Review: Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)


This film exemplifies many of the reasons why I hated my short stint doing publicity for a local gym!

Screenplay By: Ernest Lehman, Alexander Mackendrick & Clifford Odets
Directed By: Alexander Mackendrick

It was tough for me to get into Sweet Smell Of Success, because while I can recognize it is a well made film, it’s also incredibly overbearing in its presentation. There were times when the film gave me a headache, literally, because it was too much to take in at once. I can’t recall having experienced this with any other movie, so Sweet Smell Of Success is unique in that regard. I understand that it is cynical and pessimistic and I like that it takes that viewpoint, but it moves so fast and hits you so hard with that viewpoint that it is too much to take in at times. Some people will undoubtedly point to this as invalid criticism, but I believe there has to be a respite from the heartless maneuvering at some point. This ties into the main weakness of Sweet Smell Of Success.

Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis were great in their roles of the powerful and the leech craving power. Susan Harrison and Marty Milner were the opposite as the star crossed couple. While the leads were all power and motion, the lovers were weak and couldn’t provide the necessary contrast. Because they are so weak you never get that break from the power of the rest of the story and it does become monotonous.

I did enjoy the incestuous relationship between J.J. and Susan. That was handled nicely, and was creepy without crossing an unbelievable line until it was clear what J.J.’s intentions were at the end. I also loved the bleak ending. I know I just railed against the overbearing pessimism of the rest of the picture, but I did love that the ending kept in tone with the rest of the film. New York is captured nicely, it becomes almost another character in the movie. There was plenty to like about Sweet Smell Of Success, but that never ending tone of darkness and the powerful beating down the innocent was too much to take in. I don’t always feel that way, but in Sweet Smell Of Success it was just too much.

I know it sounds like I am dismissing Sweet Smell Of Success, but as I said it is a well made film. It’s subject matter is interesting and I happen to agree with its message and central themes. I hate to sound like a broken record, but it is the overbearing nature of its delivery that got to me and made it hard to get through at times. No doubt this will be different for other people and this is an anomaly for me that earmarks Sweet Smell Of Success as a film I will need to revisit at some point. Sweet Smell Of Success is certainly good enough to warrant a viewing, it is a flawed but well made film, even if it does bring back bad memories of my limited time in publicity.





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