7. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Joe Gillis (V.O.)
Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. It’s about five o’clock in the morning. That’s the Homicide Squad, complete with detectives and newspaper men. A murder has been reported from one of those great big houses in the ten thousand block. You’ll read all about it in the late editions, I’m sure. You’ll get it over your radio, and see it on television – because an old-time star is involved. One of the biggest. But before you hear it all distorted and blown out of proportion, before those Hollywood columnists get their hands on it, maybe you’d like to hear the facts, the whole truth…
Sunset Boulevard is a film is told in a flashback with a narrative voice from beyond the grave. So, right from the get-go, with an opening scene consisting of our narrator Joe Gillis (William Holden) face down in a pool with two shots in his back and one in his stomach, we know that our protagonist is already dead. But nothing has been spoiled; it’s not the death that is important. The decisions Gillis makes along the way to arrive in that pool is what captures our attention. Just because we know the end before we begin doesn’t detract our anticipation. We’re interested because we want to figure out how this all happened, and why. This use of a ghostly narrator also adds to the fatalistic atmosphere of the film, which was especially effective for Film-Noir murder mysteries of the time.