|SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)|
|"I wouldn't want to take a bite outta you. You're a cookie filled with arsenic."|
|Time: 96 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Never in my life have I watched a film that centered on two more reprehensible characters than those played by Lancaster and Curtis. They star as New York press men, J.J. Hunsecker and Sidney Falco. The former is the most feared gossip columnist in the city, able to make or break a career with the stroke of his pen. The latter, one of many publicity agents trying to become as powerful as Hunsecker. In the hopes that J.J. will mention his current clients and enhance his future, Sidney agrees to perform a little favor for him. All he has to do is break up the burgeoning romance between J.J.'s younger sister Susan (Harrison) and her jazz musician boyfriend, a man deemed unsuitable for her by J.J. This task should be a piece of cake for a slimeball like Sidney, a man who will do anything to advance his position and bank account. What both men fail to underestimate is the lengths the young lovers will go to preserve their relationship. Susan may appear to be sweet and naive, but she has a backbone of steel and is not about to allow her brother or his flunky ruin the only decent thing in her otherwise empty life.
The streets of New York have never seemed so dark, unwelcoming and seedy as Sidney struggles to keep his wanton dreams of success afloat. Nothing about the plot is sweet, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth once all the back-stabbing is through. This film is a no holds barred look at how contemptible people can be to one another and it isn't pretty. The cinematography and art direction contribute greatly to the black mood, seemingly mirroring the emptiness and bitterness of the characters' souls. The men are brutal, the women mere playthings and love a weakness to be stamped out. The performances were so good, I felt the need to take a hot shower afterwards to rinse the sliminess off my brain. While each of the characters learns something about themselves, their lessons aren't anything to be proud of.
Even Susan is hard to root for once she reveals an inner core as cold and calculating as her brother's. Their behavior is so cruel and ugly, I can't imagine ever sitting through the film again. Sidney receives his just comeuppance in the end, but that doesn't make the experience of watching this any more enjoyable. Don't get me wrong, SUCCESS is a well-conceived, brilliantly executed piece of melodrama, it's just so heartless it's hard to call it entertaining. For fans of Curtis and Lancaster, this is definitely a must-see. They go at one another with the ferocity of pit bulls, snarling and nipping at each other with wanton abandon. For those who prefer characters they can relate to and films that end with smiles and kisses, this is definitely not the flick for you. This is dark, gritty and mean with a capital M.