Sunset Boulevard appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Paramount delivered a thoroughly top-notch presentation of the film.
Sharpness looked excellent. The movie presented a consistently tight and concise image. Only a the slightest smidgen of softness ever occurred; this came in a few wide shots and was negligible. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering popped up, and edge haloes remained absent. I got no sense of digital noise reduction here, as the movie provided a nice sense of light grain. Print flaws didn’t show up in this clean presentation.
The black and white image demonstrated solid tones. Blacks came across as deep and rich throughout the movie, and it offered terrific contrast. The film displayed a nicely silvery appearance that seemed appealing. Shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but never came across as excessively heavy. Across the board, this became a wonderful transfer.
While not in the same league as the picture, the monaural soundtrack of Sunset Boulevard also worked well. Speech seemed reasonably accurate and distinct, with no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music came across as fairly bright and lively, though dynamic range seemed limited given the restrictions of the source. Effects were similarly modest but they showed good clarity and accuracy within the confines of 62-year-old stems. This was a more than adequate auditory presentation for an older movie.
How did this Blu-ray compare to the 2008 “Centennial Collection” DVD? Audio was smoother and more distinctive, while visuals delivered the expected upgrades. The Blu-ray looked cleaner, tighter and more appealing in all ways. I liked the old DVD but the Blu-ray trounced it.
The disc includes the 2008 DVD’s extras, and we start with an audio commentary from Billy Wilder biographer Ed Sikov, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. Sikov provides an inconsistent track. At times, he tells us some good background information. He goes over the deleted opening segment as well as background for many of the participants and inside information that modern audiences might need to better understand the film.
Unfortunately, Sikov often simply tells us the on-screen action, and the piece also suffers from way too many empty spaces, especially during the movie’s second half. I dislike those gaps under any circumstance, but they’re particularly bothersome when they come from a film historian. Sikov could have covered many topics related to the filmmakers that would have filled the commentary, so the many empty sections make this track sporadically useful but often frustrating.
Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning goes for 22 minutes, 47 seconds and provides movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We find remarks from Sikov, Paramount Pictures producer AC Lyles, actress/companion of William Holden Stefanie Powers, filmmaker/author Nicholas Meyer, film historian/critic Andrew Sarris, and actors Gloria Swanson and Nancy Olson. The program looks at the movie’s screenplay, its casting and performances, and its costume designer. We learn a lot of nice details here, and Olson provides some fun anecdotes; her presence adds a lot to the piece and helps make it a good one.
Genre topics come up in The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard by Joseph Wambaugh. During this 14-minute, 19-second piece, we discover notes from author Wambaugh. He discusses his experiences with the flick and gets into interpretation of it and its place in the film noir genre. Wambaugh proves interesting and insightful.
We explore the movie’s legacy with Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic. It goes for 14 minutes, 29 seconds and contributes comments from Sarris, Swanson, Sikov, Olson, Meyer, Powers and Broadway Norma Desmond portrayer Glenn Close. We find some thoughts about the movie’s reception and its legacy. I’d have liked more specifics about how the film was viewed back in 1950, but we get enough material on both sides to make this a satisfactory piece.
For a look at the lead actress, the 10-minute and 37-second Two Sides of Ms. Swanson features Swanson’s granddaughter Brooke Anderson and Airport 1975 costar Linda Harrison. They offer reflections on Swanson as a relative and as an actor. Because we only hear from the two of them, we don’t get a broad glimpse of Swanson, but we do learn some interesting facets of her personality.
Next come some Stories of Sunset Boulevard. It runs 11 minutes, 22 seconds and includes Sarris, Sikov, Meyer, Olson, Powers, Swanson and Lyles. This show covers the abandoned original opening, camerawork, performances, thoughts about Billy Wilder and the script, and some scene specifics. Though it feels like a repository for interview snippets left over from the other featurettes, but that doesn't become a problem. We still find a lot of interesting details, so the program works.
We learn about the main actor in Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden. This one goes for 11 minutes, 13 seconds and provides remarks from Lyles, Powers, Olson, and Wambaugh. “Boy” provides some info about Holden as a costar, but it mostly focuses on his personality and personal life. Like the Swanson piece, “Boy” is too short to offer a strong examination of the actor’s life, but it throws out enough good tidbits to succeed.
