Falling for film noir

2 May

I am by no means a film buff but I do appreciate a good film.  Gone are the days when I would go to the cinema to watch any old rubbish (Hot Tub Time Machine, anyone?!), just for the ‘experience.’  Time is too precious to watch bad films (or read tedious books, for that matter) so I usually go and watch a film because the synopsis has drawn me in or I think the director is particularly talented.

At the end of last year, a friend and I found ourselves in a lovely independent cinema in Edinburgh, watching the 1957 film noir classic, ‘Sweet Smell of Success.’  We chose this out of all the other  films that were screening as there is something universally comforting about watching a black and white film on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  The film definitely did not disappoint.

I had watched some film noir before and liked the stylistic cinematography and the melancholic and cynical themes that the genre frequently explores.  The sharp dialogue sometimes takes a little time for you to properly adjust to but once I did, I found myself thoroughly immersed in the quick-talking, fast-paced world.  On perhaps a more superficial note, the sharp and glamorous outfits add an exciting dimension to the production and I found myself lusting after Susan Hunsecker’s fur coat the entire way through.

sweet smell

‘Sweet Smell of Success’ had me hooked from the start with its exploration of corruption, intimidation, manipulation and dysfunctional sibling relationships.  The plot, in simple terms, revolves around Tony Curtis’ character who is a smarmy press agent and will do anything to curry big-shot columnist Hunsecker’s favour (played by Burt Lancaster).  While Curtis’ character is corrupt and in many ways unlikeable, Hunsecker is the ultimate villain, whose overprotective and obsessive behaviour towards his sister manifests in trying to destroy her relationship with her boyfriend (Steve Dallas).  Curtis is so desperate to get his clients in Hunsecker’s column that he becomes embroiled in a plot to shame and oust Steve Dallas, which ultimately leads to his own downfall.

Tony Curtis is brilliant as a charismatic cunning press agent. Apparently, though, fans of Curtis did not like his departure from the ‘nice guy’ character he had played so many times before – not unusual, of course; change is always met with resistance – which meant that his performance was initially not well received at the preview screening of the film.  Burt Lancaster’s performance as the bullying and intimidating columnist, Hunsecker, was also brilliant – Hunsecker was both convincing and terrifying.

Thankfully, though,  ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ gained in popularity and acclaim over the years as people were able to appreciate it for the stylish and ingenuous insight into the power held by the Manhattan press.

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