Sunset Boulevard (stylized onscreen as SUNSET BLVD.) is a 1950
American film noir directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, and
produced and co-written by Charles Brackett. It was named after the
thoroughfare that runs through
Los Angeles and Beverly Hills,
The film stars
William Holden as Joe Gillis, an unsuccessful
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a faded silent-film
star who draws him into her fantasy world, where she dreams of making
a triumphant return to the screen.
Erich von Stroheim
Erich von Stroheim plays Max von
Mayerling, her devoted servant, and Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd
Jack Webb play supporting roles. Director Cecil B. DeMille
and gossip columnist
Hedda Hopper play themselves, and the film
includes cameo appearances by leading silent-film actors Buster
Keaton, H. B. Warner, and Anna Q. Nilsson.
Praised by many critics when first released,
Sunset Boulevard was
nominated for 11
Academy Awards (including nominations in all four
acting categories) and won three. Deemed "culturally, historically, or
aesthetically significant" by the U.S.
Library of Congress
Library of Congress in 1989,
Sunset Boulevard was included in the first group of films selected for
preservation in the National Film Registry. In 1998, it was ranked
number 12 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best
American films of the 20th century, and in 2007, it was 16th on their
10th Anniversary list.
3.4 Cinematography and design
5 Original release and responses
5.1 Previews and revision
5.2 Premiere and box-office receipts
5.3 Critical reception
6 Awards and recognition
6.1 Recognition since 1989
8 Restoration and home media
9 Musical adaptations
9.1 Stapley and Hughes
9.2 Other failed attempts
9.3 Lloyd Webber and Black & Hampton
10 In popular culture
11 See also
14 External links
Sunset Boulevard mansion in early 1949, the body of Joe Gillis
floats in the swimming pool. In a flashback, Joe relates the events
leading to his death.
Six months earlier, down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe tries selling
Paramount Pictures producer Sheldrake on a story he submitted. Script
reader Betty Schaefer harshly critiques it in Joe's presence, unaware
that he is the author. Later, while fleeing from men trying to
repossess his car, Joe turns into the driveway of a seemingly deserted
mansion. After concealing the car, he hears a woman calling him,
apparently mistaking him for someone else. Ushered in by Max, her
butler, Joe recognizes the woman as almost-forgotten silent-film star
Norma Desmond. Learning he is a writer, she asks his opinion of a
script she has written for a film about Salome. She plans to play the
title role herself in a comeback attempt. Joe finds her script
abysmal, but flatters her into hiring him as a script doctor.
Moved into Norma's mansion at her insistence, Joe initially resents,
but gradually accepts his dependent situation. He sees that Norma
refuses to face the fact that her fame has evaporated and learns the
fan letters she still receives are secretly written by Max. Max tells
him Norma is subject to depression and has made suicide attempts.
Norma lavishes attention on Joe and buys him expensive clothes. At her
New Year's Eve party, he discovers he is the only guest and realizes
she has fallen in love with him. He tries to let her down gently, but
she slaps him and retreats to her room.
Joe leaves the mansion and visits his friend Artie Green, who is
having his own New Year's Eve party. Joe asks Artie about staying at
his place and again meets Betty, who he learns is Artie's girlfriend.
Betty believes a scene in one of Joe's scripts has potential, but Joe
is uninterested in pursuing it. When Joe phones Max to have him pack
his things, Max informs him that Norma has cut her wrists with his
razor. Joe returns to Norma.
Norma has Max deliver the edited
Salome script to her former director,
Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil B. DeMille (played by himself), at Paramount. Afterwards, she
begins to receive calls from Paramount executive Gordon Cole, but
petulantly refuses to speak to anyone except DeMille. Eventually, she
has Max drive Joe and her to Paramount in her 1929 Isotta
Fraschini, where she is greeted warmly by the older studio
employees. DeMille receives her affectionately and treats her with
great respect, but tactfully evades her questions about Salome.
Meanwhile, Max learns that Cole merely wants to rent her unusual car
for a film.
Unaware of this misunderstanding, Norma undergoes rigorous beauty
treatments in preparation for her imagined comeback. Joe secretly
works nights at Betty's office, collaborating with her on an original
screenplay. His moonlighting is soon discovered by Max, who reveals
that he was once a respected film director who discovered Norma as a
teenaged girl, made her a star, and became her first husband. After
she divorced him, he found life without her unbearable and abandoned
his career to become her servant.
Despite her engagement to Artie, Betty and Joe fall in love. When
Norma discovers a manuscript with Joe and Betty's names on it, she
telephones Betty and insinuates the sort of man that Joe really is.
Overhearing, Joe invites Betty to come see for herself. When she
arrives, Joe feigns satisfaction with his life as a kept man, but
after Betty tearfully leaves, he packs to return to his old newspaper
job. He disregards Norma's threat to kill herself with the gun she
shows him. He bluntly informs her that the public has forgotten her,
no comeback is forthcoming, and her fan letters are written by Max. As
Joe walks away, Norma shoots him three times. He falls into the pool,
ending the flashback.
Norma's mansion is subsequently filled with policemen and reporters.
Now having completely lost touch with reality, she believes the
newsreel cameras are there to film Salome. Max pretends to set up a
scene for her and calls "Action!" As the cameras roll, Norma
dramatically descends her grand staircase. She pauses and makes an
impromptu speech about how happy she is to be making a film again,
concluding with the famous line, "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready
for my close-up."
William Holden as Joe Gillis
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond
Erich von Stroheim
Erich von Stroheim as Max von Mayerling
Nancy Olson as Betty Schaefer
Fred Clark as Sheldrake
Lloyd Gough as Morino
Jack Webb as Artie Green
Franklyn Farnum as Undertaker
Larry J. Blake as Finance man #1
Charles Dayton as Finance man #2
Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil B. DeMille as himself
Hedda Hopper as herself
Buster Keaton as himself (bridge player)
Anna Q. Nilsson
Anna Q. Nilsson as herself (bridge player)
H. B. Warner
H. B. Warner as himself (bridge player)
Ray Evans (pianist at Artie's party)
Jay Livingston (pianist at Artie's party)
Henry Wilcoxon as actor on DeMille's 'Samson and Delilah' set
An actual stenciled boulevard name was used as the opening title, as
seen in this still image from the film.
