Thursday, October 13, 2011

A remarkable movie about men who are terrified of women.

David Thomson on Films: ‘Sweet Smell of Success’
A remarkable movie about men who are terrified of women.
David ThomsonApril 1, 2011 | 7:24 pm 2 comments

Ed here: Yes I watched The Sweet Smell of Success again (I'm addicted to it) and so here's the David Thomson piece on it.


Nobody had seen or heard anything like the first half of Sweet Smell of Success in 1957. It wasn’t just the way the picture went out onto the streets and into the bars of Manhattan, letting cameraman James Wong Howe get his best stuff at dawn and twilight. Film noir had made hay with darkness for ten years, but still, you didn’t get a lot of real night in American pictures. Here it was, and here were the nocturnal creatures who thrived on it: Sidney and J.J., a new kind of double act in an age famous for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

The picture was a disaster when it opened: It did no business; it got no nominations—not even for Howe, let alone Tony Curtis or Burt Lancaster, or the gang of writers who found a way for them to talk. The production had been painful. Director Alexander Mackendrick (born in Boston but raised in Glasgow and the British film business) was a stylist and a perfectionist, brave enough to challenge Lancaster (whose company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, was making the picture). Ernest Lehman had supplied the basic material and some script, but the very famous or nearly washed up Clifford Odets had been kept in a trailer on the streets at night, typing out dialogue for the guys to use as poison darts.

It’s a celebrated picture now, so I hardly have to tell you the set-up: J.J. Hunsecker is a powerful New York gossip columnist. The legend says he’s based on Walter Winchell, but I think he comes largely out of the writing, Burt’s urge to intimidate everyone, and the strange chemistry he got going with Tony. Curtis is the freelance press agent, Sidney Falco. Today, we see handsome snakes in the grass in every media garden (indeed, they are the grass), but truly, this smiling wickedness was quite novel in 1957, and it showed Curtis’s reckless ambition that he wanted the part. Their scenes together changed film. It wasn’t just the wise-cracking chat, “the cookie dipped in arsenic” stuff. It was their intimacy in evil and the power game they played. It was the sado-masochistic trip they were on and the subtle ways in which loathing and contempt veiled need.


Ronald Tierney said...

Thanks. Just ordered it.

Anonymous said...

Sshhh! Don't talk about this movie. They'll remake it with Leonardo Dicaprio and Shia Le Beuof-Boeaf-Buaof-whatever...