Top 10 lines from Billy Wilder’s classic ‘Sunset Blvd.’

Gloria Swanson and Billy Wilder

“Sunset Blvd,” Billy Wilder’s scathing portrait of Hollywood, stars Gloria Swanson as silent film star Norma Desmond seeking a return to the screen, William Holden as her younger boyfriend, a writer named Joe Gillis, and Erich von Stroheim as her faithful servant and eyeshadow adjuster. Wisconsin-born Nancy Olson plays the smart, fresh-faced girl who wants to be a screenwriter and who falls in love with Joe.

Here are my favorite lines from this terrific film, widely considered to be one of the greatest American movies ever made. It was written by Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr.

1. Norma Desmond: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

2. Joe Gillis: “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.”

3. Salesman at a men’s clothing store, to Joe: “As long as the lady is paying for it, why not take the Vicuna?”

4. Norma Desmond: “No-one ever leaves a star. That’s what makes one a star.”

5. Joe Gillis referring to Norma’s script: “Sometimes it’s interesting to see just how bad bad writing can be. This promised to go the limit.”

6. Cecil B. DeMille (playing himself): “You know, a dozen press agents working overtime can do terrible things to the human spirit.”

7. Norma Desmond: “Without me, there wouldn’t be any Paramount studio.”

Nancy Olson and William Holden

8. Nancy Olson as Joe’s friend Betty: “Where have you been keeping yourself? I’ve got the most wonderful news for you.”
Joe: “I haven’t been keeping myself at all, lately.”

9. Joe Gillis talking about his car: “I kept it across the street in a parking lot behind Rudy’s shoeshine parlor. Rudy never asked any questions about your finances – he’d just look at your heels and know the score.

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

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On the radar: Revel in noir at the Aero, Egyptian and Lacma

There’s so much to see on the big screen this month in Los Angeles. See you at the movies!
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AT THE AERO THEATRE
1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; shows start at 7:30 p.m.
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Saturday, March 3: A sneak preview of the thriller/horror flick “Silent House” starring Elizabeth Olsen followed by 2003’s “Open Water,” a nerve-wracking story about a couple left stranded in the Caribbean after a day of scuba diving. There will be a discussion between films with co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau.

Farley Granger and Robert Walker in "Strangers on a Train"

Wednesday, March 7: One of my all-time favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, “Strangers on a Train” (1951) stars Robert Walker as a psycho playboy intent on committing a double murder with tennis champ Farley Granger. As Hitch shows us in the opening shot, never underestimate the importance of footwear.
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Wednesday, March 14: Another Hitchcock work that draws on his lifelong love of trains, “The Lady Vanishes” from 1938 takes place on a train en route from the fictional country of Bandrika to Western Europe. Passengers Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave attempt to find a mysterious Miss Froy.
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Thursday, March 15: In “The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton) the great Robert Mitchum gives an unforgettable performance as a warped preacher with a knack for seducing trusting souls. Also starring Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. At 6:30 p.m., author Preston Neal Jones will sign his book “Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter.”
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Laura Harring, director David Lynch and Naomi Watts of "Mulholland Dr."

Saturday, March 24: A top-notch double feature, starting with Billy Wilder’s masterpiece noir and scathing look at Hollywood, “Sunset Boulevard” (1950). William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim star in this must-see flick. Next up: Naomi Watts and Laura Harring lead the cast of David Lynch’s mesmerizing and surreal portrait of Tinseltown’s latent evil, “Mulholland Dr.” (2001).

Wednesday, March 28: Yet more Hitchcock! Joel McCrea plays reporter Johnny Jones, who encounters intrigue and danger in “Foreign Correspondent” from 1940.
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Thursday March 29: “The Manchurian Candidate,” starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Superb direction from John Frankenheimer.
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AT THE EGYPTIAN THEATRE
6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; shows start at 7:30 p.m. with multiple showings and one matinee for “The Snowtown Murders”

Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten in "The Third Man."

