Wednesday, March 23, 2011

328. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: Alexander Mackendrick
Written By: Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman, Alexander Mackendrick, from novella by Ernest Lehman
Main Cast: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner


Today we wrap up our three film salute to Alexander Mackendrick by taking a look at the film that saw him transition from U.K. Ealing comedies to Hollywood.

Sidney Falco (Curtis) is a slimy little weasel of a press agent who will stop at nothing to get his clients' names in the paper, more importantly into the column of famed newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Lancaster). Even though Falco will stop at nothing, it seems that lately he hasn't been able to do anything to get some words into Hunsecker's column. Recently he's cut a deal with Hunsecker - if Falco can break-up the romance between Hunsecker's sister Susan (Harrison) and jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Milner), then Hunsecker will throw him a bone. The first half of the film sees Falco running around frantically during a single night and trying to pull strings and use blackmail to get ahead. He uses a cigarette girl friend of his to seduce another columnist into running a story claiming that Dallas is on marijuana. In the end, we're not treated to a happy endings and character's don't develop and learn lessons, but rather, get what's coming to them.


The reasons that I liked "Sweet Smell of Success" were probably not the normal reasons that people like this movie. First and foremost I loved the way the film uses the city of New York and accompanies it with a fantastic little, seedy Jazz score. There are some real eye popping images of the city in "Sweet Smell of Success" and I'm not sure I've ever seen a film capture the city as vibrantly as this film did. I didn't really realize prior to watching this that it was a film-noir. I loved the crisp black and white images, the shadows and the close-ups of the faces, especially of Lancaster, when all you could see was his devilish eye peering out from his eyeglasses, hammering home that this character was bad news. Another thing that intrigued me about "Sweet Smell of Success" was the incredibly nasty nature of the entire plot and how the whole thing just felt so grimy and low.

On the other hand, I didn't LOVE "Sweet Smell of Success". There was just something about it that, overall, didn't appeal to me. Maybe it was the content of the film and how I really don't find newspaper columnists and their gripes with press agents all that interesting. Also, the whole plot just seemed to hinge on this beef that Hunsecker had with his sister's fiance. The beef itself is never really explained though. Why does Hunsecker hate Steve Dallas so badly and why does he offer enticing things like words in his column to Falco in exchance for breaking up the romance? Also, did anyone else find the relationship that Hunsecker had with his sister a little creepy? I mean the guy is her brother and he had a picture of her on his desk, where normally you would find a picture of a man's wife and kids. It was almost as if Hunsecker was obsessed with his sister and wanted all of her attention to himself. In fact, that is the big downfall of the Hunsecker character, when his sister up and finally leaves at the end of the film. The look on his face as she walks away is the look of a man who has just been shot in the heart with a pistol, right before he drops dead. Why wasn't their relationship explained a little more and why wasn't Hunsecker's hatred for his sister's involvement with Dallas explained a little more? I mean, if you're going to take me on an hour and a half ride through a film, at least tell me where we're going and why we're going there - don't just throw me into the car and expect me to sit back and enjoy the sights, as beautiful as they were.

I didn't hate it or anything, but I wasn't as thrilled as most people seem to be with it. I can admit the greatness of the gorgeous photography, the performances from Curtis and Lancaster (especially Tony Curtis who I really liked and now want to see more of), the score and the seedy mood of the whole affair. I just wish the script would have been a little bit stronger, because if it had and if it had been elaborated on a little more, this could've been a home run for me.

RATING: 6/10 Not bad, not great, but just kind of lingering somewhere in the middle. Tony Curtis was excellent though!!


March 23, 2011 2:58pm

1 comment:

  1. Gritty, flawed characters all round, a good score, heartbreak, rainy city streets...and that fantastic 'Noir' lighting.. superb.
    \still not sure where I file this one in my collection.. it's so noir-ish.. but, somehow.. not quite. (This is not critism at all..)


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