Author Topic: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)  (Read 2691 times)

MartinTeller

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Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« on: November 14, 2011, 12:35:47 PM »



(sorry if I'm overstepping my bounds by starting this thread, but we're a day late already, no?)

MartinTeller

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Re: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2011, 12:37:23 PM »
I won't be rewatching for this thread, but here are my previous mini-reviews:

Quote
January 20, 2007

Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster are phenomenal as a toadying weasel and a Machievallian manipulator, respectively. The story of two men utterly devoid of morality, and their complete disregard for anyone who would stand in the way of their ambitions. Every moment is fascinating, especially those where Curtis sinks to new depths, and the suggestions of an incestuous relationship between Lancaster and his sister. The Lehman/Odets script is tightly plotted with dialogue as snappy and brisk as anything from Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks. And Howe's photography is superb, crisp contrast and dramatic angles. I was really knocked off my feet by this one, a truly great film.  Rating: 10


Quote
March 11, 2008

Only my second time viewing it, but already one of my favorites.  Explores man's darkest aspects, and does it with great style -- wonderful photography, stellar performances, and brillant dialogue.  The entire screenplay should appear in iMDB's "Memorable Quotes" section.  "I'd hate to take a bite out of you... you're a cookie full of arsenic."  Rating: 10


Quote
March 4, 2011

One of the all-time greats, looking glorious on Blu-Ray.  Hard to think of anything to say about this that I haven't said before... stellar performances, great music, gorgeous cinematography, hard-boiled cynicism and some of the best dialogue ever written.  This kind of movie is the reason I love noir.  Rating: 10


Bondo

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Re: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2011, 01:29:10 PM »
I watched earlier this year...here is my review:

Geez, the lengths a guy will go to to keep sleeping with his sister.

So anyway, I’m admittedly not a noir person. I tend to find the characters/performances to be too artificial and mannered and the plots to be too cool and lacking in heart to really be engaging. A lot of the classic noir films strike me as quintessential style over substance. But not this one. Oh sure, the performances are still artificial and the plot a bit cool, but for some reason it works here in a way it doesn’t in so many others.

If I had a memory for specific shots (or if describing the shots didn’t provide spoilers), I could list a good number of incredible compositions here. I love the way the film depicts men who have gotten so drunk on their own sense of control over people and events that they begin to think nothing lies outside their control. It is a classic story of hubris. You have to be slightly impressed by their craft while of course finding them detestable, and it is a credit to Lancaster and Curtis that they strike the right balance.

Some of my broader genre concerns hold me back from treasuring this as a potential top-150 film but it certainly is one of the best noir films I’ve seen so I’d understand how those more appreciative of the genre would place it high.

4/5

Verite

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Re: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2011, 12:55:26 PM »
Quote from: Martin Scorsese
Mackendrick came to the United States after The Ladykillers. Burt Lancaster brought him over to work on a movie called The Sweet Smell of Success. Some of you might have heard of this picture - one of the most daring, startling, savage ever made about show business and power in this country."

Really hope that some of you who haven't watched Sweet Smell of Success yet will watch it some day. 
"When in doubt, seduce."
                   -Elaine May

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Re: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2011, 01:16:59 PM »
Quote from: Gary Giddins
It wasn’t intended. No one could have predicted it. But Sweet Smell of Success turned out to be a terminus where several movie genres and subgenres converged and curdled, producing a uniquely delicious perfume of everlasting cynicism. Inhale deeply.

[...]

Audiences in 1957 did not go to see Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis movies to find the characters they played steeped in a disdain that also defiled venerable commonplaces of American life, from brotherly love to dogged ambition, not to mention newspaper columnists, cigarette girls, senators, the police, and all that glittered along the Great White Way. So they stayed away; this was the year of the hits The Bridge on the River Kwai, Peyton Place, and Sayonara—big, colorful productions with heroes, or at least guiding lights, and Aesopian morals. Their loss is posterity’s gain. Sweet Smell of Success is a true classic. The passing of half a century has deepened its manifold pleasures. We do not mind the absence of a few genre conventions, like a hero or hope or justice, when we can get, in spades, scintillating dialogue, ingenious photography, keyed-up performances, and coolly thumping music, all paced at a carousing canter.

[...]

The nerviness of Sweet Smell of Success resided in its portrait of a megalo­maniacal columnist who thrives on fear (Winchell once told a colleague, “It’s a lot of fun making people mad”), possessively wrapping in mink his terrified and much younger sister, Susie, played fretfully by the teenage Susan Harrison. Susie is the movie’s dumdum bullet aimed at Winchell, whose obsession with the romantic life of his daughter Walda led him to incarcerate her as emotionally unstable while hounding, with the help of J. Edgar Hoover, her lover into leaving the United States. Like Winchell, Hunsecker coins phrases (“You’re a cookie full of arsenic”) from an argot of mostly poeticized Broadway singsong (“Now, I make it out, you’re doing me a favor?”), and he has a private gestapo led by Lieutenant Harry Kello (a frightening, cackling performance by Emile Meyer) that parodies Winchell’s intrigues with Hoover.

[...]

Yet the film belongs not to J. J., who doesn’t appear for the first twenty minutes, but rather to the beleaguered press agent Sidney Falco, striding through the dark woods of Broadway, as pretty as Tony Curtis, oblivious to the fact that his soul (he still has one as the film begins) is on the line. Falco dominates the film, including its opening and closing shots, because he gets to make a moral decision, one in sync with the topical conundrum of ruining lives by naming names. He is, he acknowledges, at a crossroads.

