Sweet Smell of Success (US, 1957)

Sickly smell of slime

Sickly smell of slime

Script by Odets and Lehman; cinematography by James Wong Howe; music by Elmer Bernstein; direction by Alexander Mackendrick; starring Lancaster and Curtis; need I say more? An absolute classic that remains thoroughly modern in its depiction of the corruption of celebrity culture. Lancaster does evil with a one-note demeanor (mean) and Curtis’ Sidney Falco oozes slime in probably his best performance. Expressions flicker across his face as he hustles his away around town and his occasional bursts of morality are always counterpointed by self-serving greed.

The cinematography is sensational: the blackness of the city is contrasted by the glitz of the light (though the DVD is marred with some scratches that run for a few minutes – disgraceful MGM) and Mackendrick mixes unobtrusive framing with occasional dynamic tracking and telling angles.

This was a Hill-Hecht-Lancaster production, one of the star-driven companies launched in the wake of the Paramount Decrees that took effect in 1948. It shows  Burt Lancaster’s versatility, the mainstream action Trapeze was released the previous year, and he went on to make films with Luchino Visconti and Bernado Bertolucci: a cinematic great.

Taste the first 10 minutes:


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