Just watched The Sweet Smell of Success again on television last night. So good I didn’t even doze off despite it ending well after midnight when dozing is an almost unavoidable hazard.
It’s years since I saw it and I had forgotten just how good it is, particularly the translucent cinematography of James Wong Howe. The look, I have since read, was achieved in part by putting oil on the walls of the studio.
It also has two great performances by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.
Both have main characters who have been twisted by their own importance and power. Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker and Welles’ Hank Quinlan can both break a man if they decide to. Both justify it by faith in their own “hunches”. Both have followers who amost ‘adore’ them.
Evidence is planted to frame the their targets in both, and both men are destroyed.
However they are also totally different. It feels to me like Welles used some of the structure of The Sweet Smell of Success to help him improvise on the script of Touch of Evil which he rewrote at short notice when given the directors chair at the last moment at Charlton Heston’s insistence. And jazz plays a large part in both films and their jazz inflected soundtracks by Elmer Bernstein and Henry Mancini.
I have also just discovered that Welles was considered for the Burt Lancaster role in The Sweet Smell of Success. I think that twinge in my bad leg might be correct.
My personal favourite remains Touch of Evil – my favourite film of all but both together would make a great noir double feature on how power corrupts and on how great directors steal.