Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Contact Us | Home RSS

A Hollywood story this weekend at the Orpheum

September 14, 2012
By Tom LaVille , Times-Republican

Sunset Boulevard is the address of the silent superstar Norma Desmond in the Billy Wilder film, "Sunset Boulevard." The films centers around a screen writer who is trying to salvage his career by writing a movie for Desmond that will bring her out of seclusion in her "return" to the screen.

The writer, Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, not only is trying to revive Desmond's career, he is desperately trying to restart his own. During their intimate conversations, Desmond becomes Joe's lover. Desmond lives with her butler in a crumbling mansion. The butler is played by Erich von Stroheim, who was a real life silent film director, writer and actor. Stroheim's character is Desmond's silent film director and also her former husband.

The characters are beautifully cast with handsome young leading man William Holden as Gillis. Gloria Swanson, a former silent film star in real life, was wonderfully cast as Norma Desmond. This adds special significance to the casting in that contemporary movie-goers have mostly forgotten Swanson, therefore her portrayal of a forgotten silent star rings true. The film was shot in black and white, which added to the silent movie feel. Also adding to the authentic feel of the film are the appearances of many film personalities of the 1950s: Cecil B. DeMille, legendary director of "Ben Hur" and "The Ten Commandments," Hedda Hopper, powerful gossip columnist and mother of Dennis Hopper, and silent film star Buster Keaton, whose mother was a native Iowan.

The movie is made in the reverse of most films. It begins with the last scene and then goes about showing how the characters ended up the way they did. The film is on most "favorite" movies lists. It was nominated for 11 Academy awards and won three: Best Art Direction, Best Music and Best Screenplay. All of the main actors were nominated in their areas. The film won four Golden Globe awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Score.

As you can see, this film is a critic and viewer favorite. Norma Desmond is credited with many often-quoted lines: When praising silent films she told Gillis, "we didn't need dialogue; we had faces" and "I am big, it's the pictures that got smaller." Another familiar quote is at the end of the film when Desmond looks into the camera and says, "I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille."

In 1994, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a musical for "Sunset Boulevard" and it debuted on Broadway with Glenn Close as Norma Desmond and Alan Campbell as Joe Gillis.

This is a dramatic film that is recommended for adult audiences due to the fact that the subject matter is serious throughout. This is a film to see on the big screen at the Orpheum.

The show times are 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 5 p.m. Sunday. Visit the theatre for tours, or call the Orpheum Theater Center movie hotline at 641-844-5907 or visit


Tom LaVille is a retired Marshalltown drama and literature teacher and is heavily involved in the Marshalltown Community Theatre. LaVille's Critic's Corner column appears Friday in the Times-Republican.



I am looking for: