Paramount in the 50’s just wouldn’t have been the same without Billy Wilder. He made two of his most, in my opinion, under-appreciated movies at Paramount: 1953’s Stalag 17 and 1951’s Ace in the Hole. But in 1950, he released a movie that defined not only his career, but the entire film industry — Sunset Boulevard.
Sunset Boulevard may very well be the ultimate Paramount film. Obviously, it starred Gloria Swanson, who had risen to megastardom after she came to Paramount in 1919. The movie is chock full of references to the character of Norma Desmond having worked with Cecil B. DeMille, a parallel to the many movies Gloria Swanson had made with DeMille during her time at Paramount. Sunset Boulevard really kicked William Holden’s career into high gear and he went to win an Academy Award for his work in Stalag 17 and starred in other Paramount hits such as Sabrina and The Country Girl. It even has scenes set right on the Paramount backlot. It just doesn’t get any more Paramount than this.
Not only is Cecil B. DeMille frequently talked about in Sunset Boulevard, he plays himself in it and has the honor of being immortalized in its legendary final line, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” DeMille had been with Paramount from very early on in his career, but his time with the studio came to an end in the 1950’s. However, leave it to DeMille to go out with a bang. In 1952, his film The Greatest Show on Earth took home the Academy Award for Best Picture and he earned another Best Picture nomination for 1956’s The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments would be the final film for DeMille. While filming the Exodus scenes, DeMille suffered a heart attack and although he was able to finish the movie, he was unable to direct any more after that. He died on January 21, 1959 and is buried in Hollywood Forever cemetery, fittingly close to the Paramount Studios backlot.
While some icons ended their careers in the 50’s, other icons’ careers were born. When Audrey Hepburn had her first starring role in 1953’s Roman Holiday, she was an instant success and won a Best Actress Oscar. Even her co-star Gregory Peck knew what a hit she was destined to be and insisted that she be given equal billing to him. As the decade rolled on, she made other career defining movies such as Funny Face and Sabrina at Paramount.
Bing Crosby has the distinction of being one of the biggest box office draws of all time. His pairings with Bob Hope in the “Road to…” series had been very successful for Paramount since 1940, but Paramount’s time with the series came to an end in 1952 with Road to Bali. There was one final “Road to…” movie, The Road to Hong Kong, which came ten years later, but it was made at United Artists. In 1954, Crosby was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in The Country Girl. 1954 also brought Crosby one of his most memorable roles as Bob Wallace in the holiday classic White Christmas.
The 1950’s were definitely a golden era for Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch came to Paramount in 1954 and started off on a high note with Rear Window. The following year, he teamed up with Grace Kelly once again for To Catch a Thief. Jimmy Stewart also had a couple more outings with Hitchcock for 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and 1958’s Vertigo. Most directors would be very proud if they made two movies the caliber of Rear Window and Vertigo over the course of their entire careers. To have two such career defining movies within four years is a truly remarkable feat.