[...]

The movie also belongs to Falco because Tony Curtis wouldn’t have it any other way. Curtis, at thirty-two, was him­self at a crossroads. He was a movie star with a growing and mostly girly fan base, but other than Trapeze (1956), Carol Reed’s nicely turned CinemaScope circus film, in which he played Lancaster’s protégé and rival, he had little to brag about. No one thought of him as an actor. With Sweet Smell of Success, he saw his chance and took it with both hands.

[...]

Perhaps his closest prototype is Richard Widmark’s Harry Fabian, the amoral hustler in Night and the City (1950), though Widmark ultimately lets us see the pathos in Fabian’s ambition. Not Curtis! He refuses to play the part as cute or malleable, so that a perversely fantastic purity graces Sidney’s relentless grubbing.

[...]

Mackendrick, Sweet Smell of Success, and Manhattan were blessed with the participation of the brilliant cameraman James Wong Howe. Excepting John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1959), perhaps no other feature film catches Broad­way in the 1950s with such inventive and uncompromising clarity. Most of the film—all the interiors—was shot in Hollywood, but Mackendrick constructed the scenes so that they begin or end with Manhattan exteriors, shot at night in the winter cold at various locations, usually between Twenty-third Street (the Globe) and Fifty-second Street (21). The opening montage, during the credits, nails the place and the time: the wide shot of Times Square, with a theater on the left promising Seven Wonders of the World and air-conditioning, ads in the center for Canadian Club and Admiral Television, a theater to the right showing nothing but newsreels; the New York Times loading bays (doubling for the Globe’s); the shot from the back of the newspaper truck; the ride down Broadway (past an enormous billboard for Baby Doll); and then the first shot of Falco, buying a paper and pushing his way to the counter of a hot dog stand (the blond extra he hustles aside is actor Nick Adams)—you can feel the chill, smell the grime, and see the reflected light on the metal holders with their conical paper cups.

[...]

By 1957, Lehman had a good record in Hollywood, having written such films as Executive Suite (1954) and The King and I (1956). [...] He would soon rebound as the author of an unparalleled string of hit screenplays, peaking creatively with North by Northwest (1959) and commercially with The Sound of Music (1965). But in Lehman’s absence, the script was turned over to more experienced hands: those of the Group Theatre’s Depression play­wright, Clifford Odets, still reeling from remorse for naming names before the House Un-American Activities Com­mittee in 1952.

[...]

In rewriting Lehman, Odets added his perspective to yet another timeworn genre that found renewal in the middle-1950s, and should figure as another base-to-apex line in our pyramid: the backstage exposé movie. The death of radio and growth of television had contributed to a flurry of vinegary anatomies of show people, real and imagined, including The Hucksters (1947), All About Eve (1950), The Great Man (1956), A Face in the Crowd (1957), and Lehman’s The Comedian.

Full essay for the Criterion DVD can be read here.
"When in doubt, seduce."
                   -Elaine May

MartinTeller

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Re: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2011, 01:18:39 PM »
I don't understand the lack of participation.  SSoS and Gaslight got a lot of votes, so where are all the people who voted?  The Babette's Feast discussion was lively, what happened?

Verite

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Re: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2011, 01:29:32 PM »
To balance out the positive quotes from Scorsese and Giddins, here are some from the director:

Quote from: Alexander Mackendrick
It is a film I have mixed feelings about today[...]

[...]

What is a bit more unexpected is that since its release the film has been appearing in art-house cinemas and festivals, and has developed, as they say, a 'cult following', for which much credit must be given to the gutter-poetry quality of Odets's melodramatic lines.

[...]

Though in a number of ways Sweet Smell of Success does seem ludicrously hammy and theatrical, of course we knew this at the time. It was also clear that it was intrinsic to the genre that the characters and performances should be exaggerated, verging on the grotesque.

[...]

Corny as the film is (and it is quite a shameless piece of melodrama), it has real vitality throughout because Odets constantly provides glimpses of subsidiary conflicts and tensions.

[...]

At the same time, I recognised that not only is the whole plot of Sweet Smell of Success somewhat exaggerated, it also deals with an environment and characters who seem to enjoy quite grotesquely colourful forms of speech.[...]


"When in doubt, seduce."
                   -Elaine May

pixote

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Re: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« Reply #7 on: November 17, 2011, 06:23:02 PM »
I've been meaning to revisit this film. It sits in my memory as a film that's a little too coldly formal for my liking — and a little too orchestrated and thematically on point (as Odets tends to be). But I still liked it.

Is that memory accurate, by the way? Is there a Kubrickian feel to the whole thing?

pixote
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

Sam the Cinema Snob

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Re: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2011, 06:38:41 PM »
Only if you're a silly person who thinks Kubrick makes cold films.  :P

Jared

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Re: Movie of the Week: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2011, 04:04:14 PM »
/2 breaths
//30 chest compressions
/2 breaths
//30 chest compressions

Upon revisiting this film fairly recently I was shocked by how large the villian looms over the entire thing. JJ is up there in the Jaws and Lecter stratosphere as far as antagonists go, and he is there despite the fact that:

a) the threat of grusome violence is smaller

and more importantly

b) the viewer (at least, me) isn't nearly as concerned with the protagonist's well being.