Sweet Smell of Success

Sweet Smell of Success

by James Naremore


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One of the most daring films of the 1950s, the dark satire Sweet Smell of Success, took on McCarthyism at a time when film studios were cringing under the repressive eye of the censors and an equally intimidating political and media environment. Starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, this film was the first of its kind to take on the Hollywood system as it served up a dose of revenge for the left against the suffocating cultural atmosphere of the period. James Naremore’s insightful study offers new information about the many revisions of the screenplay, negotiations with censors, and the tense circumstances under which the film was shot and received by critics and the public. He also provides a detailed commentary on the finished product, analyzing the important contributions of its several talented creators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781844572885
Publisher: BFI Publishing
Publication date: 05/25/2010
Series: BFI Film Classics Series
Edition description: 2010
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 7.48(h) x 0.01(d)

About the Author

James Naremore is the author of a number of books, including Acting in the Cinema (California, 1988), The Films of Vincente Minnelli, More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts, and On Kubrick. Emeritus Chancellors’ Professor at Indiana University, he lives in Bloomington, IN.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements.- 'Sweet Smell of Success'.- Roman a clef.- Twilight of the Gods.- A Pain in the Stomach.- Re-writing and Re-writing and Re-writing.- Showtime.- Aftermath and retrospect.- Credits

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...hard to match for context [and] background.' - Total Film

