Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)

It’s obvious why J.J. Hunsecker is such a famous film character, nearly as much because of when he isn’t on screen as when he is. He’s not officially introduced until forever into the film, spoken about until then like this sexually ambiguous/incestuous/nonexistent gossip columnist is a fucking god or something, and then when he is introduced there’s a severe hard-lighting on his face so that he’s like Two-Face or something, and then for every scene he’s in after that every word that comes out of his mouth is like shit-flavored candy…and Burt Lancaster has top billing even though Tony Curtis might have twice as much screen time. In fact, pretty much all of the screenplay was like shit-flavored candy: sounded awfully pretty, but completely and utterly ridiculous and like nothing you would ever hear in the real world, even in 1957, I’m presuming, which is why I just wasn’t buying J.J. Hunsecker, and this movie in general. I guess some of the dynamics between Burt Lancaster’s Hunsecker and Tony Curtis’ Sidney Falco were kind of interesting in a sense of dueling degrees of depravity – Hunsecker the ice-cold monster, the Lucifer who thinks he’s able to manipulate the world around him and everyone in it just by twitching his finger, and Falco as Hunsecker’s lapdog, willing to do anything to please the man, a step below William Holden’s full-on jigolo-ing for Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. But that relationship was pretty much the only interesting part here (that, and the lovely visuals of bustling New York at night) – otherwise Lancaster is so ice-cold and emotionally sterile that it defeats the purpose of having an ice-cold and emotionally sterile anti-hero / villain, Susan Harrison is worthless and boring as Hunsecker’s sister, in what pretty much amounts to a poor man’s Scarface-esque brother/sister relationship, as is whoever played her boy-toy who’s the victim of Hunsecker’s jealous mudslinging. Speaking of, that whole scheme that Hunsecker hatches and Falco puts into motion like a hyperactive yes-man is convoluted to the point of being boring when you just lose all interest in following what the hell’s going on. Hunsecker and Falco had the potential to be great movie characters, but the only semblance of that potential that I could see was a skeletal philosophical framework of their bizarre master/servant, greed/greed-lite relationship, buried in a disappointing narrative that had me awfully tempted to check my e-mail and shit while I was watching (I resisted the urge).



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