The street known as
Sunset Boulevard has been associated with
Hollywood film production since 1911, when the town's first film
studio opened there. The film workers lived modestly in the growing
neighborhood, but during the 1920s, profits and salaries rose to
unprecedented levels. With the advent of the star system, luxurious
homes noted for their often incongruous grandeur were built in the
As a young man living in
Berlin in the 1920s,
Billy Wilder was
interested in American culture, with much of his interest fueled by
the country's films. In the late 1940s, many of the grand Hollywood
houses remained, and Wilder, then a
Los Angeles resident, found them
to be a part of his everyday world. Many former stars from the silent
era still lived in them, although most were no longer involved in the
film business. Wilder wondered how they spent their time now that "the
parade had passed them by" and began imagining the story of a star who
had lost her celebrity and box-office appeal.
The character of Norma Desmond mirrors aspects of the twilight years
of several real-life faded silent-film stars, such as the reclusive
Mary Pickford and the mental disorders of
Mae Murray and
Clara Bow. It is usually regarded as a fictional composite inspired by
several different people, not just a thinly disguised portrait of one
in particular. Nevertheless, some commentators have tried to identify
specific models. One asserts that
Norma Talmadge is "the obvious if
unacknowledged source of Norma Desmond, the grotesque, predatory
silent movie queen" of the film. The most common analysis of the
character's name is that it is a combination of the names of silent
Mabel Normand and director William Desmond Taylor, a
close friend of Normand's who was murdered in 1922 in a never-solved
case sensationalized by the press.
Gloria Swanson and Billy Wilder
Wilder and Brackett began working on a script in 1948, but the result
did not completely satisfy them. In August 1948, D.M. Marshman Jr.,
formerly a writer for Life, was hired to help develop the storyline
after Wilder and Brackett were impressed by a critique he provided of
The Emperor Waltz
The Emperor Waltz (1948).
In an effort to keep the full details of the story from Paramount
Pictures and avoid the restrictive censorship of the Breen Code, they
submitted the script a few pages at a time. The Breen Office insisted
certain lines be rewritten, such as Gillis's "I'm up that creek and I
need a job," which became "I'm over a barrel. I need a job." Paramount
executives thought Wilder was adapting a story called A Can of Beans
(which did not exist) and allowed him relative freedom to proceed as
he saw fit. Only the first third of the script was written when
filming began in early May 1949, and Wilder was unsure how the film
The script contains many references to Hollywood and screenwriters,
with Joe Gillis making most of the cynical comments. He sums up his
film-writing career with the remark: "The last one I wrote was about
Okies in the dust bowl. You'd never know, because when it reached the
screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat." In another
exchange, Betty comments to Gillis: "I'd always heard that you had
some talent." He replies: "That was last year. This year I'm trying to
make a living."
The fusion of writer-director Billy Wilder's biting humor and the
classic elements of film noir make for a strange kind of comedy, as
well as a strange kind of film noir. There are no belly laughs here,
but there are certainly strangled giggles: at the pet chimp's midnight
funeral, at Joe's discomfited acquiescence to the role of gigolo; at
Norma's Mack Sennett-style "entertainments" for her uneasy lover; and
at the ritualized solemnity of Norma's "waxworks" card parties, which
feature such former luminaries as
Buster Keaton as Norma's has-been
Several of Desmond's lines, such as, "All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready
for my close-up," and "I am big, it's the pictures that got small!"
are often quoted. Much of the film's wit is delivered through Norma
Desmond's deadpan comments, which are often followed by sarcastic
retorts from Gillis. Desmond appears to not hear some of these
comments, as she is absorbed by her own thoughts and in denial, so
some of Gillis's lines are heard only by the audience, with Wilder
blurring the line between the events and Gillis's narration. Gillis's
response to Desmond's cry that "the pictures got small" is a muttered
reply, "I knew something was wrong with them". Wilder often varies the
structure, with Desmond taking Gillis's comments seriously and
replying in kind. For example, when the two discuss the overwrought
script on which Desmond has been working, Gillis observes, "They'll
love it in Pomona." "They'll love it everyplace," replies Desmond
Richard Corliss describes
Sunset Boulevard as "the
definitive Hollywood horror movie", noting that almost everything in
the script is "ghoulish". He remarks that the story is narrated by a
dead man whom Norma Desmond first mistakes for an undertaker, while
most of the film takes place "in an old, dark house that only opens
its doors to the living dead". He compares von Stroheim's character
Max with the concealed Erik, the eponymous central character in The
Phantom of the Opera, and Norma Desmond with Dracula, noting that, as
she seduces Joe Gillis, the camera tactfully withdraws with "the
traditional directorial attitude taken towards Dracula's jugular
seductions". He writes that the narrative contains an excess of "cheap
sarcasm", but ultimately congratulates the writers for attributing
this dialogue to Joe Gillis, who was in any case presented as little
more than a hack writer.
Wilder preferred to leave analysis of his screenplays and films to
others. When asked if
Sunset Boulevard was a black comedy, he replied:
"No, just a picture".
