Hollywood at the beginning of the 1950s. Debt-ridden screenwriter Joe Gillis is fleeing his creditors and happens to hide in the driveway of an old, dilapidated Hollywood mansion on Sunset Boulevard. There he gains access to a surrealistic world inhabited by a former star of the silent movies Norma Desmond and her butler Max von Mayerling. Norma is briefly irritated, but then grows excited to find that Joe is a screenwriter. She hires him to edit a script she has written, which is to be her triumphant comeback. Reluctantly Joe begins working on it, but doubts that it will ever reach a movie screen. At the same time he falls in love with the aspiring producer Betty Schaefer. He conceals his infatuation from Norma, who has herself fallen in love with Joe. Norma urges the young man to move in with her and pampers him with money and gifts. Finally she takes him with her to Paramount Studios, where Joe realises that the film studio is only interested in renting her vintage car. He hides this fact from Norma as the truth would destroy her. Mayerling reveals to Joe that he is Norma’s ex-husband and her first film director, and that he writes all her fan letters himself to keep up the illusion that she is still admired all over the world. When Norma discovers Joe’s affair with Betty, it has tragic consequences.