Information about the music appears during the five-minute and 51-second Recording Sunset Boulevard. It gives us statements from Sarris and soundtrack album producer Robert Townson. Most of the short program looks at the 2002 re-recording of the score produced by Townson. We don’t really learn much about the movie itself, so this turns into a mediocre piece.
Geographical details appear in The City of Sunset Boulevard. This one runs five minutes, 36 seconds and offers notes from Sikov, Olson and Los Angeles Attractions author Borislav Stanic. We get a decent little tour of the movie’s locations here.
Sets come up in the five-minute and five-second Behind the Gates: The Lot. Here we hear from Lyles and film historian/author Rudy Behlmer. The show covers basics about the origins of Paramount and its studio location. As with some of its predecessors, it’s way too short to truly satisfy, but we do find some interesting facts.
More info about the studio shows up during the nine-minute and 33-second Paramount in the ‘50s. It simply shows us clips from a few of the studio’s biggest flicks during that era. A narrator provides some remarks about the movies as well, but nothing particularly revealing emerges here. Instead, the show feels more like a long ad for the studio.
Edith Head – the Paramount Years provides a 13-minute and 43-second look at the famous costume designer. We see movie clips, archival materials and photos, and interviews with Head biographer David Chierichetti, costumer Tzetzi Ganey, fashion designer Bob Mackie, and actress Rosemary Clooney. Chierichetti dominates the program, which offers a quick but solid discussion of Head. We learn about her early career, her own personal style, and a lot of the work she did for flicks like Sunset and To Catch a Thief. “Head” gives us a reasonably full glimpse of the legendary designer.
During the 14-minute and 27-second Franz Waxman and The Music of Sunset Boulevard, we hear from film music historian – and composer’s son – John Waxman plus composers Elmer Bernstein and John Mauceri. Fairly similar to the Head program, this one covers Waxman’s early life and career and explores some of his films, though it delves particularly deeply into his material for Sunset. Overall, it offers another entertaining and informative featurette.
A cool little feature, the Hollywood Location Map covers some of the spots seen in Sunset Boulevard. It goes through these sites: Schwab’s Drugstore, Joe Gillis’ Apartment, Norma Desmond’s Car, Paramount Pictures, and the Getty Mansion. Paramount splits into three smaller areas: Bronson Gate, Dreier Building, and Stage 18. Each of these shows footage from the film while we hear narration that provides notes about each of the locations. The various clips last between 19 seconds and 52 seconds for a total of three minutes, 51 seconds. Though this domain badly needed a “Play All” option – it gets tiresome to constantly return to the main menu – it still offers enough good material to merit a look.
To get a glimpse of the film’s unused original opening, check out the Morgue Prologue Script Pages. This shows both the original morgue prologue from December 1948 and the revised morgue prologue from March 1949. In addition to the text, the original sequence offers looks at the filmed shots themselves. Unfortunately, they lost the sound for those clips, so they remain silent, but this area nonetheless offers a cool look at a major deleted sequence from Sunset.
From the original 2002 DVD, Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back delivers a 25-minute and 52-second program about the film. It mixes movie clips, archival materials, and new interviews with Sikov, Lyles, actor Nancy Olson, film critic Andrew Sarris, and actor Glenn Close, who portrayed Norma Desmond in a stage musical production of Sunset. A tight and informative piece, “Making” covers lots of good ground and offers a very nice summation of the production. It ranges through casting, reactions to the movie, background for a number of the participants, and many of the ins and outs behind the material. I thoroughly enjoyed this crisp little documentary.
In addition to the flick’s theatrical trailer, Sunset comes with Photo Galleries, where we discover three subsections. We find stills for “Production” (46 shots), “The Movie” (25 images), and “Publicity” (16 photos). All three areas seem good, with the best pictures appearing in “Production”. However, some of the “Publicity” stills are cool as well, if just to see von Stroheim’s facial expressions.
New to the Blu-ray, we get a Deleted Scene. Called “The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues”, this segment lasts one minute, 26 seconds and shows a little musical piece from a New Year’s Eve party scene. It’s utterly superfluous but still interesting to see as a lost piece of film.