15 May 2007

34. sweet smell of success

its weird to see a noir that's not about a detective. other than that, this movie is film noir in almost every sense. it is filmed in shadowed black and white, it has a cynical hard heart, there is an anti-hero as the protagonist. i love to see this kind of genre inversion, taking a genre and turning it inside out (like what eastwood did with "unforgiven"), which this movie does well.

it also does some other things well: it is economical. this is a trait you'll see in a lot of old studio movies. the movies are lean, they waste no time, they are blue-collar. this movie starts with no fanfare, we jump right into the story, and then the plot moves in its three-acts like clockwork. there is no michner-esque backstory. there are no surplusages. the movie plugs along to a little past ninety minutes, and then we are finished. "don't hang around" said billy wilder.

here's something i learned that's important to do well: give the big star a big introduction. one of the immediate examples that comes to mind is tom cruise's frank tj mackey in "magnolia". we technically first see him on a tv screen (subliminally linking him to his tv producer dad), but when we REALLY first see him, he gets a spotlight shown on him while a crowd cheers and the curtains (aka his biceps) raise to the 2001: a space odyssey theme. doesn't get much sweeter than that.

but burt lancaster gets a hell of an introduction, too. everyone buzzes about him for the first ten minutes or so, then when we finally see him he goes off on a screed, ending with "match me". then he proceeds to tell off a senator. THAT'S how you treat a movie star.

and finally, there are few more quotable movies. sure, no one talks like these characters, and even back in the day, probably no one did. but there are some serious gems here, hardboiled and delicious:

* the aforementioned "match me".
* "come back here, sidney. i want to chastise you!"
* "how do you spell Picasso, the french painter? ...i hear he goes out with three-eyed girls."
* "watch me run a 50-yard dash with my legs cut off!"
* "he's got integrity -- acute, like indigestion!"
* "you're dead, son. get yourself buried. "
* "my right hand hasn't seen my left hand in thirty years."
* "the cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river."
* "i'd hate to take a bite outta you. you're a cookie full of arsenic."