Review: Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream

Sam Staggs (2002)

It’s been quite a while since I read such a shamelessly padded book as this one. At 400 pages, this book hits filler-mode at the half-way mark, and by page 300 I was positively skimming. After a rather slight treatment of the making-of, the trials of preview screenings (including one in Evanston!) and a wrap-up of what came next for the principle players, the remainder of the book focuses on life after Billy Wilder’s Norma.

Whole chapters are devoted to the catty backstage bickering of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s over-blown musical version, to small screen nods to Norma (on the Carol Burnett Show, The Beverly Hillbillies and Charlie’s Angels–who really cares!) and to Nancy Olson’s marriage to lyricist Alan Jay Lerner. (In case you don’t recall, she portrayed Betty Schaffer, the least interesting character in the film.)

If you’re looking for a book about the making of Sunset Boulevard or the creative process that goes into realizing a now-classic Hollywood film, this is not the first book you should pull off the shelf. While it has a dishy style that makes the initial part a fun bit of film fluff, there’s not much to the content that’s deep or illuminating and it’s dripping with a triteness that will make you positively roll your eyes and groan.

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