I’m in week two of the movie potluck over at Anomalous Material. This week my flick came from Anna of the blog Life of a Cinephile and Bibliophile. She recommended the 1957 Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis classic, The Sweet Smell of Success. This is one of those movies that I’d always heard about but never seen.
What a slimy bunch of creeps to spend an hour and thirty-six minutes with! This is one of those old-time films that remind you that people have always done horrible things to each other. Next time someone talks about the degeneration of our current society, point them toward this little gem.
Burt Lancaster plays JJ Hunsecker, a Broadway columnist who’s power to make or break people with a mention in his widely read column has clearly gone to his head. Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, is a Hunsecker wannabe. He’s a crappy PR agent working out of his dingy one room apartment. He wants the type of status Hunsecker has and he’s willing to do the dirty work to get there.
These two slimeballs manipulate and threaten people left and right. They have dirty
secrets on everyone in town and they’ll use them to get their way. Falco is always begging Hunsecker to drop his clients' names into his column. Hunsecker just may throw Falco a bone if he will help to break up upcoming jazz musician’s relationship with his beloved baby sister. We see glimpses of possible character redemption in Hunsecker’s love for his sister and in Falco’s resistance to ruin the innocent musician.
My age was showing as I watched this film and recognized the young jazz musician, Martin Milner, as the guy from the 70’s TV show, Adam 12. I also spotted Darrin’s boss from TV’s Betwitched, and a handful of other old-time actors.
This was a very fast talking film and I’d love to see the size of this script compared to similar films of the same length. Tony Curtis attacks the role as Sidney Falco. He talks fast, paces, fidgets, chats up the ladies and shows a vulnerability underneath his big shot façade. I haven’t seen many Tony Curtis films and I enjoyed watching this vibrant performance. He’s a couple of years away from some of his more famous roles and it’s clear he was a star on the rise.
On the other side, Burt Lancaster had already turned in some of his most memorable performances and had nothing to prove. His give and take with Curtis is powerful and they share the screen well.
Overall, I’m glad I saw this film. I’m not sure I would have stuck with it if it wasn’t a recommendation. It did become quite melodramatic at times and the main characters were so unlikeable, it would have been quite easy to turn this off. However, I found myself thinking about these characters hours after the film was over. That in itself is the makings of a good film.