Most of the actors were to a large extent playing themselves. Swanson plays the ageing star attempting to make a comeback - which was true. Erich von Stroheim plays a failed film director working as Desmond's butler who once directed her in a career-ending movie - which was also true.
There are cameos from a number of well-known figures such as Cecil B. DeMille, who plays the director on whom Swanson sets her sights as the man to help revive her career; DeMille had directed Swanson during the silent era. There is also a short and poignant scene featuring three former silent era movie star friends of Swanson's including Buster Keaton.
“So difficult to choose a film noir from so many of my favourites, including ‘Double Identity’, ‘The Big Sleep’, etc, but this film also explores different areas not portrayed in this wonderful genre, especially that of the film industry itself, with stars playing parodies of themselves. But the hard-boiled dialogue, voiceover, cynicism, expressionist visual style and Franz Waxman’s score are all potent elements of typical film-noir tropes.” - RG