The film refers to real films such as Gone with the Wind and real
people such as D. W. Griffith, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks,
John Gilbert, Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd, Adolphe Menjou, Bebe Daniels,
Betty Hutton, and Barbara Stanwyck, among others, along with the Black
Dahlia murder case. Norma Desmond declares admiration for Greta
Wilder considered many actors for the lead roles, but chose Swanson
According to Brackett, Wilder and he never considered anyone except
Gloria Swanson for the role of Norma Desmond. Wilder, however, had a
different recollection. He recalled first wanting
Mae West and Marlon
Brando for the leads, but never approached either with an offer. He
Pola Negri by telephone, but had a difficult time
understanding her heavy Polish accent. They also asked Norma Shearer
if she would portray Norma Desmond, but she rejected the role due to
both her retirement and distaste for it. They were considering Fred
MacMurray to play opposite her as Joe. The filmmakers approached Greta
Garbo, but she expressed no interest. Wilder and Brackett then visited
Mary Pickford, but before even discussing the plot with her, Wilder
realized she would consider a role involving an affair with a man half
her age an insult, so they departed. They had considered pairing
Montgomery Clift with her.
According to Wilder, he asked
George Cukor for advice, and he
suggested Swanson, one of the most feted actresses of the
silent-screen era, known for her beauty, talent, and extravagant
lifestyle. At the peak of her career in 1925, she was said to have
received 10,000 fan letters in a single week, and from 1920 until the
early 1930s, she lived on
Sunset Boulevard in an elaborate Italianate
palace. In many ways, she resembled the Norma Desmond character, and
like her, had been unable to make a smooth transition into talking
pictures. The similarities ended there. Swanson accepted the end of
her film career, and in the early 1930s moved to New York City, where
she worked in radio, and from the mid-1940s, in television and on the
New York stage. Though Swanson was not seeking a comeback, she was
intrigued when Wilder discussed the role with her.
Swanson was chagrined at the notion of submitting to a screen test,
saying she had "made 20 films for Paramount. Why do they want me to
audition?" Her reaction was echoed in the screenplay when Norma
Desmond declares, "Without me there wouldn't be any Paramount." In her
memoir, Swanson recalled asking Cukor if it was unreasonable to refuse
the screen test. He replied that since Norma Desmond was the role for
which she would be remembered, "If they ask you to do ten screen
tests, do ten screen tests, or I will personally shoot you." His
enthusiasm convinced Swanson to participate, and she signed a
contract for $50,000. In a 1975 interview, Wilder recalled
Swanson's reaction with the observation, "There was a lot of Norma in
her, you know."
Wilder harks back to Swanson's silent film career when Norma shows Joe
the film Queen Kelly, an earlier
Gloria Swanson film directed by Erich
Queen Kelly wasn’t released in the United States for
over 50 years after Swanson walked off the set.
Montgomery Clift was signed to play Joe Gillis for $5,000 per week for
a guaranteed 12 weeks, but just before the start of filming, he
withdrew from the project, claiming his role of a young man involved
with an older woman was too close to the one he had played in The
Heiress, in which he felt he had been unconvincing. An infuriated
Wilder responded, "If he's any kind of actor, he could be convincing
making love to any woman." Clift himself having an affair with a
much older woman (the singer Libby Holman) was suggested as his real
reason for withdrawing from the film.
Forced to consider the available Paramount stars, Wilder and Brackett
focused on William Holden, who had made an impressive debut a decade
earlier in Golden Boy (1939). Following an appearance in Our Town
(1940), he served in the military in World War II, and his return to
the screen afterward had been moderately successful. He was
enthusiastic about the script and eager to accept the role. He did not
know that his salary was $39,000 less than that offered to Clift.
Erich von Stroheim, a leading film director of the 1920s who had
directed Swanson, was signed to play Max, Norma's faithful servant,
protector, and former husband. For the role of Betty Schaefer, Wilder
wanted a newcomer who could project a wholesome and ordinary image to
contrast with Swanson's flamboyant and obsessive Desmond. He chose
Nancy Olson, who had recently been considered for the role of Delilah
in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah.
DeMille, often credited as the person most responsible for making
Swanson a star, plays himself, and was filmed on the set of Samson and
Delilah at Paramount Studios. He calls Norma "young fella" as he had
Norma's friends who come to play bridge with her, described in the
script as "the waxworks", were Swanson's contemporaries Buster Keaton,
Anna Q. Nilsson, and H. B. Warner, who like DeMille, played
Hedda Hopper also played herself, reporting on Norma
Desmond's downfall in the film's final scenes.
Cinematography and design
The film's dark, shadowy black-and-white, film noir cinematography was
the work of John F. Seitz. Wilder had worked with him on several
projects before, and trusted his judgment, allowing him to make his
own decisions. Seitz recalled asking Wilder what he required for the
pet chimpanzee's funeral scene. Wilder replied, "you know, just your
standard monkey funeral shot." For some interior shots, Seitz
sprinkled dust in front of the camera before filming to suggest
"mustiness," a trick he had also used for Double Indemnity (1944).
The film had the option to be shot on colour, however it was shot on
black and white to be more reflective of the noir genre. (The term
noir is French for dark.)
Wilder was adamant that the corpse of Joe Gillis be seen from the
bottom of the pool, but creating the effect was difficult. The camera
was placed inside a specially constructed box and lowered under water,
but the result disappointed Wilder, who insisted on further
experiments. The shot was finally achieved by placing a mirror on the
bottom of the pool and filming Holden's reflection from above with the
distorted image of the policemen standing around the pool and forming
Film historian Tom Stempel writes, "In both Double Indemnity and
Sunset Boulevard, Seitz does something that has always impressed me.
Both are films noir, and he finesses the fact that both are set in the
sunniest of locales, Los Angeles... he brings together the light and
the dark in the same film without any seams showing... he brings
together the realistic lighting of Joe Gillis out in the real world
with the gothic look of Norma Desmond's mansion. Again with no seams
Edith Head designed the costumes. Wilder, Head, and Swanson agreed
that Norma Desmond would have kept somewhat up-to-date with fashion
trends, so Head designed costumes closely resembling the Dior look of
the mid-1940s. Embellishments were added to personalize them and
reflect Norma Desmond's taste. 
