Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)

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This pitch black-hearted Noir was something of a flop on its release and it’s not difficult to see why. Not through lack of quality, but rather the fact that its unrelenting cynicism and bleak outlook is certainly not for the fainthearted.

Tony Curtis turns in easily his best performance as Sidney Falco, an obsequious press agent who is perfectly willing to sell his soul to get on top, and Burt Lancaster is similarly superb, brilliantly cast against type as a cold-hearted tyrant – even describing an attack on his character as an attack on his country, the cry of despots throughout the ages – who controls all around him through contemptible manipulation. The core of the film is the creepily ambiguous relationship between he and his sister; at one point he refers to her “apron strings”, an allusion to motherhood, but he also keeps a portrait on his desk as one would a spouse or lover. It is unusual in that instead of fists and bullets, all the damage is done through words and insinuations; the razor sharp dialogue is amongst the best ever written for the screen and the magnificent photography represents the city streets as blackly as the protagonists’ hearts.

The package is completed by a soundtrack of fantastic contemporary jazz and the overall result is one of the pinnacles of Film Noir.

8/10

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