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Sweet Smell of Success

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MikeBSG
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Sweet Smell of Success

Postby MikeBSG » July 6th, 2008, 12:14 pm

I've seen this listed as noir in some places. What do you think? It has a gritty look and sleazy people, but nobody gets killed and it isn't about crime in a conventional sense.

I had seen it about 20 years ago and I watched it on DVD last night. The movie's look is priceless, and the dialogue is wonderful. They don't make 'em like that any more, but perhaps the most dated thing about the movie is that it has big stars like Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis playing absolute heels. Harrison Ford might need to do something like that to fix his career, but I don't see him trying it.

Did anyone see the musical stage play with John Lithgow? How was that?

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charliechaplinfan
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Postby charliechaplinfan » July 6th, 2008, 1:34 pm

I tried watching it about ten years ago and couldn't get into it, I don't think I expected this kind of film. I saw it last year willing to accept Burt lancaster and Tony Curtis in the sleazy world of reporting, I enjoyed it. Tony Curtis is one underrated actor IMO.

Is it noir? I would say not on first look but in the way it is photographed and the sleazy underbelly it shows, well it could slot in there.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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vallo
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Postby vallo » July 7th, 2008, 11:20 am

I guess you could it Noir. It has all the elements. Marijuana
Police ,Psychopath ,Suicide Attempt ,Corruption and great B&W photography and great dialog:I'd hate to take a bite outta you. You're a cookie full of arsenic. Match Me ,Sidney. No matter it's still a classic.


Bill
"We're all forgotten sooner or later. But not films. That's all the memorial we should need or hope for."
-Burt Lancaster

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » July 7th, 2008, 12:57 pm

And don't forget, sexual perversion. It's noir in my book.

And Vallo nailed it -- some classic noir lines.

In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me.

The next time you want information, don't scratch for it like a dog, ask for it like a man!

Who could love a man who makes you jump through burning hoops like a trained poodle?

It's a dirty job, but I pay clean money for it.

You're dead, son. Get yourself buried.

I love this dirty town.

Maybe I left my sense of humor in my other suit.

You're an amusing boy, but you haven't got a drop of respect for anything in human life.

Tell him that like yourself, he's got the scruples of a guinea pig and the morals of a gangster.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » July 7th, 2008, 1:07 pm

You know, I have one problem with this movie, and that's Burt Lancaster.
Thinning his hair and wearing dorky glasses just doesn't disguise him enough, and I can't buy in completely to his portrayal of this character. It doesn't quite work for me. I think Curtis is much better at sublimating his 8X10 glossy looks into the weasley Sidney.

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charliechaplinfan
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Postby charliechaplinfan » July 7th, 2008, 2:04 pm

I don't think I've fully got into Burt Lancaster maybe I've seen the wrong pictures. Tony Curtis is brilliant as the weasly Sidney.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » July 7th, 2008, 2:37 pm

I'm not a Burt Lancaster fan, but I like his performance in this (it may be the last one I liked him in). The staginess and arrogance that seems to be his forte captures J.J. Hunsecker's character.

Sidney Falco is by far my favorite Tony Curtis performance.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » July 7th, 2008, 3:30 pm

See, ChiO, it's not Lancaster's performance that I don't like -- I suppose it's the way he looks. He doesn't look like a part of that world to me. Too big, too healthy, too robust and especially too young and forthright looking. He didn't change his walk and he didn't change his carriage and he didn't really change his way of speaking. Curtis, on the other hand, was all ducking and bowing and slinking and mumbling and insinuation. I find Lancaster more like the archvillain in some superhero movie. He was nasty and scary, but he wasn't anything like an NYC gossipmonger. Remember that this was in the days long before everyone and his snotty little brother was into physical fitness and gym visits. Men who lived the life Lancaster's character lived simply didn't look like that. A few references to an interest in physical culture, as it was called then, might have helped explain why this particular weasel looked like Tarzan.

It was the same with him in Come Back, Little Sheba. The dorky glasses and the grayed hair were not enough in my estimation to transform him into a middle-aged alcoholic. I guess it indicates that there are limits to his range.

