Ready, everyone, the lights are going down

Out of the Past: A review of a classic movie

Craig Marshall Smith
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 9/18/18

Look closely: When John Wayne and Victor McLaglen fight it out near the end of John Ford’s “The Quiet Man,” it appears that McLaglen knocks off Wayne’s toupee with the first punch. The …

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Ready, everyone, the lights are going down

Out of the Past: A review of a classic movie

Posted

Look closely: When John Wayne and Victor McLaglen fight it out near the end of John Ford’s “The Quiet Man,” it appears that McLaglen knocks off Wayne’s toupee with the first punch.

The songwriter in the apartment next to Jimmy Stewart’s in “Rear Window” was played by Ross Bagdasarian, whose stage name was David Seville. Seville had a hit record, “Witch Doctor,” in 1958. It featured a speeded-up vocal, and that would lead to the creation of his annoying musical chipmunks, Simon, Theodore, and Alvin.

A teenager named Myrna Adele Williams posed for her Venice, California, high school art teacher, who created a statue of the future actress that stood in front of the high school for more than 70 years. Williams later changed her name to Myrna Loy.

My lifelong love of films and film history has turned into this: a new feature that will focus on wonderful vintage films, one at a time, including dramas, comedies, noir mysteries like “Out of the Past,” a few foreign films like “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” and even documentaries.

At the ages of 9 and 10, I was allowed to do something almost unimaginable. I was allowed to go by myself to the State and the Michigan theaters in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I vividly remember new releases like “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Forbidden Planet” and “Pal Joey.”

I diligently researched films throughout high school, and then minored in film at UCLA. I was in paradise. All we did was watch films, starting with “The Great Train Robbery,” in a darkened theater in a campus building that backed on Sunset Boulevard.

I can’t think of a better film to introduce this whim of mine than Billy Wilder’s 1950 gem “Sunset Boulevard.” It’s a film about the film industry, and it features an unforgettable performance and a memorable final line.

Ben Mankiewicz, Turner Classic Movies’ finest host, said the last line of the film is as famous as the film itself.

Mankiewicz is the great-nephew — whatever that is — of screenwriter, director, and producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz (e.g., “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”).

“Sunset Boulevard” features Gloria Swanson as a suicidal, forgotten, former 1920s silent screen star who lives in a decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard, with a bald, stern, German servant name Max, played by Erich von Stroheim, and a chimp. The chimp (uncredited) dies.

By chance, a down-on-his luck screenwriter, played by William Holden, turns into the mansion’s driveway and is mistaken for the chimp’s coffin bearer.

However, because of a very unconventional start to the film, we know that Holden’s character, Joe Gillis, dies, and that everything that ensues is a flashback.

Anyone who has been as formed by films as I have been will value all of the historic details that surround this movie.

The address of the mansion featured in the film,10086 Sunset Boulevard, doesn’t exist. The mansion that appeared was at 641 Irving Boulevard, at the corner of Irving and Wilshire.

Gloria Swanson, who plays Norma Desmond, was meant to be seen as an elderly woman, too old for the much younger Joe Gillis. In real time, Swanson was only 50 when she made the film, and Holden was 32.

Mae West was considered for the role of Norma Desmond.

The film’s final line?

“All right, Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my close-up.”

Craig Marshall Smith was an American and foreign film history minor at UCLA. A Highlands Ranch resident, he writes a weekly opinion column for Colorado Community Media and can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

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