Swanson recalled in her biography that the costumes were only "a
trifle outdated, a trifle exotic." Head later described her
assignment as "the most challenging of my career," and explained her
approach with the comment, "Because Norma Desmond was an actress who
had become lost in her own imagination, I tried to make her look like
she was always impersonating someone." Head later said she relied on
Swanson's expertise because "she was creating a past that she knew and
I didn't." Head also designed the costumes for
William Holden and
the minor characters, but for authenticity, Wilder instructed Von
Nancy Olson to wear their own clothing.
The overstated decadence of Norma Desmond's home was created by set
designer Hans Dreier, whose career extended back to the silent era. He
had also been commissioned to complete the interior design for the
homes of movie stars, including the house of Mae West. William Haines,
an interior designer and former actor, later refuted criticism of
Dreier's set design with the observation, "Bebe Daniels, Norma
Pola Negri all had homes with ugly interiors like
The bed in the shape of a boat in which Norma Desmond slept was
actually owned by the dancer Gaby Deslys, who died in 1920. It had
originally been bought by the Universal prop department at auction
after Deslys's death. The bed appeared in The Phantom of the Opera
(1925) starring Lon Chaney.
Wilder also made use of authentic locales. Joe Gillis's apartment is
in the Alto Nido, a real apartment block in central Hollywood that was
often populated by struggling writers. The scenes of Gillis and Betty
Schaefer on Paramount's back lot were filmed on the actual back lot,
and the interior of
Schwab's Drug Store
Schwab's Drug Store was carefully recreated for
several scenes. The exterior scenes of the Desmond house were filmed
at a house on
Wilshire Boulevard built during the 1920s by the
millionaire William O. Jenkins. Jenkins and his family lived in it for
just one year, then left it abandoned for more than a decade, which
earned it the nickname, The Phantom. By 1949, it was owned by the
former wife of J. Paul Getty. The house was later featured in
Rebel Without a Cause
Rebel Without a Cause (1955). It was demolished by the
Gettys in the early 1960s to allow construction of an office building
During filming, considerable publicity was given to health-conscious
Gloria Swanson's youthful appearance, which made her look the same age
as Holden. Wilder insisted that the age difference between the
characters be delineated, and instructed makeup supervisor Wally
Westmore to make Swanson look older. Swanson argued that a woman of
Norma Desmond's age, with her considerable wealth and devotion to
self, would not necessarily look old, and suggested Holden be made up
to appear younger. Wilder agreed, and Westmore was assigned this task,
which allowed Swanson to portray Norma Desmond as more glamorous a
figure than Wilder had originally imagined.
Sunset Boulevard (film score)
The musical score was the final element added to Sunset Boulevard.
 The film was scored by Franz Waxman. His theme for Norma Desmond
was based on tango music, inspired by her having danced the tango with
Rudolph Valentino. This style was contrasted with Joe Gillis's bebop
theme. Waxman also used distorted arrangements of popular film-music
styles from the 1920s and 1930s to suggest Norma Desmond's state of
mind. The film's score was recorded for compact disc by the Scottish
Symphony Orchestra conducted by
Joel McNeely and released in 2002.
Original release and responses
Previews and revision
Wilder and Brackett, nervous about a major screening in Hollywood,
held a preview in Evanston, Illinois, in late 1949. The original edit
opened with a scene inside a morgue, with the assembled corpses
discussing how they came to be there. The story began with the corpse
of Joe Gillis recounting his murder to the others. The audience
reacted with laughter and seemed unsure whether to view the rest of
the film as drama or comedy. After a similar reaction during its
second screening in Poughkeepsie, New York, and a third in Great Neck,
the morgue opening was replaced by a shorter poolside opening,
using footage filmed on January 5, 1950.
In Hollywood, Paramount arranged a private screening for the various
studio heads and specially invited guests. After viewing the film,
Barbara Stanwyck knelt to kiss the hem of Gloria Swanson's skirt.
Swanson later remembered looking for Mary Pickford, only to be told,
"She can't show herself, Gloria. She's too overcome. We all are."
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer berated Wilder before the crowd of celebrities, saying,
"You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you! You should be
tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!" Upon hearing of
Mayer's slight, Wilder strode up to the mogul and retorted with a
vulgarity that one biographer said was allegedly because Mayer, who
was Jewish, suggested that Wilder, who was also Jewish, would be
better off being sent back to Germany, an extraordinary sentiment so
soon after the war and the Holocaust, in which Wilder's family
perished. The few other criticisms were not so venomous.
According to one often-told but recently discredited anecdote,
actress Mae Murray, a contemporary of Swanson, was offended by the
film and commented, "None of us floozies was that nuts." The same
quote, with the word "zonked" in place of "nuts," has also been
attributed to actress-comedian Marion Davies.
Premiere and box-office receipts
Sunset Boulevard had its official world premiere at
Radio City Music
Hall on August 10, 1950. After a seven-week run, Variety magazine
reported the film had grossed "around $1,020,000", making it one of
that theater's most successful pictures. Variety also noted that,
while it was "breaking records in major cities, it is doing below
average in ... the sticks." To promote the film, Gloria Swanson
traveled by train throughout the United States, visiting 33 cities in
a few months. The publicity helped attract people to the cinemas, but
in many provincial areas it was considered less than a hit.
The film earned an estimated $2,350,000 at the U.S. box office in
Sunset Boulevard attracted a range of positive reviews from critics.
Time described it as a story of "Hollywood at its worst told by
Hollywood at its best", while Boxoffice Review wrote "the picture
will keep spectators spellbound." James Agee, writing for Sight
and Sound, praised the film and said Wilder and Brackett were
"beautifully equipped to do the cold, exact, adroit, sardonic job they
Good Housekeeping described Swanson as a "great lady [who]
spans another decade with her magic," while Look praised her
"brilliant and haunting performance."
