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Sweet Smell of Success

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Postby charliechaplinfan » July 9th, 2008, 1:27 pm

I can see what you mean about Cagney, he would look the part, he was a good actor. When I think of the older Cagney I tend to think of White Heat and One, Two, Three roles in which he's quite overblown that's why I can't picture him. Burt Lancaster's character is Machiavellian, I do love Cagney and thinking about other parts he's played I concede, he would have played it well and he would have looked like he fit right in.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Postby Mr. Arkadin » July 9th, 2008, 5:37 pm

MikeBSG wrote: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.

Actually slander, drug planting/possession, police brutality, and prostitution are formidable crimes. The Sweet Smell of Success is steeped in the noir genre and has a much more legitimate claim than many lighter vehicles that were nominated in the recent noir contest (Casablanca, The Narrow Margin, The Big Sleep, etc.).

Much like the woefully underappreciated Force of Evil (1948), SSOS takes a hard look at corruption within society--particularly American society. Lives and careers are made and broken not through hard work or talent, but graft. Although the film has definite ties and nods to the HUAAC and the blacklist that was affecting the motion picture industry at that time (Note that Steve Dallas was called a drug addict and a communist), it also fits squarely into today's world where politicians do date call girls and recent talentless music icons (I won't name names here) suggest palm grease rather than genius is the deciding factor of what defines art.

Honesty and morality are not valued in such a world. In fact, they are a disadvantage and detriment to those who hold such values ("It's a publicity man's nature to be a liar. I wouldn't hire you if you weren’t a liar"). Only those who compromise themselves and are willing to play the game are given the opportunity and breaks to succeed.

To compare and contrast, Taxi Driver (1976) is not about a man going crazy as another recent post suggested, but an individual who cannot adapt to the disingenous world around him. He is viewed as a psychopath, but although his methods are reprehensible, the crime and corruption around him that passes for normalcy are seen as the deeper stain of our humanity. The J.J. Hunsecker's "love this dirty town" while the Travis Bickle's think "someone should flush this city down the fuckin toilet." Travis is seen as dangerous (although he saves a man's life in a stick-up and rescues a child from prostitution), while Sidney and J.J. are respected members of society. Travis has definitely lost touch with reality, but perhaps he is more deeply aware of what the real world consists of, which drives him to the edge.

The Sweet Smell of Success is a rare warning about the darker side of human nature and the facade of The American Dream. Fame and fortune are not created by aspiring individuals, but bought and sold everyday along with the poor souls who have learned to use the system instead of their God-given abilites. Although it might seem like The Sweet Life, Hunsecker and Falco's world (like Fellini's 1960 masterpiece) is shown to be poisonous, morally corrupt, and rotten to the core. Like a cookie full of arsenic.


Postby jdb1 » July 10th, 2008, 9:00 am

I agree that corruption is certainly what SSOS is about; the corruptive nature of power. The world of gossip is a great metaphor for corruption, because having power over others is what the really pernicious kind of gossip is all about. Anyone who has something on you has power over you, unless you yourself have enough strength and power to rise above it. The lesson of SSOS is clear: those who live in the world where hurtful rumors and innuendo are exchanged like currency are drawn down farther and farther until they are destroyed, or destroy themselves. Those who have the power to break free (like JJ's sister and her beau), will survive.

SSOS is positively Shakespearean in its subject matter and plot.

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Postby ken123 » November 24th, 2009, 7:21 am

jdb1 wrote: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.

[b]Back in the late 1950's Chicago radio had Jack Eigan as a late night talker, his evening show was on every Monday - Friday for over 2hours. For the first hour plus he would just ramble on & on, amomg the topics were Winchell, kosher vs kosher style food, harness racing, Jolson, and Mr Eigan's intense dislike for Mr Lancaster as a person and as a actor. Many times during the 1960's he boosted on how Mr Lancaster was to be a guest on his show, but because Eigan rambled on for so long before getting to any guest Lancaster & his entourage walked out, much to Mr. Eigans delight. Eigan was a great fan of Winchells, "the greatest newspaper man of the era ", the J.J. character was based on Winchell. The Eigan radio program ran until the eary 1970's . Mr Eigan also talked very often about the Mike Nichols - Elaine May comedy team & especially a routine that the due did called "Jack Ego ", which Mr Eigan claimed was himself.. Another favorite Eigan topic was the Irish Catholic[ - Jewish relationship. Mr Eigan was of a Jewish background and he was married to an Irish Catholic lady and they sent their daughter, Jacquline, to Holy Name Cathedral school,where he says that he got alonge great with the nuns & priests, he would link this to the fact that Dublin had elected a Jew Robert Brisco as Lord Mayor. Mr Eigan said many times that Irish Catholics were the least prejudiced people in the world, at least as far as it came to the Jews. The Eigan show was very show biz oriented and show biz does not lack for Irish Catholics, so I guess this frienship with show biz " micks " made his opinion stronger. I listened every night./b] :)

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