Movie Project #14: Sweet Smell of Success [1957]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Sweet Smell of Success [1957]

Sweet Smell of Success [1957]
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Screenplay: Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Film Noir
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner
Running Time: 96 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is one of the most highly regarded Film Noirs that I still had not seen.

Accolades: Inducted into the National Film Registry in 1993, part of Roger Ebert’s Great Movies series, Empire 500, 501 Must See Movies, the Criterion Collection, and many more “best of” lists

Is there a bigger louse in film than Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) in Sweet Smell of Success?

Here is a man (and I use that term loosely), a press agent, who will do anything and everything to get his clients mentioned in a nationally syndicated newspaper column. He is willing to bribe, blackmail, extort and even pimp out his acquaintances if it helps him make a quick buck. Falco is a sleazy shell of a man.

“You’re dead, son. Get yourself buried.”

The author of this newspaper column, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), isn’t much better. Rather than ooze slime, Hunsecker uses his power and authority to bully his way through life. He has an ego the size of Texas, and he is especially intimidating to his younger, 19-year-old sister, Susan (Susan Harrison).

Sweet Smell of Success [1957]

“Everybody knows Manny Davis – except Mrs. Manny Davis.”

Susan is in a happy relationship with noted jazz guitarist, Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), and they have begun discussing the prospects of marriage. One problem: Susan desperately wants her brother’s approval, and Hunsecker is not ready to do so.

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

Instead, J.J. schemes with Falco to find a way to break up their romance. Falco, failing at this task much like everything else in his life, grows more and more desperate while aiming to please the very influential columnist. He tries selling “tips” to other gossip rags in an attempt to label Dallas as a “marijuana smoking commie.” What entails is an increasingly foul and dirty game of smearing, with both Falco and Hunsecker seemingly digging themselves deeper and deeper in their power plays.

Sweet Smell of Success [1957]

“Mr. Hunsecker, you’ve got more twists than a barrel of pretzels!”

Lancaster and Curtis are terrific in the lead roles, especially the latter. Curtis excels at portraying what is essentially the cesspool of humanity. Even when he is in the distant background during a few scenes, I found myself keeping an eye on him just to see if I could figure out what he had up his sleeve. The character of Falco never stops conniving and scheming his way to the top.

“My right hand hasn’t seen my left hand in thirty years.”

Sweet Smell of Success has some of the best dialogue I have seen in film. It is immensely quotable (as seen throughout this review), and it is a scathing attack on newspaper and print media. This is a film with horrible people doing horrible things, but damn if it isn’t entertaining.


Movie Project #5: Some Like It Hot [1959]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Some Like It Hot [1959]

Some Like It Hot [1959]
Director: Billy Wilder
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon
Runtime: 120 minutes

Nobody’s perfect.

In my last project, I watched two Billy Wilder classics: Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. I loved both and immediately wanted to see more of his work. While compiling this year’s edition, I was positive that I included two more of his films: The Apartment and Some Like It Hot. I watched The Apartment recently and it blew me away. I was all set to give my first 10/10 for a movie in this project but then I realized that I had mistakenly left it out! Somehow it got lost in the shuffle when I downsized the list to 25 and then bumped it back up to 50. Regardless, I made sure my next viewing was another Wilder film.

Some Like It Hot is quite different from The Apartment (or Double Indemnity or Sunset Boulevard, for that matter), as it is a total screwball comedy. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis star as Jerry and Joe, respectively, a couple of Chicago musicians who unwittingly become witnesses to the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929. Now on the run from the mob, the duo get the wild idea to dress up as women and take a gig with an all-girl band down in Florida. This is where they meet Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the lead singer of the band, and both instantly fall in love with her. It’s Joe (now Josephine) who gets the upper hand when Sugar visits him for a late night party, all while Jerry (now Daphne, previously Geraldine) is sleeping in the bunk below.

Upon arriving in Florida, the movie takes an interesting twist as the love subplots start to develop. Joe/Josephine poses as a different man, the alleged heir to Shell Oil, in order to win over Sugar and her love for money. Meanwhile, Jerry/Daphne is dealing with a legitimate millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), who is in love with the Daphne persona. Hijinx ensue, as there are so many different personalities at play, and our leading tandem are trying desperately not to blow their covers.

Jack Lemmon & Tony Curtis [Some Like It Hot - 1959]

In 2000, the American Film Institute dubbed Some Like It Hot to be the greatest American comedy of all time. Obviously this is a huge statement, but it also shows just how much comedies have changed over the years. Wilder’s film relies heavily on double entendres and dry one liners, a far cry from the types of toilet humor we are used to now. Even though cross dressing is a major plot point, the film doesn’t rely too heavily on this for laughs. I was a little worried that the movie was going to be a one-trick pony, but thankfully that isn’t the case. Sex is a central figure as well, but the jokes are brought about in a way that aren’t spelled out for us — a refreshing change, for sure.

This was the first movie I saw with Marilyn Monroe in a major role. I had previously seen her in The Asphalt Jungle, but her small un-credited appearance wasn’t enough for me to understand the fanaticism about her. Now I understand. Monroe, despite being notoriously difficult to work with, just oozes sex appeal as Sugar Kane. Just take a look at her solo performance singing “I Wanna Be Loved by You” as proof:

It’s easy to see why both Jerry and Joe are smitten with her.

It’s also easy to see why Some Like It Hot is held in such high regard, even today. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, and I am quickly becoming a fan of Jack Lemmon in particular, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is the greatest comedy of all time. I felt the film started to lose its luster once the Chicago gangsters reappeared (even though it was a treat to see George Raft again, as I had previously only seen him in The Glass Key), and it ran a little long for being a screwball comedy. Still, these are minor issues for what is another great title in Wilder’s diverse filmography. And who could ever forget the hilarious closing line?