Some critics accurately foresaw the film's lasting appeal. The
Hollywood Reporter wrote that future generations would "set themselves
the task of analyzing the durability and greatness" of the film, while
Commonweal said that in the future "the
Library of Congress
Library of Congress will be
glad to have in its archives a print of Sunset Boulevard."
The rare negative comments included those from The New Yorker, which
described the film as "a pretentious slice of Roquefort", containing
only "the germ of a good idea". Thomas M. Pryor wrote for The New
York Times that the plot device of using the dead Joe Gillis as
narrator was "completely unworthy of Brackett and Wilder, but happily
it does not interfere with the success of Sunset Boulevard".
Roger Ebert praised the acting of Holden and von Stroheim and
has described Swanson's as "one of the all time greatest
performances." He says
Sunset Boulevard "remains the best drama ever
made about the movies because it sees through the illusions."
Pauline Kael described the film as "almost too clever, but at its best
in its cleverness", and also wrote that it was common to "hear
Billy Wilder called the world's greatest director." When Wilder
died in 2002, obituaries singled out
Sunset Boulevard for comment,
describing it as one of his most significant works, along with Double
Indemnity (1944) and
Some Like It Hot
Some Like It Hot (1959).
The modern review aggregator
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of
critics gave the film a positive review, based on 60 reviews with an
average rating of 9.3/10, the site's consensus says, "Arguably the
greatest movie about Hollywood, Billy Wilder's masterpiece Sunset
Boulevard is a tremendously entertaining combination of noir, black
comedy, and character study."
Awards and recognition
At the 23rd Academy Awards,
Sunset Boulevard received 11 Academy Award
nominations and won three.
Best Motion Picture
Paramount (Charles Brackett, Producer)
Best Supporting Actor
Erich von Stroheim
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Story and Screenplay
Charles Brackett, D. M. Marshman, Jr., Billy Wilder
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Black-and-White)
Hans Dreier, John Meehan, Samuel M. Comer, Ray Moyer
Best Cinematography (Black-and-White)
John F. Seitz
Best Film Editing
Arthur Schmidt, Doane Harrison
Best Music (Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture)
Of the various films that have attracted nominations in all four
Sunset Boulevard is one of only three not to win in
any category, the others being
My Man Godfrey
My Man Godfrey (1936) and American
Hustle (2013). At the time its eleven Oscar nominations were exceeded
only by the fourteen received by All About Eve, which won six awards,
including Best Picture and Best Director. Many critics predicted that
the Best Actress award would be given to
Gloria Swanson or Bette Davis
All About Eve
All About Eve and were surprised that the recipient was newcomer
Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday.
Bette Davis believed that her
and Swanson's comparable characters effectively "cancelled each other
out", allowing Holliday to win. Swanson recalled the press's
reaction following Holliday's win: "It slowly dawned on me that they
were asking for a larger-than-life scene, or better still, a mad
scene. More accurately, they were trying to flush out Norma
Sunset Boulevard also received
Golden Globe awards for Best Motion
Picture – Drama, Best Motion Picture Actress (Swanson), Best Motion
Picture Director and Best Motion Picture Score. Wilder and Brackett
Writers Guild of America, East Award for Best Written American
Drama, while the
Directors Guild of America
Directors Guild of America nominated Wilder for
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. The National
Board of Review voted it Best Picture, and Swanson received Best
It was dramatized as an hour-long radio play on the September 17, 1951
broadcast of Lux
Radio Theater with
Gloria Swanson and William Holden
in their original film roles.
Recognition since 1989
The famous "I'm ready for my close-up" scene from Sunset Boulevard
In 1989 the film was among the first group of 25 deemed "culturally,
historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress
and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Sunset Boulevard received 33 votes in the British Film Institute's
2012 Sight & Sound polls, making it the 63rd greatest film of all
time in the critics’ poll and 67th in the directors' poll. In a
2015 poll by
BBC Culture, film critics ranked
Sunset Boulevard the
54th greatest American film of all time. 
American Film Institute
American Film Institute included the film on these lists:
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies – #12
2005 – AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:
"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." – #7
"I am big, it's the pictures that got small!" – #24
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – #16
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) –
Sunset Boulevard was the last collaboration between Wilder and
Brackett. They parted amicably and respected their long-term
partnership by not airing any grievance publicly. Their mutual respect
and courteous integrity remained in force throughout the rest of their
lives. In later years, Brackett confided in screenwriter/director
Garson Kanin that he had not anticipated the split, or had ever
understood exactly what happened or why. He described it as "an
unexpected blow" from which he never recovered fully. When asked to
respond to Brackett's comments, Wilder remained silent.
The two men briefly reunited in October 1951 to face charges that they
had plagiarized Sunset Boulevard. Former Paramount accountant
Stephanie Joan Carlson alleged that in 1947 she had submitted to
Wilder and Brackett, at their request, manuscripts of stories, both
fictional and based on fact, she had written about studio life. She
claimed that one in particular, Past Performance, served as the basis
for the Sunset script, and sued the screenwriters and Paramount for
$100,000 in general damages, $250,000 in punitive damages, $700,000
based on the box office returns, and an additional $350,000 for good
measure, for a total of $1,400,000. Carlson's suit was dismissed after
two and a half years. In 1954, a similar suit was filed by playwright
Edra Buckler, who claimed material she had written had been the
screenplay's source. Her suit was dismissed the following year.
Brackett's Hollywood career continued after his split with Wilder. He
Academy Award for his screenplay for Titanic (1953), and wrote
Niagara (1953), the breakthrough film for
Marilyn Monroe as a dramatic
actress. It was Wilder, however, who realized Monroe's comedic
The Seven Year Itch
The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot. Brackett's
career waned by the end of the decade, though he did produce the
critically praised and Oscar-nominated film The King and I (1956).
