Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) movie poster

director Alexander Mackendrick
viewed: 02/02/2014

Another one of those “great” movies of all time that I’d never seen and been meaning to see.  This movie has it all: great writing (Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman), great performances (Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis), amazing cinematography (James Wong Howe), and excellent direction from Alexander Mackendrick.

It’s a bullish film noir about the heightened powers of a New York newspaper columnist, modeled after Walter Winchell, and nailed by Lancaster, and his would-be protege, a sleazy press agent played by Curtis.  Shot on the streets of New York City, it’s all glistening brick and pavement, illuminated by fractals of neon signs.   The dialog is prime and delivered with perfection.

What’s really kind of interesting about this movie is how much of a time capsule the subject matter is.  This came in the mid-1950’s where New York still had several daily newspapers and the power of columnists and newspapermen were perhaps at their height.  This power was by nature a bit more regionalized, though Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker takes to television and radio for syndicated opinions to spew out to the rest of America.  Trying to find an analog today is kind of hard, perhaps a talking head pundit on cable news?  Other demagogues that run syndicated talk or television?  While there is far more reach today, there are far more players as well, and no figure I can conceive matches Hunsecker.

He’s an egomaniac, who wants to control his sister’s life is some strangely incestuous way.  And maybe Sidney Falco (Curtis) can see how corrupt and immoral this whole biz is, but when the lure of that same power in his own possession is offered, he proves ready to burn anyone.

I don’t know what else to say.  Great movie.

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