Sunset Boulevard is a 1950 film noir directed by Billy Wilder. The film is highly regarded as a classic, considered Billy Wilder's greatest work. The film starred famous silent film actress, Gloria Swanson, in what is now her most famous role. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress at the 1951 Oscars ceremony, but unfortunately lost. The film was one of the first batch of films to be selected for preservation by the United States Library of Congress (perhaps the highest honour a film can receive).
The version of the film that was shown to the test audiences had an entirely different opening than the version that was theatrically released. The scene involved main character Joe Gillis' dead body in a morgue with about a dozen or so other dead bodies. The bodies trade stories about how each one of them died. Nillis finally tells his story and the main story of the film unfolds.
The film's opening scene was shown to test audiences who all thought the scene was hilarious. While Wilder thought it was one of the best things he ever filmed, he felt the audience reaction was inappropriate for the dark, bleak tone he was trying to set for the rest of the movie. He decided to go back and re-shoot the opening, which reportedly cost Paramount Pictures $150,000, but even they said it made the film work better. The opening of Gillis' dead body floating in a pool has become iconic.
Along with the original ending to another Wilder film, Double Idemnity, this is a legendary piece of material from him to go lost. Fans found themselves disappointed when the DVD was issued to find a bonus feature of the original opening, which was unfortunately only snippets of the original script and the surviving outtake shots for it. The opening has only ever been shown to test audiences and little is known about what became of it.