movies: Sweet Smell of Success

January 13, 2010

Sweet Smell of Success (1957), starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis and directed by Alexander Mackendrick is the first in a short season at the GFT “Heroes and Villains: Journalism on Screen”.

I have to admit I didn’t know much about this film but it looked like an interesting prospect and on doing a little research on imdb I found a few things to make it worth a punt.   For example, I wasn’t familiar with the name Alexander Mackendrick, but it turned out he had directed some of my favourite Ealing Comedies!  He was born in the US (to Scottish parents), but grew up in Scotland, where he studied at the Glasgow School of Art, his FIRST movie was the fantastic Whisky Galore! 1945, followed by The Man in the White Suit 1951, The Maggie 1954 (a very little known but lovely wee film about a steamer on the Clyde and Western Isles) and The Ladykillers 1955.  The Sweet Smell of Success was his first Hollywood movie.  Also, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis are giants of Hollywood of that period and only a year prior to this stared together in Trapeze.

OK, so what about Sweet Smell of Success?  Well it is an utterly fantastic movie!  The basic plot involves four people, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) is a gossip columnist and career breaker – if a celebrity isn’t mentioned in his column they are nothing. Sid Falco (Tony Curtis) is a ‘press man’ or PR agent who needs to get his clients into JJs column.  Lastly we have Susan Hunsecker, JJ’s manipulated and put down 19 year old sister and Steve Dallas a Jazz player who is in love with Susan.  Put simply JJ Hunsecker forces Sid to break up the relationship between Steve Dallas and his sister.  Sid has to do this in order to survive in his business since that relies on being in JJs column.

Although Lancaster has top billing in this movie, and indeed puts in an outstanding performance, Tony Curtis is simply outstanding and really shows the breadth of his skills moving seamlessly from desperate and beaten to pretending to be in control then wining and things working out – all in a single scene. He even steals the scenes where he is simply in the background, it is almost a hypnotic performance.

So, the plot is interesting, characters well drawn and performances utterly outstanding!  What about film making…  again, simply outstanding!  Direction was great, and James Wong Howe (Oscar winning Cinematographer) pulls some fantastic shots with lots of location shooting in the clubs and on the streets of 50s New York city.  The only thing to let down this movie was the print used at the GFT which had several distracting glitches, jumps and miss-matched ‘colorization’ (if that is the correct term for a monochrome movie).  But that aside well worth watching!


I tend to only blog movie review of movies that I’ve gone to see at “the movies”.. rather than movies I watch on DVD or TV or on-demand TV… because there lies madness!  However, this means that I tend to cover new movies, but now that I am trying to go to the GFT more often and will be seeing more old/classics films – what to do.  I decided to solve this enormous problem by blogging whatever the hell I like, cause it’s my blog and I’ll do what I like and that sort of cleared up the whole problem for me.