Tuesday, January 03, 2012

the contrarian: "match me, sidney"

Alexander Mackendrick's atmospheric
"Sweet Smell of Success" (1957) is one of those films that I like but not as much as I'm supposed to.

I mean, what's not to like? The '50s New York ambience (shot in black-&-white, natch, by James Wong Howe) is seductive, and the acting duet of Burt Lancaster as ruthless newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker and Tony Curtis as the weak, fawning publicist Sidney Falco should be enough to get me through the film.

So, again, what's not to like? Well, the plot. Which, for me, is - well - kinda silly. Everything hinges on the fact that J.J. doesn't want his spoiled kid sister, Susan (played by a mink-wrapped Susan Harrison, who looks young enough to be Lancaster's daughter and yet who looks nothing like him at all), to marry a musician with the great name Steve Dallas (a character played with white-bread harmlessness by Martin Milner).

And this is what accounts for this so-called tough film's palpable angst.

4 comments:

163jeff said...

Apt observation! I like the film, too, and for the exact reasons that you put forth. But that plotline with the sister! Awful. For me it' a very schitzy filom that works in spite of itself.

Tom B. said...

In spite of the sister stuff, I find "Sweet Smell" to be heartwrenchingly tense, mysterious, and emotionally resonant.

jbryant said...

Picked up the Criterion Blu of this a while back but haven't revisited yet. I agree that it lacks that certain something that makes it a complete masterpiece, but it gets closer than most movies.

By the way, I think the quote is actually, "Match me, Sidney."

joe baltake said...

Oy! Jay, what would I do without you. Yes, it's"Match me, Sidney." To repeat myself, the film is all atmosphere - wonderful atmosphere - but the main storyline is fairly lame.