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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 2:03 pm 
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Sweet Smell of Success

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In Alexander Mackendrick’s swift, cynical Sweet Smell of Success, Burt Lancaster stars as barbaric Broadway gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker, and Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, the unprincipled press agent he ropes into smearing the up-and-coming jazz musician romancing his beloved sister. Featuring deliciously unsavory dialogue in an acid, brilliantly structured script by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman and noirish neon cityscapes from Oscar-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe, Sweet Smell of Success is a cracklingly cruel dispatch from the kill-or-be-killed wilds of 1950s Manhattan.

Disc Features

- New, restored high-definition digital transfer (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
- New audio commentary by film scholar James Naremore
- Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, a 1986 documentary featuring interviews with director Alexander Mackendrick, actor Burt Lancaster, producer James Hill, and more
- James Wong Howe: Cinematographer, a 1973 documentary about the Oscar-winning director of photography, featuring lighting tutorials with Howe
- New video interview with film critic and historian Neil Gabler (Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity) about legendary columnist Walter Winchell, inspiration for the character J. J. Hunsecker
- New video interview with filmmaker James Mangold about Mackendrick, his instructor and mentor
- Original theatrical trailer
- PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Gary Giddins, two short stories by Ernest Lehman featuring the characters from the film, notes about the film by Lehman, and an excerpt from Mackendrick’s book On Film-making

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 9:08 pm 

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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
I ran across a really good, in-depth look at this movie a few days ago (available here) and I decided to watch it again. It got me thinking about how great this movie is. The term, "ahead of its time" gets bandied about a lot but this film really was. I think it was just acerbic and too close to the bone for its time and resulted it in its poor box office (despite two big name actors as its stars).

There is so much to love about this film. There's James Wong Howe's stunning black and white cinematography that is so moody and atmospheric. New York City has never looked so dark and foreboding, IMO. Howe's camerawork gives the film a textured look. Not to mention it is fascinating just to see a New York City that doesn't exist anymore. Watching this film is like stepping into a time machine in some respects.

And then you've got Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman screenplay which has some of the most insanely quotable dialogue that has its own fantastic rhythm and that crackles and pops with intensity as the various characters spar verbally with each other. This movie has to have had a profound influence on David Mamet. Glengarry Glen Ross always makes me think of Sweet Smell of Success. (Oliver Stone has said that a lot of Wall Street was inspired by this movie and in fact, there's a scene between Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen that takes place in the same restaurant where we first meet Burt Lancaster's J.J. Hunsecker)

It also doesn't hurt that you've got Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster speaking all of this great dialogue. Both were huge stars at the time and cast themselves against type in this movie. Curtis is so good as the slimy agent who'll do anything to get his clients promoted and climb the social ladder. And this puts him at odds with the most powerful columnist in the city--J.J. Hunsecker, a man who can kill careers with a few words and it is this power that makes him such a dangerous person.

Anyways, I really dig this movie and it was a lot of fun to revisit again after having not seen it for a couple of years.

"Cat's in the bag. Bag's in the river."

Be sure to get ahold of the recently published Alexander MacKendrick on Filmmaking (Faber & Faber). It's a compilation of his lectures in which he goes into Sweet Smell of Success in considerable detail, showing precisely what Odets did to alter and improve Lehman's original script. All the lines we love are pure Odets. Lines like --

"I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic."

and my all-time fave--

"Come here, Sidney. I want to chastise you."


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 9:38 pm 
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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
There's James Wong Howe's stunning black and white cinematography that is so moody and atmospheric. New York City has never looked so dark and foreboding, IMO. Howe's camerawork gives the film a textured look. Not to mention it is fascinating just to see a New York City that doesn't exist anymore. Watching this film is like stepping into a time machine in some respects.

Any film shot in NYC around that time, or earlier (or even later) is great to watch, for that very reason. It's one of the big draws of old films, for me. To see something that's irretrievably gone.

Quote:
And then you've got Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman screenplay which has some of the most insanely quotable dialogue that has its own fantastic rhythm and that crackles and pops with intensity as the various characters spar verbally with each other.

I love that non blinking kid in Diner, who just goes around randomly regurgitating the whole script. When I finally got around to seeing it, that "Someday, you might want to be President..." speech brought an extra smile to my face.

My favorite line? Milner's "When he dies...do you think he'll go to the Dog & Cat Heaven?"

Quote:
It also doesn't hurt that you've got Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster speaking all of this great dialogue.

