Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Classic--Sweet Smell of Success

or: Unethical people.

One word to sum it up: Cruel.

It has been a while since I've watched a true 'classic', so it was nice to have Sweet Smell of Success bringing me back into the state which I once loved. I imagine that this film is like The Social Network of the 50s, being all about tearing down other people and having some whip smart dialogue to give it a boost. It's also one of those films which has gotten better with age. It's release in 1957 saw a poor box office performance thanks to the fact that Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis don't play their typical nice guy characters. As the film grew older, people started realizing what a terrific portrait of people this movie is...and even though it was made over 50 years ago, it still remains as relevant as ever.

J.J. Hunsceker (Burt Lancaster), is a tyrannical Broadway columnist for the New York Globe who rules his demimonde with the press's power to create or destroy. Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), is the hustling publicist who is consumed by desperate ambition and hates himself because of it; he will do anything to gain the admiration of Hunsceker ("My experience, in brief, is dog eat dog.") The film was shot in black and white by James Wong Howe, giving it a grittiness that underscores the class ranking among the characters. In the script by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, Falco's early prediction - "Every dog has its day" - comes crashingly true.

Jeez. This movie brought out the big guns in all sorts of places. J.J. Hunsecker is one very horrible person, which makes the ending all the more 'sweet', as a pun would put it. First of all, why would you even try and break up your sister's relationship with a man whom she clearly loves, just because you 'deem him to be inappropriate'? Second, why would you basically con a young man into doing all your dirty work? And why would you do all these horrible things because you have power and ambition lodged into your mind? Welcome to reality. Sweet Smell of Success, no matter how scathing and unethical it is, is a stark reminder of how some people act in order to get what they most want. It may have been terrifying for audiences to watch this kind of thing when it came out, but as time has gone on, the film audiences have become more aware of the truth, which is a great trait this movie holds.

Burt Lancaster is simply fantastic as Hunsecker. The way his look can silence anyone makes him menacing and someone you wouldn't want to mess with. Even though he's a little scary, he is the key to power and influence, which makes him all the more appealing. Tony Curtis, in the 'first role which required him to act', churns out a great performance as Sidney Falco. Together, Lancaster and Curtis adopt such good chemistry that every line seems like a sharp stab in the back. The acid-laced dialogue is simply unforgettable, and makes the kind of movie that would be a good reference for insults. And hey, that is my kind of movie.

THE VERDICT: Sweet Smell of Success is a great film which shows how people tear each other down in the name of power, with great dialogue and performances to boot.

What I hoped for:

What I got:


  1. God, I love Sweet Smell. Such an excellent film, man. Definitely one of the best film noirs and probably one of the best films in American cinema too.

    The Criterion of it is as awesome as hell, too. Seems completely random that you watched the film and reviewed it too! Nice review, as usual, even though I would have given it 'It was perfect.'

  2. Thank you for reviewing this (and you're welcome for recommending it to you). I just love it with a passion.

  3. Cherokee - It was a recommendation, but this year I'm gonna try really hard to do a lot more classics. I used to watch them all the time but I have kind of stopped over the past year. Thanks!

    MovieNut14 - Thank you for recommending it! I totally enjoyed it. I can understand you loving this film with a passion.


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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