Monday, 30 March 2015

The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Alexander Mackendrick’s brutally cynical look at the life of New York Broadway columnists gets a new Region B Blu-ray release courtesy of Arrow Films.
Press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) has a problem. His job involves leaking tidbits of useful information about his clients to Broadway newspaper columnists in the hope they will mention them. He is in awe of J J Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), the most popular, terrifying and probably insane of them all. Hunsecker has requested Falco to break up the burgeoning relationship between Hunsecker’s sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and band guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). 

         But, Hunsecker has stressed, at no point must his sister suspect he has had anything to do with it as he does not wish to damage his somewhat unhealthy-seeming relationship with her. What follows is a complex game of sleazy deceits as Falco tries to achieve his aim, get in further with Hunsecker, and so ascend the greasy pole of what he believes to be success.

Director Alexander Mackendrick started off at Ealing studios, directing such well-loved classics as WHISKEY GALORE (1949), THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (1951), and perhaps most famous of all, the glorious THE LADYKILLERS (1955). SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is not like any of these, in fact you’d never think this tale of callousness and manipulation was by the same man. The screenplay is by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman and as you might expect is filled with pithy one-liners that are delivered expertly by two leads who have quite possibly never been better. 

         Curtis especially, despite his character’s infinite dislikeability, has you in the palm of his hand as you follow him around New York. Burt Lancaster is fascinating as the brilliant, complex, and obviously highly troubled Hunsecker, all contained madness and straining rage. The black and white photography is by veteran James Wong Howe and it looks the best it ever could in this Blu-ray transfer. Finally, Elmer Bernstein’s music is the sleazy jazz icing on this particular cake, with the kind of brass arrangements that makes you feel the need to open a window or take a bath once the film is over.

Arrow’s Blu-ray of SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS comes with a number of extras. We get an appreciation and a selected scene commentary by critic and film historian Philip Kemp, and the 1986 STV documentary on Mackendrick - ‘The Man Who Walked Away’. There’s also a trailer, reversible sleeve and a booklet with new writing on the film as well as Mackendrick’s analysis of different script drafts. There are a couple of different extras on the Criterion Region A disc, but the Arrow version looks just as good and is coming out a fair bit cheaper for UK buyers. 

Arrow Films are bringing out Alexander Mackendrick's THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS on Region B Blu-ray on Monday 30th March

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