- Directors: Billy Wilder
- Producers: Charles Brackett
- Writers: Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, D M Marshman Jr
- Genres: Drama, Film-Noir
- Actors: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim
A man has been killed and his corpse is floating face down in a swimming pool at a Hollywood mansion. A narrator explains that the dead man was an unsuccessful screenwriter. The film fades into flashback as the narrator, now identified as Joe Gillis, describes his attempts to raise some fast cash to save his automobile from being confiscated by two repossession agents.
Desperate, Gillis makes various calls to Hollywood friends and contacts, and manages to secure a meeting with a producer at Paramount Studios, where he pitches a baseball script he has written, Bases Loaded. The producer, Sheldrake, seems interested in the property until a young woman from the Reader Department, Betty Schaefer, is summoned and she arrives with an outline of the script, but dismisses it as a mediocre work. Angered at the rejection, Gillis leaves and then manages to locate his agent, who’s playing golf in Bel-Air and does nothing to help Gillis with his financial situation.
Returning to Hollywood along Sunset Boulevard, Gillis is spotted by two auto repossession men and a chase ensues; earlier, he had claimed the car was on loan to a friend. When a tire blows on Gillis’ car during the pursuit, he swerves into a residential driveway in order to escape the repo men and discovers that he has entered the grounds of what he assumes is a deserted mansion. Hiding his car in the dilapidated garage, he is startled when a woman’s voice from an upstairs veranda of the mansion summons him to come into the house.
Having explained the corpse in the pool, the film returns to the present, where Norma appears to be lost in fantasy. News cameras arrive to film her and she thinks she is on the set of her new film. Norma slowly descends her grand staircase and, after making a speech declaring her happiness at making a new film (culminating in the film’s most famous line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”), she reaches for the camera, the screen fades to white and the narrator concludes that Norma’s dream of performing for the cameras has in an unexpected way come true for her.