Lancaster is just a god, one of the real greats of American cinema and Curtis is insanely underrated. Compelling, magnetic, kinetic...just a fabulous actor, especially here.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 14, 2006 1:53 am 
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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
There is so much to love about this film. There's James Wong Howe's stunning black and white cinematography that is so moody and atmospheric. New York City has never looked so dark and foreboding, IMO. Howe's camerawork gives the film a textured look. Not to mention it is fascinating just to see a New York City that doesn't exist anymore. Watching this film is like stepping into a time machine in some respects.

"If you feel nervous Sydney I can--"

"And what-- open up your meaty arms and....?"

Oh god I could talk forever & ever & ever about this film. Has to be one of the top 3 best scripts ever written. I talk till I'm blue in the face about this film to people I know.

"You know, sometimes I think you think we live in Starbright Park.... THIS IS LIFE: GET USED TO IT..."

The only script flaw I've found thru my ten zillion viewings is the hard-boiled NY fast-talkerism "I'm not peddling any fish today," being also put in the mouth of Steve Dallas with "That's fish four day's old-- I won't buy it." Just my opinion but I think it's a (completely unimportant, very slight) goof in cross-character development.

I could also rhapsodise forever about the NYC of yesterday. So much of the look of that NYC was on it's last legs in the 70's & early 80's when I was in H.S. I watched it all get gentrified & renovated away before my eyes.

I'm glad I'm not the only nutjob who loves watching old NY films just to stare at the city... TAXI DRIVER, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, so many noirs i e NAKED CITY, KISS OF DEATH, HOUSE ON 92 ST, etc. Therefore, all, don't miss the UNSEEN CINEMA pack with the PICTURING A CITY disc (the only disc sold individually from the box), focusing on great images of NYC from the silent era forward. Also don't miss Mamoulian's APPLAUSE, Walsh's REGENERATION, the EDISON Box Set... all from Kino, coincidentally... for very old images of NY

James Wong Howe-- Mr Low Key. Interesting deal with him-- much underdiscussed among "public cineastes" (for wont of a better phrase for 'film buff'), endlessly discussed & worshipped among industry folk & actual cinematographers. You just could not set a better, more humble, follow-in-his-footsteps positive example for yourself (if you're one of those folks who does that kinda thing) than this guy. From silent classics like 24's PETER PAN & LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH to Mark of the Vampire all the way thru BODY & SOUL and on to the next & next era with work on pictures like HUD. What a career-- so long & consistently admirable... amazing that he was granted such hi-prestige work during a (early 20's) period of such bigotry vs Chinese... his calling himself Jimmie Howe obviously wasn't fooling anyone in the studio as to his ethnicity; just a fantastic photographer getting fantastic projects because he's a fantastic photographer.

Just watched a band called Seether on Leno... could they sound any more like Nirvana?


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2006 3:22 am 
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I'm that way with any number of cities, really. I will watch almost any film set in San Francisco or New Orleans (with a bitter edge, now) as well as New York.

Hell, 20% of the fun of watching westerns, for me, is looking at the sky and the land...


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 10:22 am 
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David Ehrenstein wrote:
Be sure to get ahold of the recently published Alexander MacKendrick on Filmmaking (Faber & Faber). It's a compilation of his lectures in which he goes into Sweet Smell of Success in considerable detail, showing precisely what Odets did to alter and improve Lehman's original script.

I have the book Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick which has quite a substantial chapter on Sweet Smell. Have you read it and if so how does it compare to the Faber & Faber book?

Polybius wrote:
Any film shot in NYC around that time, or earlier (or even later) is great to watch, for that very reason. It's one of the big draws of old films, for me. To see something that's irretrievably gone.

How true. That's what I love about watching those old noirs shot on location, like Kiss of Death. You get to see NYC back in the day and its amazing to see how much the skyline has changed over the years.

Quote:
I love that non blinking kid in Diner, who just goes around randomly regurgitating the whole script. When I finally got around to seeing it, that "Someday, you might want to be President..." speech brought an extra smile to my face.

Heh! Yes, that is a wonderful little homage to the film.

Quote:
Lancaster is just a god, one of the real greats of American cinema and Curtis is insanely underrated. Compelling, magnetic, kinetic...just a fabulous actor, especially here.

And so versatile too. I mean, in Sweet Smell he plays such a nasty guy and then you watch something like Atlantic City and he conveys such warmth and compassion.

HerrSchreck wrote:
I could also rhapsodise forever about the NYC of yesterday. So much of the look of that NYC was on it's last legs in the 70's & early 80's when I was in H.S. I watched it all get gentrified & renovated away before my eyes.

