Tonight I watched the movie Sweet Smell of Success, directed by Alexander Mackendrick in 1957. The movie is about J.J., a Broadway columnist for a newspaper, and Sidney Falco, a struggling press agent. J.J. convinces him to break up an affair that he disapproves of, one between J.J.'s sister and a musician. The strange relationships that build this film are really fascinating to watch, be it the odd one between J.J. and Falco, or J.J. and his sister.
The movie focuses so much on tiny details of the characters, which makes them so realistic and multi-dimensional. Ebert mentions a scene where we see the men go out together. Sidney leaves without his coat or hat, so he doesn't have to tip. J.J. leaves with his, but doesn't tip anyway. We can see and learn a lot about the two characters just from this scene. Sidney is more timid and submissive - he wants to avoid conflict and confrontation. He doesn't want to deal with the awkwardness of not tipping so he just avoids the situation altogether. J.J. is more aggressive and dominant. He doesn't care if people see him not tip, or if it upsets anyone. He just does what he wants, and it doesn't matter so much if he appears to be a bad person. It's really cool to see a movie just show us little bits of character like this instead of make it so blunt and obvious all the time.
The script for this film is so quotable and well-written. Lines are incredibly memorable, because of their style and wit, and because of the characters that deliver them. The script was so great that Wikipedia says that Barry Levinson, in his film Diner, has a character that just simply says lines from this film. I saw Diner a bit back, but I had no idea about that. I was really impressed by the skilled writing, but it was nice to see that other directors liked it as well. Ebert seems to be on the same page - much of his essay is quotes from the film, because it's hard to avoid. I'm not quoting for two reasons: I'm too tired to cite anything, and you can read a ton of great ones in Ebert's essay.
I am seriously nodding off as I write this. I feel bad not saying more about this great film but alas, I need some rest really badly. Sweet Smell of Success is a great little film - it's not too long, but it's so memorable. I sort of love this about my Ebert project. Sometimes it's easy to associate long movies with greatness. There is a bit of a trend toward this. However, there are a lot of movies I've watched now that are shorter that show that you can write well and have beautiful cinematography and keep your script at or under 90 pages. Sometimes being able to keep your writing short and concise is harder than a long rambling script, and I love that Ebert showcases shorter films that show this. It was also really cool to watch this after Some Like It Hot, to see Tony Curtis' huge range of acting skills. Very impressive! Let me know if you check this out!
Have any of you seen Sweet Smell of Success? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie essay on Sweet Smell of Success