BLU-RAY REVIEW: SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ALEXANDER MACKENDRICK / SCREENPLAY: CLIFFORD ODETS, ERNEST LEHMAN, ALEXANDER MACKENDRICK / STARRING: BURT LANCASTER, TONY CURTIS, SUSAN HARRISON, MARTIN MILNER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Shot in the cold urban streets of Midtown Manhattan, Sweet Smell of Success carries all the devices of a cold and smoky film noir. It's not as gritty or thrilling as some crime noir films but it has an edge which will lure you in, and just when this era of style was dwindling, Alexander Mackendrick brought this melodrama to the big screen in 1957. It was not greatly received at that time, but today it holds a lot of acclaim for its cracking performances and witty screenplay. Now it's being released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video and it's beauty is as sharp as ever.
Sweet Smell of Success sees Burt Lancaster as J.J Hunsecker, a very influential newspaper columnist who abuses his power by using his connections to destroy his sister's relationship with a man he deems unworthy. Tony Curtis plays the sleazy press agent, Sidney Falco, who will do whatever it takes to weasel his way up in the ranks. It's a man's world, and they call all the shots, with the femme fatale (Susan Harrison) being the central point in this plot. It's corruption and self-destruction at its best, and there’s also a brilliant performance from Emile Mayer as the sinister cop whose laughter will send chills down your spine. One notable about Mackendrick’s film is that both Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis portrayed antagonists for the first time in their careers. Their social mannerisms are perfect for the shady characters that they are and they fit in perfectly in this cold and calculating story with interesting consequences.
This film says a lot for its cultural and historical prestige. Power, hierarchy and the perception of women are all significant themes throughout this film. Susan is portrayed as a weak character who can't stand up to her brother. Then she comes across hysterical, only to discover it was manipulation; her way of getting back at the men who tried to control her life. It was the one device that women could use when push to the limit and it's an extremely interesting twist to the finale.
Cinematographer James Wong Howe creates such a strong aesthetic, managing to create cool, sleek monochrome shots which appear lavish and appealing. If nothing else, you should watch this for the cinematography, though the rich dialogue is something a film noir fan shouldn't miss.
Special Features: Appreciation by Philip Kemp (Film Historian) / Selected scene commentary with Philip Kemp / Mackendrick – The Man Who Walked Away / Theatrical trailer / Collector’s booklet