Sweet Smell of Success
CLifford Odets, Ernest Lehman (Novel: Ernest Lehman)
Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Marty Milner, Jeff Donnell, Sam Levene, Je Frisco, Barbara Nichols, Emile Meyer, Edith Atwater, The Chico Hamilton Quintet
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Tony Curtis had been a Hollywood player for some years, but this film gave him one of his juiciest roles to date. Second-billed to Burt Lancaster, but ostensibly the star, Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a press agent who never knows when to quit and tries to make a success of himself despite others’ attempts to prevent it. Lancaster plays J.J. Hunsecker, a popular columnist whose vitriolic pen can bolster or tear down anyone’s career. He and Falco have a tough relationship, both trying to use one another for their own ends and neither particularly liking the other.
J.J. wants Falco to arrange for the termination of his sister Susan’s (Susan Harrison) relationship with musician Steve Dallas (Marty Milner). However, in spite of his plans and Falco’s attempts to circuitously better his own life, J.J. can’t seem to part the two. Falco hatches a stellar plan to break the two up, but his machinations prove too capable and he threatens his own livelihood in spite of his successes.
The movie plays like a mystery thriller letting the audience attempt to piece together what will happen to all parties in the end. Will Falco succeed in bringing J.J. down while making a success of himself and will J.J. get Dallas out of his sister’s life.
The over-protective brother act wears thin really fast and Lancaster’s performance becomes grating rather quickly. While this is probably the best I’ve seen Curtis so far, he cannot overcome the tart barbs Lancaster throws out like they are the most colorful and impressive words ever written. However, everything said in the film comes off somewhat pretentious and seldom believable. Of course, that’s part of J.J.’s line of work and so it fits him perfectly and Falco seems to want J.J.’s job, so his dialogue is also rapid-fire brazen. Yet, neither character is particularly likable and whether either succeeds or not, I didn’t particularly care.
Despite all of my problems, many still consider this a great film. It has received countless praise in many circles, so perhaps it’s just a style of filmmaking and performance I won’t ever understand.
January 10, 2011