Sunset Boulevard (lost alternate opening from noir film; 1950)
Sunset Boulevard is a 1950 film noir directed by Billy Wilder, then and now hailed as one of the greatest films of all time.
A real-world melodrama about Hollywood mythmaking, the film co-stars William Holden as struggling writer Joe Gillis and Gloria Swanson as fragile, forgotten silent-screen goddess Norma Desmond, into whose comeback plans Gillis is fatally drawn. Swanson was herself a former silent film actress and the role earned her a real-life comeback of sorts - including an Oscar nomination, one of eleven the film received (it won only three, including Best Writing, Story or Screenplay; the film itself, Wilder, Holden and supporting players Erich von Stroheim and Nancy Olson were all likewise denied). The film was among the first selected for preservation by the United States Library of Congress.
As it happened, however, the version of Sunset Boulevard that was shown to initial test audiences had an entirely different opening than the theatrical release. The alternate opening took place in the L.A. County Morgue and featured Joe Gillis's corpse interacting with the corpses of a fat man and a young child, with the three of them exchanging details on how they died.
While Wilder thought it was one of the best dramatic things he ever filmed--with perhaps just a touch of black comedy--when it was shown to the first test audience, the reaction was simply uproarious laughter as soon as the corpses began to speak. Two more preview audiences reacted similarly.
Displeased, given the overall bleak, cynical tone he was trying to establish, Wilder decided to go back and re-shoot the scene from scratch. This required shelving the film for six months past its original release date and is reported to have cost Paramount Pictures $150,000, but no one complained when they saw the revisions. The new opening, in which Gillis's body is found floating in a pool as he addresses the audience directly via voiceover, has become iconic.
Along with the original ending to another Wilder film, Double Indemnity, people have sought after this scene, but to no avail. Fans were disappointed, when the DVD was issued, to find the 'bonus feature' of the original opening consisted only of snippets of the original script and the surviving outtake shots, none of which included Holden. The completed opening was only ever shown to those few test audiences, and little is known about what became of it. Given its reception, it is highly unlikely that it survived.
- Blog post containing a full transcript of the original opening. Retrieved 30 Apr '21
- Page for the film on the AFI Catalog website. Retrieved 30 Apr '21