Sweet Smell of Success

(dir. A MacKendrick) (1957)

Great late melodrama, Lancaster rarely better, Tony Curtis never better. “I’d hate to take a bite out of you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.” The sparse camera direction would gladden David Stratton’s heart, only producing the odd flourish where it enhances the scene (e.g. in “21”, where the camera’s eye swings from Manny Davis to Miss James and cuts back to J.J. Hunsecker, who is saying that every hep person knows that “ This one is toting that one around for you.” ).


[NB: Vale Martin Milner, R.I.P. 6/9/2015, who was stout but dull as Steve Dallas in Sweet Smell of Success but nevertheless radiated the stony integrity necessary to the plot (as JJ Hunsecker observed, “Serious as a deacon, I like it – I like it fine.”)  Marty did not, alas, go on to better things – he was adequate as Wyatt Earp’s brother in Gunfight at O.K. Corral but after Sex Kittens Go To College and Valley of the Dolls, he wisely wound up the film career and went profitably into TV.]

This online article by Louis Morgan is worth a look:

Alternate Best Actor 1957: Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success

Tony Curtis did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success.

Sweet Smell of Success is an excellent film about a columnist J.J. Hunsecker who gets an ambitious press agent to break up Hunsecker’s sister’s relationship with a musician.

Tony Curtis portrays the press agent who will be doing the job for Hunsecker. I considered reviewing Lancaster as well, but watching the film again I would put him in the supporting category. It is an oppressive character so it is easy to see why one could see him as lead as well though. The greater focus of the film though goes onto Tony Curtis’s performance as the conniving Sidney Falco. Falco very much is the lackey henchmen of Hunsecker in the film, although it has nothing to do with loyalty, the only reason he follows Hunsecker’s demands is to further his own career.

Curtis who usually portrayed good guys before this performance, or at least in some way charming fellow takes on entirely different method here as Sidney Falco. It is a fascinating performance that particularly works well in comparison to Burt Lancaster’s superb performance. Both are very much similar men in their amorality, and power waving or seeking, but Lancaster and Curtis take greatly different methods in their performance. Where Lancaster’s portrayal of the amorality is very much like forceful brick wall that cannot be surpassed, Curtis though portrays it as something constantly in motion.

Falco is always a man in some sort of motion, and Curtis is excellent in portraying that Falco is constantly playing for some sort of gain. Interestingly enough Curtis always portrays Falco in some sort of motion even when he is standing still or sitting usually blinking at a rapid rate. Curtis puts just the right amount of animation into his role to be able to bring across the idea of how Falco is always a man thinking of the next move during every point of the story, but as well he never does it to the point in which it seems like something flamboyant. It is instead entirely something natural to Falco as a person.

One of the most important lines for Curtis’s character is when Hunsecker describes Falco as a man of forty faces not one. This in itself is quite a bit of a challenge to be lived up to, but Curtis is more than capable of doing so. Curtis face is particularly expressive here and quite apt at bringing about the various facades that Falco puts on to move forward in his business. One scene in which Curtis portrays this especially well is when he approaches Hudsecker for the first time in the film. In the scene Hudsecker insults Falco, and Curtis’s expression is brilliant. There is a very forced upon slight smirk the entire time, but Curtis so well portrays the incredible hate and venom he does feel Hudsecker in the moment.

Really one of Curtis’s greatest assets in this performance are actually his boyish good looks. He plays Falco brilliantly in every scene but especially when he is working his job. There are many who are already put off by him due to previous experience, but there are just as many who do not know the truth about him. Curtis is excellent in every moment of portraying Falco’s method as he does not really portray him as the slickest man at all. In fact when some of his angry costumers confront him Curtis is good in showing that quick annoyance and anger Falco comes to right away when confronted being unable to really explain himself.

Curtis though does portray Falco’s abilities just as well particularly in showing his abilities to so quickly put wool over people’s eyes to meet his demands. Curtis is excellent in bringing across the intelligence in Falco. He never loses a beat and he makes it entirely believable that he could work his way through all of his success. What is so important though is that even when the others doubt him Curtis all brings an incredible degree of determination within Falco that never seems to cease when he is putting one over on someone. There is always a drive in him that keeps him prodding and pushing until he gets his way, or at least gets the person to hate him.

Although Curtis never takes an easy route to be likable in the traditional sense, he does well in adding just the slightest bit of a conscience to his character. Of course Curtis really is terrific here becuase of just how little morality he does give him, making the moments where he does show it quite powerful. Curtis never makes it an overt moment or two as he does the most wretched of things for Hudsecker but there are just the smallest moment of hesitations when doing the worst. Curtis though shows that even the moments of conscience only press for a a slight reaction, but his want for success always shifts to a slight smile of immorality.

Tony Curtis gives a great performance here as Sidney Falco because he never for a moment gives up on that Falco really is only opportunist as Hudsecker calls him. Even in the final showdown between the two Curtis still stays firm that it is not really for goodness sake that he reveals the truth to Hudsecker’s sister, he portrays it almost as an accident because it really comes only for his hatred for Hudsecker who betrayed him. He never is overwhelmed by the dialogue or over shadowed by Lancaster, he stands firm in his fascinating depiction of this unscrupulous man.





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