Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Sweet Smell of Success: The Cat's in the Bag and the Bag's in the River

 My local library is kind enough to indulge my desire to share my passion for classic film by allowing me to show a classic film once a month. And once in a while, a few film fans wander in and share the enjoyment. 

November's Film: 

The Sweet Smell of Success

1957's "The Sweet Smell of Success" is a glamorous black and white vision of the seedy New York gossip world of the 1950s. Before TMZ and the internet's instant update on the rich and infamous, there was the gossip columnist. While Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons were well known on the west coast, New York City had Walter Winchell, a columnist who wielded his power to make or break people with an iron and vicious typewriter. In "The Sweet Smell of Success," Burt Lancaster is J.J. Hunsecker, a thinly disguised version of Winchell. While he cloaks himself in a cynical suit of respectability, his is a world devoid of morals  and filled with sleaze. His chief officer in charge of sleaze is struggling publicist Sidney Falco, played by Tony Curtis in a dynamic performance. Hunsecker's downfall is his shall we say "unusual" attachment to his sister, Susie. Isn't that always the way? Anyhow, to watch J.J. and Sidney weave a spider's web of malice only to be caught in it is a joy to behold.

Aside from the two stars at the top of their game and dialogue that snaps and crackles, New York City, backed by a great jazzy Elmer Bernstein score, is the third star of the film. The film captures the city in the last glittering days of nightclubs, cocktails and fur coats. It's fun to spot the long gone stores you knew in the street scenes and to see legendary nightspots like The 21 Club and Toots Schor's in all their glory. 

A couple of special mentions: Barbara Nichols tugs at your heart as a cigarette girl (remember them?) who is badly used by the men she knows. 

It's also a chance to get a glimpse of the great vaudeville artist Joe Frisco playing a nightclub comedian. It's a small part, but just the thought that he was cast is a bit of a bow to New York's entertainment past.

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