William Holden began receiving more important parts and his career
rose. He won the Best Actor Oscar for
Stalag 17 (1953), also directed
by Wilder, and by 1956 he was the top box-office attraction in the
Nancy Olson's pairing with
William Holden was considered a success,
and she appeared opposite him in several films during the 1950s,
although none of them repeated their earlier success. She went on to
The Absent-Minded Professor
The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and
Son of Flubber
Son of Flubber (1963),
in which she was paired with Fred MacMurray, but despite the films'
popularity with movie-goers, her career stalled. Holden and Wilder
also rejoined forces in 1978 for Fedora, another film critical of
Gloria Swanson was not able to leverage her own success in
Sunset Boulevard. Although offered scripts, she felt that they all
were poor imitations of Norma Desmond. Imagining a career that would
eventually reduce her to playing "a parody of a parody," she virtually
retired from films.
Sunset Boulevard was shown again in
New York City
New York City in 1960, and drew
such a positive response that Paramount arranged for a limited
rerelease in theaters throughout the United States.
Films that discuss
Sunset Boulevard in their screenplays or pay homage
in scenes or dialogue include
Soapdish (1991), The Player (1992), Gods
and Monsters (1998),
Mulholland Drive (2001), Inland Empire (2006)
Be Cool (2005). The ending of
Cecil B. Demented
Cecil B. Demented (2000) is a parody
of Sunset Boulevard's final scene.
Restoration and home media
By the late 1990s, most
Sunset Boulevard prints were in poor
condition, and as the film was shot using cellulose nitrate filmstock,
much of the original negative had perished. Paramount Studios,
believing the film merited the effort of a complete restoration,
mounted an expensive project to have it digitally restored. This
restored version was released on
DVD in 2002. In 2012, the
film was digitally restored by
Paramount Pictures for Blu-ray Disc
debut. Frame-by-frame digital restoration by Prasad Corporation
removed dirt, tears, scratches and other defects.
Stapley and Hughes
From around 1952 to 1956,
Gloria Swanson herself worked with actor
Richard Stapley (aka Richard Wyler) and cabaret singer/pianist Dickson
Hughes on an adaptation titled Boulevard! (at first Starring Norma
Desmond). Stapley and Hughes first approached Swanson about appearing
in a musical revue they had written, About Time (based on Time).
Swanson stated that she would return to the stage only in a musical
version of her comeback film. Within a week, Stapley and Dickson had
written three songs which Swanson approved.
In this version, the romance between Gillis and Schaefer was allowed
to blossom, and rather than shoot Gillis at the end, Norma gave the
couple her blessing, sending them on their way to live "happily ever
Although Paramount gave verbal permission to proceed with the musical,
there was no formal legal option. In the late 1950s, Paramount
withdrew its consent, leading to the demise of the project.
In 1994, Dickson Hughes incorporated material from Boulevard! into a
musical Swanson on Sunset, based on his and Stapley's experiences in
Other failed attempts
Stephen Sondheim briefly considered turning
Sunset Boulevard into a
musical until meeting
Billy Wilder at a cocktail party, who told him
that the film would be better adapted as an opera rather than a
Hal Prince later approached Sondheim to adapt the film as
a musical with
Angela Lansbury playing Norma Desmond. Sondheim
declined based on Wilder's previous advice.
John Kander and
Fred Ebb were also approached by
Hal Prince to write a
musical of Sunset Boulevard.
Lloyd Webber and Black & Hampton
Sunset Boulevard (musical)
A musical adaptation with a book written by Don Black and Christopher
Hampton, and music and lyrics by
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber was staged in
1993 in London. It closely followed the film story, retained much of
the dialogue and attempted to present similar set designs. It reached
Broadway in 1994, with
Glenn Close playing Norma Desmond. The
production staged 17 previews beginning November 1, 1994, and played
977 performances at the
Minskoff Theatre from November 17, 1994
through March 22, 1997. In 2017, Close reprised the role, this
time at the Palace Theater in Times Square, in a critically acclaimed
performance; the limited 12-week run, from February 2, 2017 through
June 25, 2017, followed a sold-out run in London’s West End.
In popular culture
The movie was parodied on
The Carol Burnett Show
The Carol Burnett Show in a recurring sketch
called “Sunnyset Boulevard” in which
Carol Burnett played the
insane "Nora Desmond" and
Harvey Korman (in a bald cap) her servant
Tiny Toon Adventures
Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "Sepulveda Boulevard", is a parody
of the movie.
In the episode of American Dad!, entitled "Star Trek", the plot
revolves around the downfall of stardom and pays homage by replicating
the opening scene of the movie. The plot of the episode "A Star is
Reborn" is also based on the film.
Bunheads episode "Take the Vicuna" includes the line "As long as
the lady's paying for it, why not take the vicuna?"
The Archer season 7 finale and segue to the film noir Archer:
Dreamland season 8 recreate the pool scene from the opening of the
Twin Peaks character Gordon Cole is named after the Sunset
Boulevard character. A scene from the film itself appears in Part 15
of Twin Peaks: The Return. In the scene, being viewed by Dale Cooper,
the name "Gordon Cole" is spoken, which stirs Cooper's buried memory
of his time in the FBI.
Sunset Boulevard is heavily referenced in The Disaster Artist: My Life
Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by
Greg Sestero and
Tom Bissell. Quotes from the film are used as epigrams to many
chapters, for example chapter 11 quotes "No one leaves a star. That
what makes one a star." Plot and themes of the film are directly
invoked to point out parallels in the production of The Room. In an
interview Sestero states, "I saw a lot of similarities with my story,
especially when Tommy lived in a place that had a pool and wanted to
make his own vanity project."
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight issue number 41 was influenced by
Sunset Boulevard with the title 'Sunset'.
Batman finds an abandoned
film studio to hide in. He is knocked out by the valet to a former
silent film actress, Nina Demille. She imprisons
Batman in her home.
Scenes of the movie parallel the comic book, such as driving in the
During the recording of the
Metallica song 'The Memory Remains',
Marianne Faithfull's manager told her to "picture Sunset
Film in the United States portal
Los Angeles portal
^ Dirks, Tim. "
Sunset Boulevard (1950)". AMC Filmsite.
