You may have noticed that this year is the 65th anniversary of the Billy Wilder classic, Sunset Boulevard – which had its first theatrical release on Aug. 10, 1950.
As you undoubtedly know, it costars Gloria Swanson and a young William Holden as respectively a forgotten silent movie queen in love with an ambitious would-be screenwriter.
Even though Sunset Boulevard is of official retirement age, it is still one of the most riveting films ever made. We’ve viewed it a million times, and remain hooked. Yes, that’s our personal opinion, but also we believe it to be a “fact,” something that a classic movie lover cannot avoid.
Who can forget Swanson’s final closeup “directed” by her loyal butler and former lover, Max von Mayerling, beautifully portrayed by Erich von Stroheim?
And with each viewing we enjoy the romantic byplay between Holden and Nancy Olson as Betty Schaefer, the cute script reader who futilely tries to keep scriptwriter, Joe Gillis, on the straight-and-narrow. Olson’s character is the polar opposite of Swanson’s, and encourages the talent the screenwriter doubts he has.
Which brings us to that other movie currently celebrating its 65th anni — Union Station. You may not know much if anything about this unpretentious film noir perhaps other than it costars — Holden and Olson.
Directed by Rudolph Mate, it centers around a suspicious secretary (Olson) who reports possibly unsavory developments aboard an incoming train to a highly skeptical, take- charge station police official (Holden). He finds her at first a delusional pain in the derriere but warms up as a genuinely nasty kidnapping plot unfolds.
Our question is: which picture came first? Was Union Station a repeat pairing of an appealing Holden-Olson onscreen duo or an antecedent of sorts to their appearances in Sunset Boulevard?
What makes this intriguing is that both pictures were released by the same studio — Paramount Pictures — and both were shot and released at roughly the same time.
Sunset Boulevard wound up production first, on June 18, 1949. But for some reason it was not commercially released more than a year later. Union Station, on the other hand, was completed on March 7, 1950, and was released the following Oct. 4.
So, it turns out, Sunset Boulevard and Union Station were theatrically opened less than two months of one another. Did it have anything to do with a “hot” Holden-Olson onscreen teaming? In short, was Union Station a “prequel” or a sequel?
We’re not sure. Paramount may have determined bountiful Holden-Olson box office potential based on private pre-release screenings of Sunset Boulevard, and rushed the two back into another film, Union Station. Sounds logical but again, we are just not sure.
The timing, however, is curious. As we try to figure this out, please enjoy Sunset Boulevard (again), and don’t forget to take a gander at Union Station. We wish happy 65th birthdays to both.