Who has seen Sunset Boulevard will have a hard time forgetting that haunting last staircase scene in which Norma Desmond descends into an abyss of flashing cameras, scorching stage lighting, journalists, policemen and onlookers. She is finally happy now the spotlight is back on her again, even if she had to kill for it.
The role in which Norma declines the staircase is that of Salome, (the biblical Femme Fatale who seduces a King to get what she wants: another man’s head, on a plate). A role that does not come without its cost…
The first sighting of Norma Desmond – femme fatale extraordinaire – is when young, down and out scriptwriter Joe Gillis, as per a welcome twist of fate, appears on the property of her mansion. Believing him to be the appointment she is waiting for, she calls him into her house. When the two meet up close, he recognizes her: “You’re Norma Desmond! You used to be in silent pictures, you used to be big.” A remark to which she rapidly fires back: “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small.”
Not the most painfully romantic introduction, but still sticking true to Femme Fatale form, namely an immediate spark with some snark between two strangers that sets the precedent for what’s to come…
After an initial power struggle between the two, Norma persuades him to come work for her as an editor on her Salome script. This script is of great significance to her as she believes it will get her back into the limelight once the people at Paramount studios read it and realize she simply must return to the silver screen.
She insists the script doesn’t leave her house, so she suggests Joe comes live in the guest room, temporarily, until the work is done. Having some financial troubles and a bunch of angry debt collectors on his back, Joe figures worse deals could be made. He can hide out at Norma’s mansion and make some money in the meantime. And so he moves into the guest room.
As they work – and live – together, it soon dawns on Joe that the additional task of ego feeding becomes part of the job description. It also creeps in slowly but surely, from the first seemingly innocent arm-clutching on, that their arrangement is moving at a steady pace straight into gigolo territory.
© Barbara Timmers. Article Prepublication. All rights reserved.