Monday, 25 January 2010

I'd hate to take a bite outta you. You're a cookie full of arsenic.

No 314 - Sweet Smell of Success
Director - Alexander Mackendrick.

Don't be fooled by the jolly sounding title or the casting of Tony Curtis. This is a dark and angry film. Bleak and treacherous and cruel. This is also one of those more unusual things. A film which isn't about the protagonist. Curtis' Sidney might be the character we follow for the entire film, but he is just an outsider in the main plot.

Sidney plays a press agent. A sneaky, slimy, cowardly man who will double cross anyone and everyone in order to make some money. Throughout the film he shows that he really has no morals at all.
The film flies along at quite a breakneck speed and only stops briefly when introducing non pivotal characters. However the small amount of time the story spends on Rita shows us a fair amount about her character. She is pretty (in that wonderful 50's blonde bombshell way) but not too bright. She has a child and has recently been hurt pretty badly because of the fact that drinking makes her get a bit promiscuous. She is quite upset when she begins speaking to Sidney but he runs off, busy trying to manipulate people and make a quick buck. His return is solely to pimp her out to a newspaper columnist in order to better his self preservation.

He is a schmoozer and a sweet talker. But he is a callous and horrible person. He is indeed, a cookie full of arsenic.

The only way that Sidney can come off looking less horrible is when compared with his 'friend' J.J Hunsecker. J.J is a columnist who is massively influential. He allegedly has 60million readers and he can make or break stars and governments. It seems that nothing is outside of his grasp, and that has very much gone to his egocentric, paranoid head.
For whilst he can control the comings and goings of America, he can't stop his sister Susan falling in love with a Jazz guitarist (the jazz music throughout is excellent). But he will stop at nothing to sabotage the relationship and claim her back as his sister. His female companion.

This is the crux of the film. Sidney, a horrible cowardly liar, runs around after the whims of J.J, a REALLY horrible, wannabe mobster, in order to break up the coupling of the only two likable characters in this whole sorry film.
It seems odd to create a film where the characters are so unlikable. They're not even given extra dimensions. I can understand both Sidney and J.J's motivations, but I don't like them. At all. I had no one really to root for because it becomes evident that Sidney and J.J will succeed with their mission. Though really we're never 100% sure if Sally returns to him or not.

The ending sort of resolves this as both Sidney and J.J get their just desserts (though Sidney's punishment is far publicly harsher than J.J's personal heartache) and the film ends on a hell of a downer.

All in all, it was not what I was expecting at all and I'm not entirely sure if I'd ever watch it again. It is a wonderfully stylistic film of the period, but the protagonists are just bastards - and not in a fun way.

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