Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

So tired and wearisome are today's formulaic films that often a retreat five or six decades into cinema's past is necessary and proper. Among the true gems of the past is Sweet Smell of Success, the 1957 film noir about the misadventures of a New York publicity agent and his parlous quest to befriend a powerful gossip columnist. This film must have been daring in its time, so much so that it remains so even by today's standards, fifty years hence.

The plot: Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is a down on his luck hustler of a publicity agent. He's been shut out of the influential column of J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) because he could not break up the relationship of jazz musician Steve Dallas (Martin Milner) and J.J.'s sister, Susan Hunsecker (the lovely Susan Harrison who, apparently, did little else of consequence save for giving birth to Darva Conger, who would later achieve her own infamy as a reality starlet). The film takes place over the course of a single night and the following day. Falco scurries about hatching schemes and stratagems to advance the interests of his clients and return to the good graces of the menacing and corrupt J.J. Hunsecker.

What is astonishing is how dark, cynical, and overtly sexual the film seems even today in light of its release in the late 1950s. Of course, there is no profanity or nudity in the film, and any sexual exploits occur safely offscreen. But the sexual bargains that are sealed are certainly not subtly referenced. The film depicts the types of people who will do anything - anything - to advance or aggrandize themselves and whose only purpose in life is to, well, advance or aggrandize themselves. If you've not seen it, do yourself a favor, and submerge yourself into this world. Truly, you'll be startled at how edgy this film is, even by today's standards. Noirish indeed.


rhpt said...

I can't believe there hasn't been a remake.

Steven said...

Curiously, I watched 1964's "Sex and the single girl" which was far more conventional and lacked any merits while STILL examining the sleaze-publication industry.

Only good part were the in-jokes to a cross-dressed Tony Curtis being called Mr. Lemmon. Laughter.