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Sweet Smell of Success 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
barbharper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James Naremore has written a companion book to the film "Sweet Smell of Success" which is an essential purchase for those interested in the film. He gives the genesis of the project from Ernest Lehman's novella through various screenplay versions and ending with Clifford Odets' final version. The illustrations are numerous and give a good feel for the stunning cinematography of James Wong Howe. About half of the book is taken up with scene by scene descriptions and dialog. This is important because the dialog is fast and nasty, necessitating frequent viewing of the film to appreciate it all. Some caveats, however. The book is quite pricey given the 110 short pages of content. Why no index? For specific actors and writers you have to scan through the entire book. Also, the musical score is given scant attention, which is remarkable. Music is omnipresent in the film, there actually being two scores. One is the jazz played by the Chico Hamilton Quintet in the nightclub scenes which gives a good feeling for the vibrant New York jazz scene of the fifties. The second is Elmer Bernstein's poignant and edgy score that enriches the scenes and characters. This film deserve a place on Bernstein's ten best list.
Wova4 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sweet Smell of Success is part of the BFI Film Classics series, in which key films are analyzed in slim tones written by highly qualified authors. The movie, in this case, is 1957's Sweet Smell of Success starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. The movie features a stand-in for infamous gossip columnist Walter Winchell, played by Lancaster and his dealings with a hungry press agent played by Curtis. I'd seen the film before reading this book, having seen it identified as a Great Movie by Roger Ebert and acknowledged in other canonical film lists. If you're young enough, it can be a difficult film to get your head around--it features no rooting interest and is very cynical.Where Naremore's book succeeds is when it works to give the viewer the context in which the film was made: its portrayal of a long-dead cafe culture in New York, the state of production code censorship, a brief history of Winchell and his relation to Senator McCarthy, and the blacklisted and graylisted filmmakers involved in the project who are just regaining their careers after the red scares. Naremore also provides a scene-by-scene analysis which isn't to digressive, but calls attention to the visual language present in the film with great clarity.As my introduction to the BFI Film Classics series, I found Sweet Smell of Success to be a nicely balanced and fast read (faster then watching the movie). The binding appears to be hand-sewn and the heavy paper shows the numerous photographs well. My only misgiving is the cost per title of the series, which seems to be $15 at suggested retail.
jwm24 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Everybody talks about the curse of The Misfits, but nobody talks about the curse of Sweet Smell of Success, probably because for most people career death is not as spooky as actual death.Ernest Lehman sold his original story to Lancaster with the understanding that he would write the screenplay and direct. Lancaster never really had any intention of letting Lehman direct (well, that's Hollywood!), and eventually forced him off the project and hired Mackendrick to direct and Odets to rewrite the script. Lehman went on to write the screenplays for North by Northwest, on of Hitchcock's best movies, and Family Plot, one of his worst. He finally got his first (and only) chance to direct in 1972. I haven't seen Portnoy's Complaint myself, but Roger Ebert called it "a true fiasco."When Lehman's story was first published in Cosmopolitan in 1950, his Hunsecker was apolitical--the McCarthyite angle that gives the film its enduring relevance was added by Clifford Odets. The editor, uneasy about the word "smell," had the title changed to "Tell Me About It Tomorrow," which tells you something today about the intelligence of Cosmo editors. Odets of course was the quintessential social-consciousness playwright of the Thirties, on whom the Coen Brothers based Barton Fink. (Barton Fink's Bare Ruined Choirs: "We'll be hearing from that kid, and I don't mean a postcard." Odets's Sweet Smell of Success: "My experience I can tell you in a nutshell, and I didn't dream it in a dream; dog eat dog!") Many people considered him to be washed up by the time he was hired for this film, and he was certainly washed up afterwards. His last produced screenplay was Wild in the Country, in which Elvis Presley plays a talented young novelist (!?).Before Sweet Smell of Success, Alexander Mackendrick directed some of the best-known comedies to come out of Ealing Studios, including The Man in the White Suit and The Ladykillers. Afterwards, he directed a few mediocre films before taking refuge in academia as director of the filmmaking program at CalArts.I was never sure whether Susan Harrison's deer-in-the-headlights look was intentional, or the result of being scared to death of working with Lancaster and Curtis. Judging by the brevity of her subsequent career, most of it in television, I suspect the latter, but if so, Mackendrick did a brilliant job of making the best of her nervousness and limited range (he underlines Susie's subservience to the domineering men in the film by having her never once make eye contact with another character). It's a shame, since Harrison's understated beauty was a welcome change from all the over-made-up divas of the time.Naremore's little book provides concise analysis of the film, background information on the cast and crew, and information about Walter Winchell, the model for J. J. Hunsecker, including his feud with Ed Sullivan and his use of his column to hound his daughter's suitor, a situation that parallels the story of J. J. Hunsecker, his sister Susan, and Steve Dallas.
btuckertx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James Naremore, via BFI Film Classics, presents a synopsis of the 1957 film, Sweet Smell of Success in a nicely bound, soft cover edition. In its one hundred and ten pages (publication data, table of contents and bibliography included), Naremore gives us a smoothly narrated overview of the film, from initial concept to fade out.The movie stills used in this book, some of them shot on location in New York, greatly enhance Naremore's narrative, but aside from a couple of quick mentions, the cinematography is largely ignored. Volumes could be written about the cinematographer, James Wong "low-key" Howe, but Naremore opts instead to focus on the talent and abilities of the co-stars, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.James Naremore quickly and aptly covers the film in front of and behind the camera with nasty bits included. As Naremore points out, the film was made more than fifty years ago, but if one freshened the stars and costumes, Sweet Smell of Success would be just as pertinent today as it was when it was first released. The McCarthy era is over and we don't have the censorship of the Breen office, but when you get down to it, the pimping of celebrities really hasn't changed.This volume would be an asset to anyone interested in gaining knowledge of cinema, especially the great films of the 1950's.
IsolaBlue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading this book was a pleasing introduction to the British Film Institute's series of classic film studies. For aficionados of celluloid or serious students of film, this series deserves special attention. The smooth dark plum and pale dove-gray cover of the slim paperback that holds "Sweet Smell of Success" speaks to a certain classiness. The content of the book is also classy in its own way, giving equal weight to a close analysis of the film as well as a look at what went into its making, and what was going on in America at the time of its conception."The Sweet Smell of Success" is a classic black-and-white film from the mid-1950s starring Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. It was based on a novella by Ernest Lehman and was ahead of its time in terms of addressing issues and portraying characters that had been kept in check by the censors.A New York press agent and a questionable gossip columnist (based more or less on the infamous Walter Winchell) are the main characters in the film which takes a close look at celebrity as well as the dark side of Broadway. This is all set in an America just beginning to recover from the repressive McCarthy era.The author, James Naremore is a past professor at Indiana University who has written extensively about film. His take on the "Sweet Smell of Success" is notable for its analysis of the story line, his examination of how American culture and politics influenced the film, and his extensive look at how "Sweet Smell" came to be written and produced gives the book great weight. Also noteworthy are his thoughts on the choice of actors, comments on the way the film is acted, and interesting notes on cinematography, direction, and marketing.Lastly, the photographs from the film that are included in the book are numerous and well selected; they complement Naremore's analysis quite well. Even if one has not viewed "The Sweet Smell of Success," by the end of the book one feels as though the lights will soon be up in the theatre and one can walk out the door having experienced an entire film.