"The Uncrashable Hindentanic," one of DuckTales' best episodes, featured a lofty pile of pop-culture parodies. Two of the best were Gloria Swansong, a has-been silent-movie actress bent on making an improbable comeback, and Quax, her long-suffering, Teutonic-accented factotum. These characters were based on Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and Max (Erich von Stroheim) from Sunset Blvd., director Billy Wilder's surgical dissection of the "Hollywood mindset" and its possible tragic consequences. Now that I've finally seen the original movie, I can see just how close DT came to "the truth" -- though I find it inconceivable that anyone could get romantically involved with the addle-pated Swansong, as Joe Gillis, William Holden's on-the-make, would-be "Hollywood writer" character, did with Desmond. That "old doe, young buck" relationship, along with the creepy finale in which Desmond reveals just how out of touch with the real world she is, ticked off a lot of people in Tinseltown. Wilder didn't care, and his best movie has definitely stood the test of time.
Swanson and von Stroheim, both faded stars of the silent era, were perfect choices to play their roles, especially the latter. One of Desmond's ex-husbands and a director whose world had come crashing down once talkies came on the scene, Max is now reduced to feeding Desmond's fantasies of an imminent return to stardom. Joe is anything but a "hero," as he grasps at the chance to "polish up" Desmond's horrible comeback script and later misses an opportunity at a relationship with a comely Paramount "reader" (Nancy Olsen) because he can't bring himself to leave his cushy situation with the dotty diva. Thanks to one of the best opening scenes in movie history, we know what ultimately goes down (or should I say, drown?) before it happens, but Wilder saves the most unsettling and memorable scene for last. This is classic stuff and will make you think twice about trusting any Hollywood star's hold on reality.