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » July 8th, 2008, 10:38 am

Judith: Before seeing your note this morning, I was thinking of others other might have been interesting as J.J. (oh, I have w-a-y too much time on my hands) for the reasons you mention.

Howzabout: Clifton Webb? George Sanders? (Even though they don't look like Walter Winchell or Ed Sullivan. Earl Wilson maybe?)
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Dewey1960
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Postby Dewey1960 » July 8th, 2008, 11:36 am

Joining in this conversation a little belatedly, but I would concur with anyone who claims SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS to be bona fide film noir. One of my regrets is not including it in my original list of fifteen back when the "bestavorite film noir" poll was being conducted.
Personally I don't believe anyone other than Lancaster and Curtis could have (or should have) played these roles, each is superlative beyond reproach, in my opinion. But the real stars of this incredible film are: Alexander Mackendrick, a curiously under-appreciated director who unobtrusively juggled many difficult elements in order to create a nearly perfect film; Clifford Odets, who transformed Ernest Lehman's rather ordinary dialog (Lehman wrote the original novelette and began work on the screenplay before taking ill. Odets stepped in and rewrote the entire script) into the blackest (and often funniest) screen poetry imaginable; James Wong Howe and his shimmering cinematography; Elmer Bernstein and his pulse-quickening score and the Chico Hamilton Quintet with their wonderful onscreen performances. Simply unbelievable. For anyone who's interested, a new CD soundtrack has been issued on the EL label (import) which includes eight tracks from Chico Hamilton and all of Bernstein's score (14 tracks).
Here's the film's trailer:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJczVPfRWN0[/youtube]
And here's a great nightclub scene which not only showcases Tony Curtis' charismatic performance, but Odets' idiosyncratic dialogue. Not to mention the fierce passion of Hamilton's playing:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXULG-UKVq8[/youtube]

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » July 8th, 2008, 12:10 pm

ChiO wrote:Judith: Before seeing your note this morning, I was thinking of others other might have been interesting as J.J. (oh, I have w-a-y too much time on my hands) for the reasons you mention.

Howzabout: Clifton Webb? George Sanders? (Even though they don't look like Walter Winchell or Ed Sullivan. Earl Wilson maybe?)


You are right - although Webb and/or Sanders would be good baddies, they don't fit the NYC gossipmonger image too well. They'd be more like society columnists. In terms of what those columnists you mention looked like, I could see J.J. played by Lloyd Nolan (Winchell), Raymond Burr (Wilson), or even genuine New Yorker Cagney (Winchell-esque as well), who could play obsessive with the best of them. Matching Ed Sullivan is a bit harder.

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charliechaplinfan
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Postby charliechaplinfan » July 8th, 2008, 2:13 pm

Would James Cagney not have overplayed it a tad, I do love Cagney BTW. I just can't imagine him in the role although I understand what you mean about the physical appearance of Burt Lancaster, Judith. Far too healthy looking in a world that looks decidedly unhealthy.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » July 8th, 2008, 2:25 pm

Alison, I think Cagney is very much a Walter Winchell type. Winchell was a very powerful and very nasty and destructive gossip columnist - surely one of those on whom J.J. was based. Winchell was short, peppery and spoke in the same kind of staccato cadence that Cagney did.

I think you're right about the "unhealthy world." That's one of the things about Lancaster that I think doesn't fit the story - he doesn't look nocturnal enough. I think Curtis manages to look not only nocturnal, but reptilian - no small feat for such a pretty man.

MikeBSG
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Postby MikeBSG » July 9th, 2008, 9:54 am

To go back to talking about the director of "Sweet Smell of Success," perhaps one reason Alexander Mackendrick is so little remembered today is that his output is so diverse.

Who would guess that "The Ladykillers," "Sweet Smell of Success" and "A High Wind in Jamaica" were all the work of the same guy?

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vallo
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Postby vallo » July 9th, 2008, 10:03 am

Originally Orson Wells was suggested for the role of J.J. Hunsecker. But it was producted by Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions. So it was hard not to cast Lancaster. Curtis & Lancaster starred together the year before in Carol Reed's "Trapeze" were they also played off each other well. I still love the film regardless of the cast.


Bill
"We're all forgotten sooner or later. But not films. That's all the memorial we should need or hope for."

-Burt Lancaster


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