SMELL OF SUCCESS
United Artists, 1957, B&W, 96 mins.- MGM DVD
Burt Lancaster: "I love this dirty town!"
This is a valentine to the showbiz gossip columnists of old- delivered with
an icepick. Bottom-feeder publicity agent Tony Curtis knows what he wants and
will do whatever it takes to get it, and if that means viciously disrupting
the romance of top columnist Burt Lancaster's little sister- at Lancaster's
request-well, those are the breaks. So Curtis gets busy with the tools of the
trade- blackmail, sexual bribery, false accusations, crooked cops, and the king-like
power of Lancaster himself. Along the way, the morally-bankrupt Curtis will
discover that he still has a tiny fragment of conscience left- but Lancaster
knows how to fix that. This film has a terrific Fifties feel, with wisecracks
flying back and forth and good New York location work, accented by a jazzy score
from the great Elmer Bernstein. But the biggest charge here comes from the actors.
Lancaster's portrayal gives us a man who is venomous and domineering, an emotional
cripple who strives to keep his neuroses hidden behind an aura of power. Curtis'
characterization is considerably less restrained, and much of the fun of this
picture is watching the two play off of each other. The disc doesn't come with
any extras except the trailer......but those are the breaks......
Paramount, 1941, B&W, 93 mins.- Criterion DVD
Barbara Stanwyck: "I need him like the ax needs the turkey."
From Preston Sturges, pioneering writer-director of the old studio system, comes this screwball tale of romance and revenge. Wealthy geek Henry Fonda, returning by ocean liner from a snake-gathering expedition in South America, runs into professional gambler Barbara Stanwyck and her father Charles Coburn- and complications ensue. The bookish Fonda isn't much interested in women, but Stanwyck, knowing a prime sucker when she sees one, launches a successful campaign to bewitch the poor sap. And wouldn't you know it, he gets her thinking mushy stuff as well. But when he reacts badly to her criminal background, she decides to get even, with a plot that succeeds both despite and because of its sheer audacity. This picture is a witty, silly comedy, but the two main characters get put through a real emotional wringer. Their seesawing relationship bears a distinct resemblance to the card games that they engage in, with a lot of bluffing and cheating going on for high stakes. As for who winds up with the pot- well, you'll have to watch the picture to find out. The disc features a bundle of extras including audio commentary, a vintage radio adaptation, and a selection of stills and costume designs.
Universal, 1958, Color, 128 mins.- Collector's Ed. DVD
Novak: "Gee, ya have got it bad, haven't ya?"
That he does, Kim, thanks to director Alfred Hitchcock, who in this picture steers leading man Jimmy Stewart into some very dark waters indeed. After a nasty brush with the titular condition which leads to his retirement from the San Francisco police force, Stewart is looking for something to do. He finds it in a bit of gumshoe work for a college pal whose wife, Kim Novak, is experiencing a rather unusual psychological problem. Stewart becomes enmeshed in a mystery- and finds that his medical condition is only the beginning of his disorientation. The plot is farfetched, but it's only a framework upon which to hang a portrait of romantic obsession- and it's not a pretty picture. This is the sort of film that will either leave you cold, or enthrall you as it pulls you in with exquisite sights and sounds.......and then puts you through Hell along with the protagonist. This is often cited as Sir Alfred's most "Personal" film- with unmistakable parallels between the director and Stewart's character- and you have to admire the director for making such an artistic statement.......not to mention getting a major studio to foot the bill for it! The disc features a beautifully-restored version of the film, with extras including a documentary and audio commentary.
© Melt Magazine 2001