Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ooh, That Smell

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

J.J. (Burt Lancaster)

I am a fan of black–and–white movies for many reasons, but one of the things I really like about them is they remove the distraction of color.

Don't get me wrong. Color movies have their place, and some stories simply could not be told without color. But the absence of color somehow allows more emphasis to be placed on the characters and their dialogue — and that is where I think "Sweet Smell of Success," which was first shown on this day in 1957, really came through for the audience.

It came through on several levels.

Frankly, I don't care how long you have been watching film noir movies or how many you have seen. You've never seen one with dialogue that crackled like this one did — and it seemed that everyone in the movie, from the stars to the bit players, got to deliver at least one snappy line. Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman should have received an Oscar nomination for their writing. It's some of the best you'll ever experience (this is a lifetime of writing talking here).

They weren't the only ones who contributed to "Sweet Smell of Success," but no one received an Oscar nomination for work on that movie.

And that was a big mistake. Tony Curtis gave what many people regard as his greatest performance as Sidney the smarmy press agent. If he was outdone by anyone, it was Burt Lancaster who played J.J. the callous newspaper columnist who wanted to prevent his sister from marrying perhaps the only good guy in the movie. His lines in the movie were the most savage.

But Curtis had some pretty good — and pretty insightful — lines, too. At one point, he advised, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" then observed, "That gives you a lot of leeway."

I can understand why "Sweet Smell of Success" got no Oscar nominations. As I have mentioned on this blog before, the folks who vote on the Oscars seem to like to reward movies that promote the positive side of human nature — love, loyalty, honesty, integrity, that sort of thing. The Oscars rarely recognize movies that focus on the gritty reality of life with so much as a nomination. It is as if the voters don't even want to have the option of voting for such a movie, let alone rewarding it with a statuette.

Of course, there are exceptions to that, but it does seem to be an unwritten rule.

To maintain a sort of balance, the Oscars tend to avoid nominating comedies, which is why some of the greatest entertainers in movie history were never nominated for Academy Awards.

"Sweet Smell of Success" was hardly a comedy, but you really had to look hard to find a good guy in the story.