Sweet Smell of Success par A.H. Weiler

Sweet Smell of Success par A.H. Weiler

28 juin 1957. Un réalisateur qui s’attaque aux jeunes loups et aux magnats de la presse ? Voilà qui peut être intéressant. Encore faut-il que le réalisateur ait le courage de s’attaquer à cette si puissante corporation. Le passant cinéphile est curieux et se laisse tenter par ce casting de choix composé de Burt Lancaster et Tony Curtis. Ce soir, ce sera donc Sweet Smell of Success.

Critique d’époque :

« The frenetic and often sordid machinations of a power-mad Broadway columnist, the unprincipled press agent who is his hatchet man and the avid coterie that surrounds them are savagely dissected in Sweet Smell of Success, which came to Loew’s State yesterday.

It is not a towering, universal theme the producers have developed in their indictment of this small, special segment of society operating in a tiny domain known intimately only to the cognoscenti. But pulsating dialogue, brisk direction, good performances and photography that captures the sights and sounds of Manhattan’s Bistro Belt make the meanness of this singular « success » story fascinating a good part of the way.

The adaptation by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman of the latter’s fiction has caught the mannerisms and the language of the hustling guys and dolls in search of power, fame and a fast buck. But the basic motivation of J. J. Hunsecker, the columnist read by millions and sought after by the famous and infamous, remains unexplained. This is the film’s major flaw.

What sort of love does the imperious Hunsecker have for his young sister ? Is this exaggerated possessiveness psychological or something else ? The only clue a viewer gets is Hunsecker’s simple and uninformative admission to the thoroughly cowed lass, « You’re all I’ve got in this whole wide world ». And then he coldly sets in motion a plan to destroy the decent young jazz guitarist who wants to marry her.

Much clearer is the mental makeup of Sidney Falco, the publicist who has practically devoted body and soul to getting « items », muddy or otherwise, into Hunsecker’s syndicated column. He is admittedly client-hungry and « fully up to the slimy tricks of the trade ». Why ? The sweet smell of success is a reality, he’s convinced, and « Hunsecker is the golden ladder to where I want to get ».

He squirms at his assignment- the planting of narcotics on the guileless guitarist, who is then nabbed by a detective also in thrall to the columnist – but coolly effects it because he cannot fight that drive toward success. That the diabolical schemers are upset is somewhat anticlimactic. The fact that justice is done and young love wins out eventually does not really solve the riddle that is Hunsecker.

Tony Curtis contributes a polished performance as the venal, double-talking, two-timing Falco, who is willing to go to extremes to do his gossip-dispensing Svengali’s bidding. Nevertheless it is a disturbing portrait since he does not entirely emerge the black-hearted villain he is supposed to represent.Burt Lancaster’s delineation of Hunsecker is efficient but largely restrained. He is a seemingly bland, professorial type speaking in columnar clichés, who only explodes into violent emotion on rare occasions. It might be difficult for the uninitiate to understand why it is necessary to curry his favor but he gives the role its proper modicum of callousness.

Susan Harrison, a newcomer to films and a pert, appealing youngster, evokes sympathy as the columnist’s distraught sister. Marty Milner is sincere and believable as her indomitable romantic vis-a-vis, and Barbara Nichols, as the voluptuous nightclub temptress Mr. Curtis uses in his schemes; Sam Levene, as an agent; Joe Frisco, as a comic, and Jeff Donnell, as Mr. Curtis’ harried secretary add competent touches in their brief appearances.Alexander Mackendrick, the British director, and James Wong Howe, his cinematographer, who shot a good part of their film hereabouts, have gotten a fair portion of our town’s fast tempo, its night spots and its sleazy aspects into their production. A viewer cannot blame Hunsecker too much when he happily exclaims, « I love this dirty old town. » It’s harder, of course, to fall for the characters in Sweet Smell of Success. They are mighty interesting but rarely lovable ». Par A.H. Weiler pour le New York Times.

Tony Curtis et Burt lancaster attablé dans un restaurant devant une tasse de café

Enfin une critique argumentée de part d’un chroniqueur du New York Times. Ça change de notre « sympathique » Bosley Crowther. Weiler trouve ce Sweet Smell of Success intéressant une bonne partie du temps mais lui reproche de ne pas répondre à certaines questions ou de ne pas aller assez loin l’écriture des personnages.

Ma critique de Le Grand Chantage ici.


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2 réflexions sur « Sweet Smell of Success par A.H. Weiler »

  1. Sarah Paveglio from the group All Films Noir : « I thought it was one of Lancaster’s best performances and I enjoyed Susan Harrison ».

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