^ "Isotta Fraschini Mod. 8 A". Museo dell'automobile di Torino.
^ a b c d Brackett, Charles; Wilder, Billy; and Marshman, Jr., D.M.
Sunset Boulevard script. Dated March 21, 1949, by
Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and D.M. Marshman, Jr. Retrieved on
^ a b c Perry, p. ??
^ Kehr, Dave (March 11, 2010). "An Independent Woman, Nobly Suffering
in Silents". The New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Staggs (2002), p. ??
^ Kirgo (1979), p.276.
^ Theaters in the then-semirural
Los Angeles suburb of Pomona were
favored by Hollywood studios for sneak previews of newly completed
films so that the responses of a "normal" American audience could be
studied. The Pomona Fox Theater is an example.
^ Corliss, p. 147
^ Wood, Michael (March 2, 2000). Review of Conversations with Wilder
by Cameron Crowe. London Review of Books, Retrieved on July 21, 2005
^ Sikov, p. 286
^ a b c d Swanson, pp.249-260
^ Sikov, p. 285
Billy Wilder – "About Film Noir. Interview July 1975. Retrieved
July 21, 2005.
^ Art, Stephen Harvey; Stephen Harvey is assistant curator in the
Department of Film of the Museum of Modern (1985-09-22). "'queen
Kelly' Opens - More Than 50 Years Late". The New York Times.
ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
^ Sikov, p. 288
^ Petersen, Anne Helen (23 September 2014). "Scandals of Classic
Hollywood: The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift". Vanity Fair. Condé
Nast. Retrieved 3 December 2016. He was also close with stage actress
Libby Holman, 16 years his senior, who had become a notorious feature
in the gossip columns following the suspicious death of her wealthy
husband, rumors of lesbianism, and her general practice of dating
younger men. Clift was so protective of Holman that when offered the
plum role of the male lead in Sunset Boulevard, he turned it
down—reportedly to avoid any suggestion that
Libby Holman was his
own delusional Norma Desmond, using a handsome young man to pursue her
^ Gritten, David (3 February 2013). "Montgomery Clift: better than
Brando, more tragic than Dean". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group
Limited. Retrieved 3 December 2016. His agent Herman Citron later
suggested to Clift's biographer Patricia Bosworth that the Gillis role
might have been too close for comfort; at the time, the 30-year-old
actor was conducting a secret liaison with singer-actress Libby
Holman, 16 years his senior, a state of affairs that would have been
^ Sikov, pp. 288–289
^ Beach, Christopher (2015). A Hidden History of Film Style:
Cinematographers, Directors, and the Collaborative Process. Oakland,
California: University of California Press. pp. 86–114.
ISBN 9780520284357. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Terry, Ryan. "Why
Sunset Boulevard Still Capture the "Eyes of the
World" Today". The Artifice. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
^ Truhler, Kimberly. "Cinema Style--
Edith Head Gets Gloria Swanson
Ready for her Close-Up in SUNSET BOULEVARD". GlamAmor. Retrieved 10
^ 'Wilshire Phantom House Soon to be Only Memory",
Los Angeles Times,
February 24, 1957
Sunset Boulevard film locations, The Worldwide Guide To Movie
^ "The top houses from the movies". Daily Telegraph.
^ Sikov, Ed (2017). On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy
Wilder. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press. p. 300.
ISBN 1496812654. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ "Soundtrack details: Sunset Blvd". SoundtrackCollector. Retrieved
^ Staggs (2002), pp. 151-152
^ Production dates per the online AFI Catalog of Feature Films
^ Sikov, Ed (1999). On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy
Wilder. Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-8503-3.
^ Eyman, Scott (2005). Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis
B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0481-6.
^ Ankerich, Michael G. (2013). Mae Murray: the girl with the bee-stung
lips (lack of capitalization sic per colophon), The University Press
of Kentucky. According to Kevin Brownlow's foreword (page ix), the
"rigorous work" of Ankerich "indicates that Murray never made this
^ Staggs (2002), pp. 161-163
^ Staggs (2002), pp. 154-156
^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1950', Variety, January 3, 1951
^ a b c Wiley and Bona, p. ??
^ Box Office Movie Review Review dated April 22, 1950. Retrieved July
21, 2005. Archived October 31, 2004, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Thomas M. Pryor (August 11, 1950). "Sunset Boulevard". The New York
Roger Ebert review June 27, 1999. Retrieved July 21, 2005.
^ Kael, s.v. Sunset Boulevard.
^ Myrna Oliver. "Writer-Director
Billy Wilder Dies", Los Angeles
Times, March 28, 2002. Retrieved July 21, 2005.
^ Anthony Breznican, "Oscar winning filmmaker
Billy Wilder dies at 95"
(Associated Press), Gettysburg Times, March 29, 2002. Retrieved
November 20, 2011.
Sunset Boulevard at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: March 5, 2013.
^ Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, award nominations for
Sunset Boulevard Archived 2012-01-12 at the Wayback Machine..
Retrieved July 21, 2005.
^ The Playboy interviews : larger than life. Randall, Stephen.
(1st M Press ed ed.). Milwaukie, OR: M Press. 2006.
ISBN 1595820469. OCLC 71350355. CS1 maint: Extra text
^ Staggs (2002), p. 297
^ List of selected films 1989–2004.
National Film Registry
National Film Registry of the
Library of Congress. Retrieved July 21, 2005.
^ "Votes for Sunset Blvd. (1950)". British Film Institute. Retrieved
14 February 2018.
^ "The 100 Greatest American Films".