I'm glad I'm not the only nutjob who loves watching old NY films just to stare at the city... TAXI DRIVER, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, so many noirs i e NAKED CITY, KISS OF DEATH, HOUSE ON 92 ST, etc. Therefore, all, don't miss the UNSEEN CINEMA pack with the PICTURING A CITY disc (the only disc sold individually from the box), focusing on great images of NYC from the silent era forward. Also don't miss Mamoulian's APPLAUSE, Walsh's REGENERATION, the EDISON Box Set... all from Kino, coincidentally... for very old images of NY.

Oddly, enough a film that, for me, evokes such a specific period in time in NYC is The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three. I was watching it again recently and just the way people dress, the way they talk and the grunginess of the streets is so fascinating to watch. The time I lived there (a few years ago) I was amazed at how clean it was. And, of course, Woody Allen's films are always nice snap shots of the city.

As for some of my fave lines from Sweet Smell...

"You're dead, son. Get yourself buried."

"Watch me run a 50-yard dash with my legs cut off!"

and "Everybody knows Manny Davis except for Mrs. Manny Davis."


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 11:24 am 

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Quote:
I have the book Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick which has quite a substantial chapter on Sweet Smell. Have you read it and if so how does it compare to the Faber & Faber book?

Not familiar with it. Thanks for th "heads-up."


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 9:07 am 
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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
Oddly, enough a film that, for me, evokes such a specific period in time in NYC is The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three. I was watching it again recently and just the way people dress, the way they talk and the grunginess of the streets is so fascinating to watch. The time I lived there (a few years ago) I was amazed at how clean it was. ."

PELHAM 123! How could I forget. My old pan & scan VHS has been worn into the ground, and I saw it as a kid when the thing came out. I've been riding the 6 daily as my primary subway since I was a baby. That script is very SWEET SMELL-like, with the sparkling dialog & endless rips via old NYC schmeckers.

And of course, let's not forget SPEEDY. Talk about a NYC symphony-- this must win em all. Taking the camera down into the subway, to a Yankee game, chases across the city, to Coney, etc etc. Harold LLoyd's crew were the original kings of Location Shooting.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 3:19 pm 
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HerrSchreck wrote:
PELHAM 123! How could I forget. My old pan & scan VHS has been worn into the ground, and I saw it as a kid when the thing came out.

This has since been released in widescreen DVD, no?


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 4:30 pm 
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jesus the mexican boi wrote:
HerrSchreck wrote:
PELHAM 123! How could I forget. My old pan & scan VHS has been worn into the ground, and I saw it as a kid when the thing came out.

This has since been released in widescreen DVD, no?

Without doubt. It's a slow rotation-- that careful process choosing what to upgrade to DVD, when you've been buying shit on home video for decades. So much silent & foreign material is coming out which was previously unavailable (or available only thru trades of TV broadcasts or tapes of home collectors projecting 16mm against their kitchen wall) that every week there's something pre-empting non-critical upgrades. You get put in the position of asking: expand or upgrade? Only with Kino's release of SCARLET STREET did I decide that the best DVD we'd probably see for the foreseeable future had arrived, whereby I upgraded from a VHS which was 22 years old (again, I'm not 99 years old like many of you folks thought... only 38).

What I tend to do is operate according to priorities... 1) acquire previously unavailable material, then 2) upgrade from degraded elements/transfers to restored elements/transfers (ie old Czech GHOUL vs. new MGM-Carlton GHOUL dvd, or old hardly visible WAXWORKS vs. Kinos new, or anything by Mizoguchi or Bresson).

VHS's released by the film's original studio from premium elements using a non-brain-dead telecine operator are the next question: if they're NOT no brainer masterpieces, the films that are very visually oriented or are in an extreme OAR (where you're missing 33 to even almost 50 % of the film in the 1.33 - 1 reduction in pan & scan telecine) are the next priority on deck for DVD upgrade during dead release weeks. After that are films like PELHAM, which are more performance & script & action-driven, where, with a decent studio-produced VHS, despite the loss of cripsness & OAR, you don't feel as though you're missing as much as you do, say, when watching RUBLEV or KWAIDAN in a pan & scan VHS. Not that I'm proud I only own the VHS on this great title. It's just a situation you find yourself in. Will I upgrade every single film I've acquired over my life because it's arrived on DVD? Of course not. Under ideal conditions-- or if I had limitless income (and for heaven's sake I already spend hundreds every month minimum... I think I broke a thousand over the past few weeks & Jan aint over yet)-- I'd chuck all my VHS's and upgrade em all on DVD. Plus, everything I had on VHS would be available on DVD... ie Duvivier's LE GOLEM, Mamoulian's CITY STREETS, Mann's SIDE STREET as well as THE BLACK BOOK, Pabsts A MODERN HERO, Karl Freund's MAD LOVE, Paul Leni's BACKSTAIRS & THE LAST WARNING, Hathaway's PETER IBBETSON, DuPon'ts VARIETE', STREET ANGEL by Borzage... Tex Avery's MGM's... and many more on VHS dupes taken from other private collections, sourced from "somewhere".

