2 posts categorized "FilmStruck"

May 11, 2020

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

Sweet Smell of SuccessAlexander Mackendrick (director of “The Ladykillers”) may have been of British descent, but his quick-paced 1957 sardonic drama — about the symbiotic relationship between a decadent Manhattan newspaper showbiz columnist and a hungry press agent — captures America’s indulgence in greed, corruption, and aggression like none other. Drawing on the noir style and subject matter of Billy Wilder’s perfect “Ace in the Hole” (1952) “black political drama” would be a suitable moniker for the dark pitch of cynical social satire that “Sweet Smell of Success” examines, rather than the “film noir” attribution that it frequently attracts. Here lies the defective foundation of the American Dream as viewed from an American viewpoint (Burt Lancaster’s company produced the film).

Sweet smell

The story takes place during a day and a half in the life of its New York City characters. Fey toady press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is in the doghouse with his Walter Winchell-type gossip columnist mentor-and-abuser JJ Hunsecker (emphasis on the second “J”). Mackendrick’s ravenous camera moves through Manhattan’s late '50s Broadway theater district on a nocturnal quest for truth.

Sweetsmellsuccess

According to JJ, the frequently groveling Sidney is not responding quickly enough to JJ’s orders to rev up the rumor mill to break up a hot romance brewing between Hunsecker’s adult sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and a bland jazz guitarist named Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Steve Dallas isn’t exactly the next Tal Farlow on guitar, but he’s earned Susan’s romantic devotion. JJ wants to shut the whole thing down with a smear-job on Steve Dallas that sticks. “Communist” is a convenient accusation. JJ’s incestuous emotions seethe in his sexually impotent [or bound] mind. Sidney is working through an imagined apprenticeship with JJ that he hopes will eventually lead to his mentor’s place. The latent homosexual dominant/submissive subtext that exists between the two men underscores JJ’s impotent but nonetheless incestuous desires for his sister. Trouble in mind; trouble in action.

Lancaster_sweet-smell-of-success

Neither man has an ounce of ethics but both fake morals to mask their true devotion — to power and money. Sidney calls everybody “baby” or “sweetheart” to get what he wants for his master. He sees though JJ regardless of how beholden to him he is. Sidney tells his de facto boss, “JJ, you’ve got such contempt for people it makes you stupid.”

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Based on a novella by former press agent Ernest Lehman (“Sabrina”) and adapted by Clifford Odets, the great leftist poet of Harold Clurman Group Theatre — “Sweet Smell of Success” exists in a self-loathing urban bourgeois stratosphere where a gossip columnist like JJ Hunsecker can make or break a career depending on whether or not he mentioned it in his column.

SweetSmell

Burt Lancaster’s JJ Hunsecker is a nasty master manipulator, but he doesn’t know his limits — and he doesn’t care because he’s been rewarded so much and so long for his ruthless tactics. He’s irresponsible. JJ’s capacious power has blinded everyone, including him. Still, his days are numbered.

Cocosse | Journal: Flick Review < Sweet Smell of Success | Alexander  Mackendrick (1957)

Neither the antagonist (JJ) nor the film’s (purposefully) falsely represented protagonist (Sidney) has any redeeming traits. They suffer ongoing degrees of retribution, but each will carry on in the prescribed despicable methods to which each is accustomed.

Sweet smell

“Sweet Smell of Success” flopped at the box office. It is in Time Magazine’s list as one of the top movies of all time.

Not Rated. 96 mins.

5 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

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March 20, 2018

PORTRAIT OF JASON — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Portrait-of-JasonShirley Clarke’s 1967 cinéma vérité masterpiece remains a scathing social and character study of race in America for the enigmatic quality of its unreliable subject, Jason Holliday (nee Aaron Payne, 1924-1998).

Filmed in her Chelsea Hotel penthouse apartment on a cold winter night over a 12-hour period, from 9 pm to 9 am, Clarke uses out-of-focus segues to interview Jason, a gay African-American hustler as he talks about his troubled life and uncertain future. Jason Holliday is nothing if not a performer, and a tragic figure for the ages. 

Jason

Jason is at once candid, guarded, jovial, sad, articulate, affected, and presentational as he tells of working on a cabaret act, that we the audience may be witnessing excerpts from. The movie lights up when he breaks into song. He is talented.

Clarke and her partner (actor Carl Lee — “Super Fly”) goad Jason from off-camera, peppering him with questions or prompting him to tell specific stories from his troubled past.

Portrait1

Jason tells of hustling all of his life to avoid the 9 to 5 grind. His involuntary laugh is constant. Infectious as it is revealing of the deep sadness he carries with him, it is Jason’s laughter that keeps you on pins and needles. You can sense him wanting to cry throughout the interview, but he lets the sound of his own laughter carry him through edifying stories about working for rich white folk as a “house boy” or talking to prying psychiatrists about his sex life.

“I’m a stone whore, and I’m not ashamed of it.”

Portrait3

Jason drinks a cocktail while standing in front of a fireplace mantle, wearing stylish coke-bottle glasses that magnify his heavy-lidded squint. His Oxford shirt’s collar is unbuttoned so that the collar falls over the lapel of a dark blazer, giving him the appearance of a black James Dean whose better survival skills have given him passage in upper class white culture. He may be stoned from drink and pot, but his speech is never slurred. His word choice is rarely less than erudite. The stories he tells of his interactions with Miles Davis ring with anecdotal truth, especially a funny one involving the drummer Philly Jo Jones.

Portrait of Jason (1967) - Covering Media

How much of Jason’s stories are real or fiction never comes into question because the force of his being is so convincing. So whether Jason’s sly delivery is merely a persuasive form of carefully constructed editorial narrative or not, doesn’t matter; there is too much intrinsic truth in every word he utters with damaged conviction and regret.   

Portrait2

Aaron Payne studied acting at the Actor’s Workshop in Hollywood under Charles Laughton before studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He recorded a comedy album that was released in 2007.

Cinema '67 Revisited: Portrait of Jason

Not rated. 105 mins. Five Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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