Wednesday, March 7: Carol Reed directs Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles in 1949’s “The Third Man,” one of the finest thrillers ever made. Don’t miss it!
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Wednesday, March 14: Orson Welles as auteur and actor. In “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948), an outstanding noir, he co-stars with Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane. In “Confidential Report” (1955), Welles plays a dad in deep denial about his murky past.
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Thursday, March 15-Sunday, March 18: Justin Kurzel makes his directorial debut with “The Snowtown Murders,” the story of Australia’s most infamous serial killer. Plays at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.
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Wednesday, March 28: More brilliance from Orson Welles in this knock-out double feature. “Touch of Evil,” a tale of corruption, is widely considered the last great work of classic film noir. Its unbeatable cast: Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Mercedes McCambridge. “The Trial” (based on Franz Kafka’s novel about paranoia and conspiracy) also boasts amazing talent: Welles, Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Akim Tamiroff.
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AT LACMA
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8: As a tribute to Wim Wenders, “The American Friend,” a stand-out neo noir from 1977 is paired with 1982’s “Chambre 666,” a doc with A-list directors about the future of filmmaking.
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At 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 9: Film noir is partly rooted in French Poetic Realism and these two examples of the genre make an excellent night at the movies. To start: Cinematic genius and master of poetic realism Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game” (1939) followed by Jacques Becker’s “Casque D’Or” (1952). Becker assisted Renoir on “Rules” and “Grand Illusion” (1937).
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Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck star in Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" from 1944.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 13: Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” (1944) is one of the defining films of the noir genre. Femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck lures insurance agent Fred MacMurray into committing murder for a big payoff. Edward G. Robinson shines as MacMurray’s boss and friend.
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At noon Saturday, March 24: Christian Marclay’s “The Clock,” winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Biennale, is a 24-hour single-channel montage constructed from thousands of moments of cinema and television history depicting the passage of time. Begins at noon Saturday and ends at noon on Sunday, March 25.
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At 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 27: Another prime example of classic film noir, Robert Siodmak’s “The Killers” put Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster on the track to super-stardom.
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‘Mulholland Dr.’ takes us through shiny dreams and devastating nightmares

Mulholland Dr./2001/Universal, Studio Canal/145 min.

Let’s face it, reality sucks. So, on second thought, let’s not face it.

David Lynch

Instead, pluck an image from your fantasy du jour, then jump into your limousine, Lamborghini roadster or sedan chair and head to “Mulholland Dr.” for poolside cocktails with your dear chum writer/director David Lynch.

Or just put your feet up and watch the movie. This terrific neo-noir mystery is a story within a story within a story within a story about Hollywood, its shimmering promise and dark secrets, its cut-throat power and caustic pain, and its huge cast of heroes, hopefuls, heavies and hangers-on. The film is also a visual poem and Lynch’s highly personal, surrealistic imagery resonates long after you see it.

Lynch’s Tinseltown reminds me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s valley of ashes in “The Great Gatsby,” the famous Hollywood sign, like the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, set amid wild delight and staggering decadence.

Lynch’s detractors complain that his motifs – portals and shadowy rooms, lurking danger beneath an innocent exterior, secret languages, nightclub singers and stages, for example – are shallow gimmicks that Lynch leans on from film to film. (His other work includes: “Eraserhead” 1977, “Blue Velvet” 1986, “Wild at Heart” 1990, the TV series “Twin Peaks” 1990-91, “Lost Highway” 1997, “Inland Empire” 2006).

Nevertheless, in each film, Lynch creates a unique cinematic world that takes your breath away with its striking beauty, sly humor, intense characters and uncommon depth. In “Mulholland Dr.” Lynch invites us into a shiny dream as well as a devastating nightmare. Though it’s a contemporary setting, there are so many retro references that the story almost feels like a period piece.

In part one, we meet golden girl Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), a young actress who’s just arrived in Hollywood. Sweet, perky and hopeful, Betty has a retro-chic apartment to live in and an audition set up for a role in a major movie. Just in case she needs to borrow a cup of sugar, her charming landlady Coco (Ann Miller, in her last movie role) is ready and waiting to help.

Laura Elena Harring

Ann Miller

Nothing throws this girl, not even finding a stranger using her shower. This particular mystery woman calls herself Rita (Laura Elena Harring) because she can’t remember her own name or anything else about her life. Arrestingly beautiful, with raven hair and ravishing features, Rita appears to be on the run from some nefarious mobsters but she doesn’t know why, natch.

Nor does she have any idea why she has a key and $50,000 in her handbag, which the girls hide in a hatbox. (Well done! If you’ve picked the right frock and got your lipstick on straight, why bother to carry cash?)

Betty decides that Rita needs to retrace her steps in order to regain her identity. But first Betty must prepare for her audition. Rita helps her rehearse and the next day Betty wows everyone in the room, including her debonair co-star Jimmy Katz (Chad Everett). Afterward, Betty is whisked away to meet edgy young director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), who’s casting a flick called “The Sylvia North Story.”

