I couldn’t resist having this be the last one of mine, what with the appropriate title and all. Good thing the film itself was also one of the best noirs I’ve seen in the longest time; it made my decision to save this for last all the more worth it. Sweet Smell of Success would seem to be a simple film going into it; a story about the dirty underworld of the press of New York as it goes about its business being the dirty underworld of New York. Now, sure, it doesn’t seem like the typical noir, with its lack of femme fatales and hard-nosed detectives, but one glance at this film and one finds a complete lack of a better word to describe it. This is a noir, dark and seedy, with characters the likes of which you’d gladly cross the street to avoid them so much as looking at you, and it couldn’t be more glorious to watch.
Burt Lancaster gives a powerhouse turn as J.J. Hunsecker, the biggest, meanest, hardest newsman-slash-gossip-columnist this side of Charles Foster Kane. One of his toadies is press agent Sidney Falco, played by Tony Curtis, who at the start of the film has been hard at work trying to break up the couple of Hunsecker’s younger sister Susan and an up-and-coming jazz guitarist named Steve Dallas, on Hunsecker’s orders. He eventually hatches a scheme to run a smear column on Dallas, which gets Dallas in front of Hunsecker himself, and after running his mouth at the man, the demure Susan sides with her brother and breaks it off to protect Steve. All would seem to be working out, except Hunsecker refuses to let the boy’s insults slide, and is determined to ruin the boy for good, a vendetta that, of course, threatens to drag everyone else down into the pit as well. Where The Long Goodbye was all about 1970s Los Angeles, this one is absolutely filled to the brim with 1950s New York City. Damn near every exterior shot has a massive amount of the hustle and bustle of the New York skyline and nightlife behind it, so much so you almost feel like you’re drowning in it. But the film is a lot more than just a huge production value; it has a sophistication about it that puts it years beyond its release date. Everything right down to the tiniest details of every shot is carefully measured and constructed, either by the director Alexander Mackendrick or by the script, which offers one of the sharpest noir thrillers in Hollywood history up to that point to just the right people who know how to bring the most out of it. Truly, the filmmaking team behind this one knew what the heck they were doing, and it shows in every frame of this picture.
Man, am I glad I did save this for last. This was by and far one of the best sendoffs I could’ve hoped the list would give me. Actually, amusingly enough, this was so good it had me hungry for more, and I might consider partaking in some more noirs I can find on YouTube or if they come around on TCM. That’s probably the best compliment I can give this film, along with a solid recommendation to see it if you ever get the chance. Everyone involved, in front of the camera or behind it, have never done better work than this film right here, and it shows in the best of ways. Whether you save this for last on your own quest, or otherwise watch it sooner rather than later, is up to you; I won’t begrudge either way you decide it, as long as you do eventually get to this one. It is really worth it.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10