BBC Culture. Retrieved 15
^ Sikov, pp. 305–306
^ Sikov, pp. 310–311
^ Robert A. Harris, "Saving Sunset Archived 2005-11-22 at the Wayback
Machine.", The Digital Bits, November 15, 2002. Retrieved November 21,
^ Brevet, Brad (14 January 2009). "Paramount's Centennial Collection:
Sunset Blvd. and Four Hepburn Flicks". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved 26
^ King, Susan (November 5, 2012). "'Sunset Boulevard' digitally
restored for its Blu-ray debut".
Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November
^ prasadgroup.org, Digital Film Restoration
^ Based on liner notes to Boulevard! demo recording CD release, by
Richard Stapley, Tim J Hutton and Steven M Warner
^ Stephen., Sondheim, (2011). Look, I made a hat : collected
lyrics (1981-2011) with attendant comments, amplifications, dogmas,
harangues, wafflings, anecdotes and miscellany. London: Virgin.
ISBN 0753522608. OCLC 751797401.
^ "Side by Side With Stephen Sondheim". www.sondheim.com. Retrieved
^ Staggs, Sam (@2003).
Close-up on Sunset Boulevard : Billy
Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the dark Hollywood dream (1st St. Martin's
Griffin ed.: Feb. 2003 ed.). New York: St. Martin's Griffin.
p. 320. ISBN 0312302541. OCLC 51815402. Check
date values in: year=, date= (help)CS1 maint: Date and year (link)
^ "Sunset Boulevard".
Internet Broadway Database
Internet Broadway Database (The Broadway
League). Retrieved February 27, 2016.
^ Sestero, Greg (2014). The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room,
the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. Simon and Schuster.
^ Bergeron, Michael (28 November 2017). "Disaster Artist: An Interview
With The Room's Greg Sestero". Free Press Houston. Retrieved 17
^ "Metalica Q&A". CMJ New Music Monthly. 54: 9. Feb 1998.
Corliss, Richard (1974). Talking Pictures: Screenwriters in the
American Cinema, 1927–1973. Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-007-2
Hadleigh, Boze (1996).
Bette Davis Speaks. Barricade Books.
Kael, Pauline (1982). 5001 Nights at the Movies. Zenith Books.
Kirgo, Julie (1979). "Sunset Boulevard". In Alain Silver and Elizabeth
Ward, eds, Film noir: An encyclopedic reference to the American style.
Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1979. ISBN 0-87951-055-2.
Perry, George &
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber (1993). Sunset Boulevard, From
Movie to Musical. Pavilion. ISBN 1-85793-208-0.
Randall, Stephen (2006). The Playboy Interviews: Larger Than Life.
Milwaukie, OR: M Press. ISBN 1595820469.
Sikov, Ed (1998). On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy
Wilder. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-6194-0.
Sondheim, Stephen (2011). Look, I made a hat : collected lyrics
(1981-2011) with attendant comments, amplifications, dogmas,
harangues, wafflings, anecdotes and miscellany. London: Virgin.
Staggs, Sam (2001). All About "All About Eve". St Martin's Press.
Staggs, Sam (2002).
Close-up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma
Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream. New York St. Martin's Press.
Swanson, Gloria (1981). Swanson on Swanson, The Making of a Hollywood
Legend. Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-20496-0.
Wiley, Mason and Damien Bona (1987). Inside Oscar, The Unofficial
History of the Academy Awards. Ballantine Books.
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Sunset Boulevard (1950 film)
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Radio Theater: September 17, 1951
Films directed by Billy Wilder
Mauvaise Graine (1934)
The Major and the Minor
The Major and the Minor (1942)
Five Graves to Cairo
Five Graves to Cairo (1943)
Double Indemnity (1944)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
Death Mills (1945, documentary)
The Emperor Waltz
The Emperor Waltz (1948)
A Foreign Affair
A Foreign Affair (1948)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Stalag 17 (1953)
The Seven Year Itch
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
Love in the Afternoon (1957)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Some Like It Hot
Some Like It Hot (1959)
The Apartment (1960)
One, Two, Three
One, Two, Three (1961)
Irma la Douce
Irma la Douce (1963)
Kiss Me, Stupid
Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
The Fortune Cookie
The Fortune Cookie (1966)
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
The Front Page (1974)
Buddy Buddy (1981)
Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama
The Song of Bernadette (1943)
Going My Way
Going My Way (1944)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
Johnny Belinda / The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
All the King's Men (1949)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
A Place in the Sun (1951)
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
On the Waterfront
On the Waterfront (1954)
East of Eden (1955)
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
The Defiant Ones (1958)
The Guns of Navarone (1961)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Cardinal (1963)
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
The Lion in Winter (1968)
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
Love Story (1970)
The French Connection (1971)
The Godfather (1972)
The Exorcist (1973)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
The Turning Point (1977)
Midnight Express (1978)
Kramer vs. Kramer
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Ordinary People (1980)
On Golden Pond (1981)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Terms of Endearment
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Out of Africa (1985)
The Last Emperor
The Last Emperor (1987)
Rain Man (1988)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Dances with Wolves
Dances with Wolves (1990)
Scent of a Woman (1992)
Schindler's List (1993)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
The English Patient (1996)
Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
American Beauty (1999)
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
The Hours (2002)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
The Aviator (2004)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
The Social Network
The Social Network (2010)
The Descendants (2011)
12 Years a Slave (2013)
The Revenant (2015)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
Los Angeles and the metropolitan area
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Glendale Blvd./Brand Blvd.
La Brea Ave./Hawthorne Blvd.
La Cienega Blvd.
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Del Amo Blvd.
El Segundo Blvd.
Los Feliz Blvd.
Manchester Ave./Firestone Blvd.
Manhattan Beach Blvd.
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Santa Monica Blvd.
Sunset Blvd./Cesar Chavez Ave.
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Streets in San Pedro
In popular culture
77 Sunset Strip
"All I Wanna Do"
"Blue Jay Way"
"Dead Man's Curve"
"I Love L.A."
"Pico and Sepulveda"
Sunset Boulevard (film, musical)
All un-suffixed roads are streets unless othe