Later, over coffee at a diner (Lynch always loves a diner), Rita remembers the name Diane Selwyn; this leads them to an apartment where they make an unsettling discovery. That night, Rita has a few tricks up her sleeve for Betty – first a seduction, then a visit to a strange, nearly empty dive bar called Club Silencio, where Rebekah Del Rio, playing herself, performs a stunning a capella rendition of Roy Orbison‘s “Crying.” When they return home, Rita uses her key to open a box and Betty disappears.

Watts, Lynch, Harring and Theroux

There are several subplots involving a fantasy creature in a diner parking lot; a hitman (Mark Pellegrino) who steals an address book, then casually kills three people; and slick-suited heavies (including Dan Hedaya as Vincenzo Castigliane) pressuring Kesher to cast unknown blonde actress Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George) in his movie. Oh, and Kesher’s wife (Lori Heuring) is sleeping with the pool guy (Billy Ray Cyrus).

In part two, Lynch rejiggers this world. The glossy, fun-filled days and Betty’s wholesome aspirations are gone, replaced by pitch-black, sinister nights, acts of betrayal and quests for revenge.

“Mulholland Dr.” – whose abbreviated title may be a tribute to Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.” – deserves high praise, for its look, its performances, its humor, its risks, its weirdness. Angelo Badalamenti (he has a cameo as gangster Luigi Castigliane, a man who takes espresso extremely seriously) contributes a stellar soundtrack and Peter Deming’s cinematography, with bright light and saturated color, is a treat.

Most of all, though, Lynch’s direction is superb. So is the acting. Watts easily shifts from fluffy and fierce, graceful to gritty. Similarly, Harring makes a fluid transition from lost soul to lady in charge. Though the plot is sometimes thorny, the actors are breezy and believable.

To think that Renée Zellweger received a Best Actress Oscar nom for “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and Watts didn’t make the list is baffling. (Halle Berry won that year for “Monster’s Ball.” The other contenders were Sissy Spacek for “In the Bedroom,” Nicole Kidman for “Moulin Rouge” and Judi Dench for “Iris.”)

Lynch was nominated for a Best Director Oscar. Ron Howard won for “A Beautiful Mind,” which also won Best Picture. At Cannes, however, “Mulholland Dr.” received the Palme d’Or for best direction. (Lynch shared the honor with Joel Coen for “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”)

Don't want to keep Clive waiting ...

Of all that’s been written about “Mulholland Dr.” critic Stephanie Zacharek sums it up best: “‘Mulholland Dr.’ is the most womanly of David Lynch’s movies. … It’s wily and sophisticated, stylized like an art deco nude, and suffused with so much feline glamour and beauty and naked eroticism that its chief aim seems not to be to dazzle us with its typically Lynchian plot twists, but to seduce us into its sway and keep us there. This is a movie with hips.”

Speaking of seducing, I must dash back to my fantasyland. I’m meeting with my agent so I can sign that $3 million book deal. Then, I’m off to dinner and dancing with Clive Owen at the Stork Club. Ta ta!

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‘Mulholland Dr.’ quick hit

Mulholland Dr./2001/Universal, Studio Canal/145 min.

Two parallel stories and a bizarre tangle of story threads – by turns sumptuous and sinister – courtesy of visual poet David Lynch. A bright young actress (Naomi Watts) comes to Hollywood to pursue her dreams.

With talent, perseverance and a bit of luck, she’ll soon be the toast of the town, right? Think again, doll. Exciting work from an excellent cast, particularly from Watts and co-star Laura Elena Harring.

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Noir greats at LACMA; a Nicholson noir night at the Aero

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has a particularly good lineup of classic and neo noirs this month.

“Rear Window” (1954) 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 12

“Pickpocket” (1959) 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 16

“Bay of Angels” (1963) 9 p.m. Saturday, July 16

“The Letter” (1940) 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 19

“The Honeymoon Killers” (1970) 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21

Bette Davis stars in "The Letter" by director William Wyler.

“In a Lonely Place” (1950) 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 22

“The Long Goodbye”(1973) 9:15 p.m. Friday, July 22

“Mulholland Dr.” (2001) 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23

“The Lady from Shanghai” (1948) 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 29

“The Conformist” (1971) 9:10 p.m. Friday, July 29

Tickets range from $2 for the matinees to $10 for evening double features ($5 for one film only). Discounts for LACMA members and seniors. For tickets, call 323-857-6010 or visit the web site; there is a $2 charge to buy online. For synopses of the movies, see LACMA’s listings. LACMA is at 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 90036.

Additionally, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica is running a “Jack Nicholson Noir” double bill on Saturday, July 23, starting at 7:30. The films are Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” and “The Two Jakes,” which Nicholson directed. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7. Visit the American Cinematheque for the complete schedule.

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