One of the problems with studying in film school, being a movie buff and getting older is that at some point in ones' life a man ventures into the video store, peruses the shelves and reaches the conclusion that he has seen every movie worth seeing.
I thought I was getting there until a few years ago when I heard about and checked out "The Sweet Smell of Success". It was like that with "Chinatown", which I never saw until the 1990s and now consider one of the best films ever.
"Sweet Smell of Success" holds up totally even though it is black-white, set in 1957. Burt Lancaster is J.J., based on Walter Winchell, who was a leading accuser of Communists in the media.
Tony Curtis is a lackey publicist who lives on the whim of those who pay him to place items in various columns, which means he must grovel at the feet of clients and columnists. J.J. plays him like a fiddle. This has lines so vitriolic and perfect, Frank Manciewics in "All About Eve" is no more biting, and Bette Davis in "Eve" bites with the best of 'em.
Lancaster just fills the screen with irony and sardonic, hurtful wit. Curtis fends it off with skill, it is like a fencing match. Anybody who has any desire to study dialogue must watch and memorize this. Everything is tremendous; the acting, the directing, the score, the noir shadows of New York at night. The music is unreal, lots of horns, filling the room with its wailing sobs of a corrupt, naked city.
A love story between J.J.'s little sis and a musician (Martin Milner I think, who was in "Adam 12"), is the heart of the story. It is the one true, good thing, but J.J. is a monster. Perhaps Bob Towne had this in mind when he cast John Huston to be an incestuos father in "Chinatown". The inference, being the '50s, is much more subtle but it seems J.J. has the hots for sis and wants nobody to have her. He brands the musician a Commie, using sycophant secondary journalists to keep his own hands clean.
Any chance for this dark one to have a happy ending goes down the tubes when sis, as much to torment her bro, kills herself. Curtis is utterly ammoral. His picture appears in Webster's next to the word ammoral.
Many films have played off this theme. "Swimming With Sharks" (1996, Kevin Spacey, Frank Whaley) comes to mind. If this could be 20 stars I'd give it 20.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism