Norma? I'm starting to think these dress up skits are how you lost husband number 1 and 2. Bring Buster back and let him do somersaults or something interesting.

We're headed out again but this time to Paramount to meet up with Cecille B. DeMille. Norma seems to have aged 30 years on the ride over. Maybe this is why she stays in dimly lit rooms under veils. A vampire? Is Joe a vampire? This would explain a lot of the weirdness over the past hour.

Such a sweet moment between Gloria Norma and Mr. DeMille. I'm sure he'll drop the hammer though knowing him. She heard that saying about the pictures getting smaller from someone. Just sayin!

By the time the visit is over, everyone but Norma realizes the studio doesn't want Norma back for a film. It was all a misunderstanding. Of course, a giddy Norma is worse than a deranged Norma so thanks for that, Joe!

Still under the impression she's getting a movie role, Norma goes about getting in shape with some strange beauty regimens or what Joan Crawford considers a routine 3 am refresher between cocktails.

.If I can just hold out another 10 minutes I'll be able to lower the moat bridge and sneak away for a few hours. Why do the macabre keep such late hours?

Joe: I love hanging out with you Betty and your young face. The elasticity is incredible. 

Betty: Can we discuss my moving to Arizona to marry Artie before you start slobbering all over my skin again?

Joe: If only you knew what I go through 20 hours a day. Things I've seen you wouldn't believe. I've seen a Max Sennett Bathing Beauty skit that would make your skin crawl.

Every time Joe finds a bit of happiness, Max is right on queue to drop more good news. No, Norma is still breathing but Max was her first husband and her first manager when she was just 16. Nothing weird about carrying on here like nothing has changed. 

Norma snoops and finds the script, Joe's been sneaking off to finish with the help of Betty. Boy, those cherub lamps sure do give off a lot of light.

Norma becomes completely unhinged as she calls Betty to let her know Joe's living situation. 

Who is this? Why do you sound so weird? Is this Greta Garbo? 

Joe has finally had enough so he gives Betty directions to come on over. I'm so excited something is finally going down I can't even take it. Get dressed, Norma!

There aren't enough cherubs in the world or men stupid enough to take a wrong turn into the driveway to make Norma whole again. 

Please figure out what's going on Betty before Max starts playing the organ. Once that happens, you're dunzo!

Joe: I would show you the rest of the house and the chimp cemetery, maybe get you an autographed photo but there's not enough time. Once Norma chews through her straps, they'll be hell to pay.

Betty: Okay, call me when you're single and ready to date the living again.

Ya just missed your chance to toss Norma over the balcony. Kill or be killed buddy!

ECK! Who put this fun house mirror here?

Something tells me Norma doesn't allow men to leave. Men or monkeys. I bet that monkey was trying to get the heck out of dodge. Sadly, we'll never know what happened to him. Or the rats. No sign of them either.

Even the fiercest NRA member would tell you when someone's eyes glaze over and they grip a gun like that, you better find your way behind something bullet proof. Ya cant even go lock yourself in the bathroom because there aren't any knobs or locks. 

Well, you were warned. Heading out into an open area like that. Of course Norma is a perfect shot from a distance. She probably cut her teeth on stray bullets while filming THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY. 

The cops are back to wreck the shrubs and they brought a camera crew this go around. 

Norma: Joe loved my hair when I wore it all crazy like this. He thought it was a wiglet. Isn't that funny?  What do you mean, Elsa Lancaster wore it better?

Work it, girl!

It's even too much for Hedda Hopper. That says it all!

Thanks for hanging out with me for such a long photo review. If this is your first time reading one of my snarky photo reviews, keep in mind it's all in fun and I actually really like Sunset Blvd and of course, Gloria Swanson.

Please be sure and check out all the other entries in our CMBA Blogathon which can be found HERE.