It's a problem this generation of collectors will perhaps find itself in, depending on the consumer response to Blu_ray/HDDVD.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 10:23 am 
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HerrSchreck wrote:
PELHAM 123! How could I forget. My old pan & scan VHS has been worn into the ground, and I saw it as a kid when the thing came out. I've been riding the 6 daily as my primary subway since I was a baby. That script is very SWEET SMELL-like, with the sparkling dialog & endless rips via old NYC schmeckers.

Yeah! Plus, you gotta love Walter Matthau in grumpy mode taking a bunch of Japanese tourists on a tour of the NYC subway system... And then you've got character actors Jerry Stiller, Lee Wallace and Dick O'Neill... great stuff.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 1:47 pm 
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Ummm... HerrShreck,

Perhaps I misunderstood, but isn't Henry Hathaway's Peter Ibbetson available in Universal's Gary Cooper Franchise Collection? Just thought I'd point it out, and I AM NOT trying to get you to crack a thousand this month!


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 7:55 pm 
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Fletch F. Fletch wrote:
Yeah! Plus, you gotta love Walter Matthau in grumpy mode taking a bunch of Japanese tourists on a tour of the NYC subway system... And then you've got character actors Jerry Stiller, Lee Wallace and Dick O'Neill... great stuff.

Just the NYPD alone in that movie is a character actor fest. Kenneth McMillian and Julius Harris, immortal portrayer of Tee Hee in Live and Let Die, chief among them.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2006 9:41 am 
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carax09 wrote:
Perhaps I misunderstood, but isn't Henry Hathaway's Peter Ibbetson available in Universal's Gary Cooper Franchise Collection? Just thought I'd point it out, and I AM NOT trying to get you to crack a thousand this month!

Dammit, kid... and I was sleeping so peacefully..

Like the Purloined Letter. Right under the nostrils.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2006 10:43 am 
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Whaddya mean "kid"? I'm thirty eight too! Pretty soon we'll be fighting for the remote in the lounge of the Sunnyvale Retirement Community.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 18, 2008 9:31 am 
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FilmInFocus reprints an excerpt from Mackendrick's book of writings and essays about the screenwriting process for the film.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 4:21 pm 
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Announced


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 4:41 pm 
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The Naremore commentary and Lehman notes piqued my interest. Has anyone read the Lehman short stories?


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 4:46 pm 
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Gotta love that spine number assignment--both 555 SSS and the 555 telephone prefix's association with the facade of Hollywood.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 4:54 pm 
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Not to mention $$$.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 5:48 pm 
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I might blind buy this.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 5:54 pm 
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No, go watch it right now

Surprised the features are so Mackendrick-heavy and so light on the stars-- I feel like lately Criterion are getting into a rut of not realizing how essential the stars were to these Hollywood films (see: Mitchum, etc) and the absence is pretty puzzling. That James Wong Howe special sounds *amazing* though


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 5:58 pm 
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haha. I will try to over the holiday since Netflix does have a copy.

About this:
Quote:
the kill-or-be-killed wilds of 1950s Manhattan.

Did this utilize location shooting in the City.. or was it shot in the back lots of Hollywood?


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 6:02 pm 
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Shot on location in Manhattan, and the city is on full-display throughout.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 6:49 pm 

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domino harvey wrote:
Surprised the features are so Mackendrick-heavy and so light on the stars-- I feel like lately Criterion are getting into a rut of not realizing how essential the stars were to these Hollywood films (see: Mitchum, etc) and the absence is pretty puzzling.

I don't think they necessarily don't realize the importance of stars as much as their supplements tend to focus more on elements of the film that aren't quite as obvious or written about (just as an example, the Walkabout disc has the hour long doc about David Gulpilil, hardly a famous actor). Also, the big stars tend to get docs about them which often end up as extras on big studio special edition DVDs (although they may be of inferior quality to what Criterion might produce). A great doc on Tony Curtis would most certainly be welcome, but it doesn't surprise me at all that the supplements seems to be more focused on MacKendrick and Howe. I, for one, prefer the focus to be on the more unsung contributors to these films; illuminating lesser known corners of film history, as it were.

I can't wait for this disc. Sweet Smell is one of the few movies I could describe as perfect (although such a thing is hard to quantify). That dude from Diner is gonna flip his wig when he finds out Criterion is putting this out.


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