Tags: Alexander Mackendrick, Barbara Nichols, Burt Lancaster, Chico Hamilton, Emile Meyer, Jeff Donnell, Joe Frisco, Martin Milner, MGM, Sam Levene, Susan Harrison, The Criterion Collection, Tony Curtis
has an average rating of 8.1 on IMDb
1080p in AVC MPEG-4 on a 50gb disc
Linear PCM Mono
include intriguing interviews in Hi-Def
– 96 minutes
– The Criterion Collection
This uses 26.5GB for the movie out of 44.2GB total.
Overall Verdict – Classic Film Done Justice
— Review written by: Danielle Byington —
The Movie Itself is Directed by Alexander Mackendrick, with the Writing credits of Clifford Odets (screenplay), based on the novella by Ernest Lehman, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
This film noir is set in New York City, and revolves primarily around the dirty gossiping deeds committed by J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Hunsecker is the writer of a newspaper column that has been known to help make or break the careers of those who rely on the publicity his column drives. A particular minion of this writer, publicity agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), is upset with the lack of Hunsecker‘s cooperation to mention his clients as once promised. Hunsecker is unhappy with his sister Susan‘s (Susan Harrison) relationship with an up and coming jazz musician, Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Hunsecker‘s solution to this problem is to have Falco create some nasty gossip about the musician to break-up the relationship. Falco hasn’t exactly followed through on this request, which has lost him some credibility with Hunsecker.
Falco is equally as full of greed as Hunsecker, though not quite as powerful. To regain what mediocre control he had, Falco follows through with the planned rumors making-out Dallas to be a pot-smoker; if the plan works as hoped, Dallas will go to his lover’s brother, Hunsecker, and beg that he use his almighty words of the press to replenish his reputation with the public. In turn, Hunsecker plans to use the musician’s want of fame in exchange for a request that he leave his sister.
In closing, Sitting back and taking in the roughly hour and a half runtime of the film isn’t exactly blaring with excitement in all honesty, though I refer to the excitement we are conditioned to within our modern crime and thriller movies. There are not quite any “hero” sorts within this story; it is a straight-up double-shot of primitive greed gushing out of characters who are weaving and tangled in the confusion and obsession of treading on others for simple power. The film is described at times as depicting “Old School Corruption”; which is an interesting thought, as the “corruption” that propels the film’s story is what makes it so versatile and appealing to audiences that span over five decades.
Perhaps the ingredient that is this film’s fuel to its fire is its absence of a generally traditional story structure; as mentioned above, it lacks a clear protagonist or “hero”. This could be seen as quite edgy for a 1957 film, and most likely why its darkness was not exactly adored at the time of its release to the “American Dream” and “White Picket Fences” crowds of the late ’50′s. Another element of intrigue within this film’s storyline is the character of Falco. This character’s trial of values almost reaches in a mythology source of sorts; will he play dirty for greed, or will he leave Hunsecker’s sister alone, and in turn of playing nice, lose face with Hunsecker and the clients that he represents as a press agent? Well, it is actually a little shocking how dark and dirty Falco is (for a 1957 film). Sure, there have been bad guys throughout the history of cinema, but the sheer primitive clawing for personal gain at the price of others is seen executed by the characters of Falco and Hunsecker (between each other non-the-less) in a fashion that doesn’t need all the loudness and madness of our modern films. All that is needed and committed here are the excellent performances of Curtis and Lancaster carrying out these relentless gripping demeanors.
Video Quality on this release is in full 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec on a BD-50 (50 gigabyte single layer Blu-ray Disc) in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The original 35MM print of this film received a 4K resolution transfer, and just as described in the included booklet, the visual product rendered here has been tremendously polished for its release to the High Definition format. Viewing this release, you can appreciate the newfound clarity of this film as your eyes will not catch any significant accounts of the usual age-marks that sometimes plague films of this age (even when they have received a restoration; though this is Criterion we’re talking about). On top of an impressively clean picture, the color work, though merely black & white, is perfectly balanced. The quality of the black level is not ridiculously inky, but rather more of a realistic liking that represents the nature of the 1957 film very well. Lighter shades of the monochromatic spectrum are equally not executed in a blaring stark fashion, but again, co-exist alongside the remainder of the grayscale color palette in a state that further compliments the available contrast. When it comes to judging this contrast, some nice examples to refer to within the film’s Blu-ray release include the exterior shots of the city with the darkness of the night against the bright lights of a 1957 Times Square, and the scenes involving the beautiful Barbara Nichols, whose pin-up poise makes for a gorgeous picture-perfect exhibit on your display.
