Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sweet Smell of film screening

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success
  • MGM/UA
  • Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success

By Matt Brunson

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)

***1/2

DIRECTED BY Alexander Mackendrick

STARS Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis

Even a three-course meal consisting of lobster bisque, a medium-rare steak and crème brulee doesn't come close to matching the exquisite, juicy taste of the dialogue slung around in this riveting drama written by no less than Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman.

Practically everything clicks in this brutal exercise in which unscrupulous press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) will do just about anything to curry favor with powerful newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). So when Hunsecker's sister (Susan Harrison) falls for a clean-cut musician (Martin Milner), J.J. becomes jealous (perhaps not since Scarface's Tony Montana has a movie character displayed such an unhealthy attraction toward his own sibling) and orders Sidney to drive them apart through malicious gossip and outright lies.

The contributions of two industry titans, cinematographer James Wong Howe and composer Elmer Bernstein, are key to the film's success — the jazzy score works in tandem with the evocative NYC location shooting — and while Curtis generally leaves me cold, his performance as Falco is arguably his greatest. Yet the rapid-fire dialogue is this film's truly astonishing component, from the classic lines (both from J.J. to Sidney) "I'd hate to take a bite out of you; you're a cookie full of arsenic" and "Match me, Sidney" to lesser known but equally impressive snatches of cynicism (I've always been partial to J.J. opining that "Sidney lives in moral twilight"). The film's only significant debit is its ending, which feels rushed, incomplete and therefore not entirely satisfying.

(Sweet Smell of Success will be screened as part of the "Extra! Extra! Celebrating the Newspaper Picture" film series at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at ImaginOn. Admission is free.)

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