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Sweet Smell of Success (DVD)

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Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 1957 / Director: Alexander Mackendrick / Actors: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis ... / DVD released 19 June, 2001 at MGM / Features of the DVD: Black & White, Closed-captioned, DVD-Video, Letterboxed, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC

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    2 Reviews
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      29.09.2012 20:19
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      Top press focused noir drama - all about the dialogue

      As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, the concept of power of the press was in its prime. Today we talk about the control the media seems to have over everything, but the press was essentially the main way for this to happen before the latest gadgets were even ideas in people's kids' brains. Sweet Smell of Success stars Burt Lancaster as J J Hunsecker, a vicious businessman, a Broadway columnist whose sole goal is what HE wants when HE wants it, regardless of who he hurts and what anyone else thinks; and Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, a downtrodden press agent manipulated by Hunsecker into making his sister's latest suitor's life a misery.

      The only thing Hunsecker cares about is his little sister, and when he hears that a small time musician in a band is after her affections, he looks for a way to scare him off. Falco is in desperate need of Hunsecker's column inches and so the media tycoon uses this to his advantage, pressing the agent to intrude and dissuade the couple from continuing their relationship. What ensues is a tense noir style drama with high emotions that relies immensely on a powerful dialogue to see it through. The thing is that the plot itself doesn't have the depth or drive to be a great, and the reliance on other factors is one of those dangerous moments where you do genuinely think that if the actors don't carry it off then it's a flop.

      Luckily it delivers. The script for the dialogue is genius, with the casting of Lancaster and Curtis even moreso. The two actos are supremely comfortable in their roles, with the former cutting a dashing figure with his chiseled looks and square shoulders, a pair of dark rimmed glasses adding to the firm exterior to portray a man not to mess with; and the latter showing his utmost in terms of charm and suave abilities on screen in order to project the smooth and vibrant press agent down on his luck but still with a smile and a promise to try and persuade people to his ways.

      The difference between the two is clearly their social status. While Hunsecker is respected within the community for who he is and what power he has, Falco has burnt too many bridges and broken too many promises for anyone to touch. His business nouse deserts him all too often and he is clearly in need of a lucky break, while the self made sure thing Hunsecker just sits back and plays him like a puppet on a string. This difference gets all too important later on in the film when the sister's relationship comes more to the fore, with us as the viewers clearly able to side with Falco despite nothing going his way. But with this niggle there's a certain sense of karma - as a distrustworthy press agent, you almost feel as if he's just getting his come uppance from his errant ways, and the only thing stopping this feeling and heightening the preference for him to come out on top is the sheer male dominance that Hunsecker shows towards pretty much everyone, but especially towards his sister, who is completely downtrodden by him as if he was her father and it was earlier in the century or even a previous era altogether.

      This dislike towards Hunsecker propels Falco into an unwilling hero in our eyes, and as we follow the film, we see both sides of the story, the interaction between all the characters and how it all unfolds before the ending. It's powerfully made, with exceptional dialogue and trusting acting that allows the two stars to show just how good they really are. I thought that the noir style added a bit of suspense to the film, and enabled a bit more drama to be forced upon us, the music and filming angles all adding to the atmosphere. By the time the credits rolled, I was certainly ready for the film to end. This doesn't mean that it was disappointing or starting to drag, but that it was the right time for the end, judged just right.

      Very well made film, and one I'd certainly recommend. Clever dialogue is likely to keep you focused and interested throughout, with the two lead actors excelling as you'd expect them to.

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      27.10.2002 02:08
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      "I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic." There are some films that will never date, never grow old. They are classics of their era and still have themes that hold up in todays society. The Sweet Smell of Success is one of those films and a perfect example of what you can get from great writing, decent story and great performances. Burt Lancaster stars as J.J. Hunsecker, the most powerful journalist in New York. He's a hard man, smart, calculated and cold. The only thing he holds dear to himself is his younger sister. However when she plans to marry a jazz musician he simply can't accept it. Instead of saying what he thinks, J.J employs Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), a sleazy and unscrupulous press agent, to break up the affair by any means possible. This is a story of betrayal and a noir style look at the power of the word in newspaper print. The film is simple and really plays out in only a handful of locations. What makes the film so great is the dialogue which simple crackles and knocks the majority of todays writing down to size. Burt Lancaster delivers it with a savge tongue and makes J.J an incredibly imposing figure. In a way he strikes fear into anyone simply through a sentence and a lifeless glare. "My right hand hasn't seen my left hand in years" Matching Lancaster is Curtis as Falco. If J.J is the dead character of the piece then Falco is the life. Curtis injects the character with the right amount of sleaze, apathy and charm. Many will know Tony Curtis simply as a man who's been married to women much younger than himself. However it's roles like this that remind you of his early work and how good an actor he was. Together the pair dominate the film and the supporting cast barely get a look in but then again it's really the story of how J.J and Falco use their power in the media to their own advantage. The direction of the f
      ilm stages everything simply purely because the script is so strong, it doesn't need flashy camera moves to sell it. Instead you get a classic New York style where the 50's were giving way to the 60's. This is definite noir. It's not hard to see why this film still garners a five star review in the likes of Empire magazine. It's simply fantastic and something I could watch over and over just to hear that dialogue again. It's currently available on dvd in the UK for a modest price, if you want to make a blind purchase then take a chance on this and you won't regret it.

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    • Product Details

      A classic of the late 1950s, Sweet Smell of Success looks at the string-pulling behind-the-scenes action between desperate press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) and the ultimate power broker in that long-ago show-biz Manhattan: gossip columnist JJ Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Written by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets (who based the Hunsecker character on the similarly brutal and power-mad Walter Winchell), the film follows Falco's attempts to promote a client through Hunsecker's column--until he is forced to make a deal with the devil and help Hunsecker ruin a jazz musician who has the nerve to date Hunsecker's sister. Director Alexander MacKendrick and cinematographer James Wong Howe, shooting on location mostly at night, capture this New York demimonde in silky black and white, in which neon and shadows share a scarily symbiotic relationship--a near-match for the poisonous give-and-take between the edgy Curtis and the dismissive Lancaster. --Marshall Fine