Needless to say, the highly hailed James Wong Howe’s work here as cinematographer looks absolutely stunning; the most amazing it has been exhibited (within this film) to date. You are of course presented with an unbelievable amount of detail. I personally think that when it comes to Hi-Def releases, often times black & white films make for some of the most impressive and artistically beautiful showcases of offered definition frame by frame, seemingly making for a moving picture gallery at times. This release by far does not fail to provide that experience. On another note regarding the definition detectable here, a statement referring to the film’s production in the accompanying booklet explains how the lenses of Hunsecker’s glasses were greased with Vaseline to somewhat opaque his eyes and add further chaos to the character’s cadence. I would have to say that after reading that, looking back at exact character frames involving Hunsecker, the somewhat smudgy greasy appearance of the lubricant is detectable in Hi-Def, though it was most likely quite a mystery to the public in the past. That is simply one of those random pieces of information that makes a Blu-ray release all the more interesting when it comes to analyzing the video quality. All in all, I would say that there may be some day in which the definition of the film is slightly more detailed, but until probably another decade, the video quality on this release merits itself a “5 Star Rating” for its awing visual presentation that provides decades of fans with the rendering it deserves.
Audio Quality on this release is presented in Linear PCM Mono. Taken from the original 35MM magnetic soundtrack, the provided Linear PCM audio track has received a treatment equal to the impressive clean-up effort put forth for the video on the release. Most likely, the largest element that plays a role within this audio track is the jazz-running-through-its-veins score composed by Elmer Bernstein. It would be sincerely impossible to imagine this film without its score, or even one that was not jazz-like in nature. “Sweet Smell of Success” was made during a time in cinema history in which you may notice it was sort of the “in” choice to compliment a production with a jazz-like score. Though, amongst other films released within this era, the rush of Broadway, and the dark-side of the publicity-game within the film’s story seemed to only be suited to this jazz layout that doesn’t quite involve a reoccurring theme melody, but rather brief sequences of the composed music that relay the emotional tones at hand. Dialogue is very clean and delivered without any significant flaws from the mono track, and the sound effects of various surrounding atmospheres set from from are equally sharp. Overall, the audio track for this release receives a “4.5 Star Rating” for its well-polished and bright presentation of the film’s audible material.
Bonus Materials are presented in 1080i/p High Definition (HD) video with Dolby Digital Mono sound.
- “Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away” (44:40 – HD 1080i) is a television documentary from 1986 that interviews with the Director, Burt Lancaster, James Coburn, James Hill, and more.
- “James Wong Howe: Cinematographer” (21:50 – HD 1080i) is a documentary from 1973 involving Howe discussing his methods of his art, highlighting film lighting.
- “Gabler on Winchell” (28:57 – HD 1080p) interviews with film historian Neal Gabler, author of a book discussing the career of Walter Winchell, the man whom the character of Hunsecker is based on.
- “James Mangold” (24:52 – HD 1080p) involves Writer/Director Mangold reflecting on being a pupil of Mackendrick.
- “Theatrical Trailer” (3:06 – HD 1080p)
- Included booklet features an essay by critic Gary Giddins, notes about the film, two short stories that introduce us to the two main characters — written by screenwriter Ernest Lehman — as well as an excerpt about Clifford Odets from Mackendrick’s book “On Film-Making”, with intro by the book’s editor Paul Cronin.
Overall, the bonus materials are worth any fans attention with some in depth thoughts and discussion to be experienced from the documentary-type supplements. Also for fans, you are sure to simply eat-up every page of the enjoyable included booklet as it discloses tid-bits of production information you may have never discovered before.
Blu-ray Disc packaging:
NOTE: The full-sized 1920×1080 files are in a .PNG file format and uncompressed. Be PATIENT with the loading times, as you should keep in mind that these files are (on average) at least 1MB (1 megabyte) in size each.