THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS as it turns out is the miasma of desperate ambition and compulsory workaholism spread thin between fame and celebrity, a stench more piquant and far-reaching than the dead bodies that typically populate your average film noir. Murder never figures into this movie, directed by Alexander Mackendrick; the only thing at risk of expungement is someone's professional career, which is a terrifying prospect for Jack Lemmon's harried press agent who hightails it around Manhattan (filthy in mind more than sight) for a job he hates to love and loves to hate. Strung tight, he's nestled like a bug – a parasite – under the well-polished heel of Burt Reynold's news columnist, a hulking mobster in intellectual's spectacles. Mackendrick captures with too-shocking clarity the underbelly of the hustle and that ravenous turmoil stoked from the dangerous addiction to not just succeed, but survive.
Today's PR industry looks downright tepid compared to the day's-work of the 1950s equivalents, who ricochet gossip across velvet banquettes in smoke-filled clubs and brazenly in front of wives, and plant rumors as easily as they plant evidence. The city feels darkly pitiless, morality as elusive as daylight. Indeed, it’s hard to recall a single sun-lit scene here. New York City gets festooned by shadows and swallowed by curly fog, but I might just be dizzied from the rat-tat-tat dialogue, richly dark, of trenchant exchanges. Each one of them a needling in the ribs.
Among the choice quotables in a script filled with many: I wouldn't want to take a bite outta you, you’re a cookie full of arsenic. Meant as praise, and perhaps the highest in this noxious business and its hawkers of celebrity. Keep in mind: if you can make it here, you may not be able to live with yourself.
A dirty martini. a strong drink to anesthetize and cut the city's filth.
The recession special. two hotdogs and a bev from Gray's Papaya. a meal as iconic as the new york skyline, scrounged up as last resort when you're low on cash and short on time and patience.
Pink peppercorn ice cream (from il laboratorio del gelato, if i may suggest). creamy and mellow, but an acquired taste. Not quite as foul arsenic.