MovieChat Forums > Sunset Blvd. (1950) Discussion > Why did Joe reject Betty if he was going...

Why did Joe reject Betty if he was going to walk out on Norma anyway?

I don't get it.

Betty has revealed her true love for Joe, and we know Joe cares for her, but he rejects her and says the deal he has with Norma is just too good to pass up. He tells Betty to leave and to go back to her fiancee.

As soon as she leaves, however, he tells Norma he's hitting the road and tries to leave her and everything she's given him behind, at which point she shoots him.

So why exactly did he reject Betty? Was it to do his friend who was engaged to her a solid? Was it because he thought that ultimately he couldn't make her happy?

Any ideas?


For Joe, it was all about regaining his self-respect.

He'd allowed himself to become Norma's, well, whatever we might call it: kept man; gigolo; pet. It was a situation from which he'd been wanting to escape for some time, and Betty presented the opportunity: collaborating on a script. If they could sell it, Joe could stand on his own feet again, both professionally and personally.

He'd also been holding on to what was left of his self-respect by keeping the feelings he'd begun to develop for Betty in check. When she revealed her similar feelings to him, he briefly gave in to temptation, but by the time he returned to the house, he "started facing the facts," as his narration says.

Breaking up what had been a happy engagement between two people he liked and cared about would not be a good foundation for a lifetime romantic relationship, and Joe realized he couldn't respect himself in those circumstances either. He'd only be trading one kind of unhappiness for another: maybe his; maybe Betty's; certainly Artie's; possibly all three of them in the end.

So, I think he felt his only course was to break free from all of it.


Thanks for the thoughtful response.

This was more or less my takeaway as well. We can file it under the "do his friend a solid" option that I listed in the OP.

As someone who abhors infidelity in all its many forms, I think he made the right decision. The timing in the narrative seemed strange though, and it also seemed like a strange decision by Hollywood standards. It seems that in most films where a romance like this pops up, they would ultimately end up together, somehow.


Doghouse is correct, he didn't want to break up her engagement, because that would make him a rat-bastard who didn't deserve the redemption and self-respect he hoped to achieve.

But also, IMHO, because there was no future with Betty. Of course he was attracted to her, but he knew what a mess he was and he knew what a climber she was, and that she wouldn't stick around once she found out that he was an unemployed gigolo, she wanted a brighter future than he could give her. Of course the relationship meant a lot to Joe, she helped him connect with the real world and his own better self, but he couldn't offer her anything similar in return. She didn't need him, she didn't need anything he could give her, and he knew it. Even if she said she loved him, he knew damn well that wouldn't last.


Hmm, indeed.

I will agree with your first point. He would be a rat bastard for breaking up an engagement. Though one could counter-argue that if Betty would even allow that to happen in the first place, then she is in a relationship that is not strong and will not ultimately last anyway.

Good points about Joe not having much to offer. This is a rather cynical idea about romance--that at the end of the day love is NOT all you need--but I guess when all is said and done it's true.


When discussing a movie like "Sunset Boulevard", I do think that the most cynical take on any issue would be the correct one!

It's a cynical movie about an extremely cynical world, where all the people on screen are either climbing the Hollywood ladder and stepping on the fingers of other climbers in their quest, or they've fallen off and are sitting around the base of the ladder trying to soothe the bruises and console each other (to stretch a metaphor to the point of ridiculousness). Someone who's fallen off the ladder is perfectly well aware that there's no future in "love" with a person who is still engaged in climbing.


A burst of activity for such a deserving film on its recently moribund board is encouraging; even more so among people of literacy and consideration. The thoughts in all of the further replies are worthy of response, but it's difficult to separate them, so I'll hitch 'em all here at the end as what I hope will be an only temporary caboose.

Prime's (may I call you that to save keystrokes?) remarks about typical Hollywood endings are apt as they apply to this un-Hollywood movie about Hollywood, and Otter's observation about its cynicism tie them up with pink ribbons (as another great Wilder film had it). As well, Prime has something there about the fragility of the Artie-Betty relationship. While they seem content enough at first glance, there are hints that he's not exactly her grand passion, reflected in her sometimes dismissive attitude ("Oh, Artie, this is shop talk;" "Oh, Artie, shut up"). It's as likely as not that she'll take that train to Arizona not for a two-dollar wedding, but to break it off face to face.

I will point out, Otter, that Joe's "unemployed gigolo" status is something that Betty, with the idealistic stars of romance in her eyes, already resolved to overlook ("I haven't heard any of this. I never got those phone calls, and I've never been in this house. Now get your things together and let's get out of here.") So Joe, realizing his attempt to scare her off isn't working, decides to be cruel to be kind: "Look, sweetie, be practical. I've got a good deal here. A long-term contract with no options. I like it that way."

It's as though Wilder and co-writer Brackett are saying that, in the real Hollywood, there are no Hollywood endings, and unhappiness enough to go around. How appropriate for a film with a viewpoint that's fatalistic in both figurative and literal senses. And how appropriate also that the only one who gets a happy ending is Norma, and hers is a manufactured fantasy of lights and cameras.


I think that saying Artie is "not exactly her grand passion" is a good way to put it. It seems like a case of settling. She sees him as "Mr. Good Enough" and is willing to marry him as a matter of practicality, but she's not actually that into him. It's off-putting how willing she is, essentially from the beginning, to share affections with another man and be unfaithful to the one she's engaged to. There definitely doesn't seem to be a strong foundation there for a healthy and successful marriage.

Regarding there being no Hollywood endings in the real Hollywood, yeah, the film does seem to be almost subversive in that sense. It is as if the filmmakers are trying to pull the curtain back for the audience, and reveal Hollywood for what it really is: A town of human beings, not "stars," who are chasing the life that everyone else thinks they are already living. In Joe and Betty's case, they are chasing something they've never attained. In Norma's case, it's something she once had but has lost and she's desperate to get it back. Even in Hollywood it's only the 1% who actually get to share in the spoils.