Sweet Smell of Success Movie Review

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Sweet Smell of Success

Communications 225 - Task 3

James Spencer

February 14, 2009

Sweet Smell of Success

Communications 225 - Task 3

Task 3 will be based upon Chapter 5 in Joe Boggs book, "The Art of Watching Films", and the film, Sweet Smell of Success. Chapter 5 in "The Art of Watching Films" goes over a variety of different subjects which include Cinematography, The Importance of the Visual Image, The Cinematic Film, Cinematic Points of View, Elements of Cinematic Composition, and Techniques for Specialized Visual Effects. I found the sections on the importance of visual image and cinematic points of view to be both most intriguing and relevant to the film Sweet Smell of Success.

Before I analysis the movie in connection with the chapter I am going to provide a brief analysis of the film. Sweet Smell of Success is a 1957 American film noir made available by Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions and released by United Artists.

The film was a total box office failure and the only reason I heard about it was because my roommate is a film and video major. According to filmsite.org it was directed by Alexander Mackendrick and included Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis as its primary stars. The story goes basically like this, Sidney Falco - Curtis has not been able to get J.J. Hunsecker's (Lancaster) a newspaper writer to write about one of his clients because he (Curtis) has not been able to break up the relationship between Hunsecker's younger sister Susan - Harrison and Steve Dallas - Milner, a guy in a jazz band. Falco decided to start rumors about Dallas. He was trying to make Dallas look like a dope smoking communist. The plan works, in a way, it leads to Dallas insulting Hunsecker. Susan then breaks up with Dallas to keep him safe from him from her brother. Hunsecker decided to not leave anything to up in the air and break up his sister for sure. So against Falco's opinion, he tells Falco to put drugs on Milner then have him arrested and beat down.

Falco is then called to Hunsecker's apartment to find Susan about to try and kill herself. He saves her just as her brother walks in but it turns out to be bad because Hunsecker, thinks Falco is trying to rape Susan. In a huge confrontation with Hunsecker, Falco says in front of Susan that her brother had told him to make Dallas look like an idiot. Hunsecker tells the police to arrest Falco for planting the reefer on Dallas which he told him to do. Susan then admits she tried to commit suicide and walks out on her brother. She tells Hunsecker that she does not hate him but just pities him. Falco is arrested and Hunsecker loses Susan.

The visual image factor of this movie was done very nicely. Film noir is a very different style that became very popular after WWII. Hollywood's film noir period is generally regarded as reaching from the 1940s to the late 1950s. According the filmsite.org, film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in Expressionist cinematography. Many of the classic stories and much of the approach of classic noir are stemmed from the school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Depression. This holds true to the Sweet Smell of Success due to the plot. Film noir is also popular for its use of "Dutch angles, low-angle shots, and wide-angle lenses." Other devices of bewilderment comparatively common in film noir are shots of people reflected in one or more mirrors, shots through curved or frosted glass or other distorting objects and special effects set ups of a sometimes weird nature. This particular film Sweet Smell of Success holds true to most of these standards and is very creative in visual imagery due it being filmed in the late 1950's.

In addition, film noirs a lot of times had unusually elaborate story lines, these story lines habitually involving flashbacks, flash forwards, and other techniques that were cheap. Voiceover narration was mainly done by the protagonist, less frequently by a secondary character or by an unseen narrator dude.

Sweet Smell of Success used many different and common cinematic techniques that allowed for it to develop into the excellent film that it is today. There were many common links between this film and the others we have discussed in class. One such familiarity is the brother's creepy obsession with his sister. She is a borderline fem-fatal but because nobody died it is hard to label her that. Furthermore, the common man going about his business that experiences a enormous downfall which was definitely present during this film. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and chapter 5 in our text. Although it was a flop when it first came out, this film noir is now considered a classic.

Works Cited

Boggs, Joe. The Art of Watching Films. 6th ed. 2000

Filmsite.org. 19 Jan. 2000. AMC. 19 Feb. 2009 <http://www.filmsite.org/>

Sweet Smell of Success. Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions 1957