Saturday, November 01, 2003

I finally saw Sweet Smell of Success. That's the one in which Burt Lancaster is a crazy self-obsessed columnist and Tony Curtis plays a publicity agent and his sometime stooge.
I'd heard a lot of positive things about this picture for a long time from people whose opinions I value, and as a consequence I looked forward to finally seeing Sweet Smell of Success for quite some time. It does have nice cinematography, and an engaging jazz score by Elmer Bernstein, but otherwise it was quite a dissapointment. You will see reviewers referring to the dialogue as "tart" and witty-- humbug.

Burt Lancaster tells Tony Curtis

"I wouldn't wanna take a bite out of you, you're a cookie full of arsenic."

a girl that Curtis pressures to have sex with an associate for his benefit tells him,

"I'm not a bowl of fruit; you can't just peel me like an orange any time you like."

And so on. After a certain point the cleverness, as opposed to the wit, of the writing reaches a level of oversaturation, and the constantly metaphorical dialogue becomes irritatingly arch, the mark of the writers showing off. It was (way over)written by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, who probably could've used collaborators other than one another, who might've reined in their excesses rather than magnify them. Odets is much better in the play Rocket to the Moon, which is more sentimental than witty, and Lehman's wit is better for being restrained in (Hitchcock's) North by Northwest. A friend once told me that he disliked American Beauty because by attacking the suburbs for being far less wholesome than they may wish to seem it was "shooting fish in a barrel", taking smug potshots at subject matter that's ripe for criticism. I haven't made up my mind what I
think of that critique of AB, but I see Sweet Smell of Success in much the same way-- it takes
snide, sophomoric easy shots at publicity peddlers-- what, are we supposed to be shocked to see
people in that millieu portrayed as back-stabbing and venal?