Sweet Smell of Success [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Samuel Scott (29th March 2015).
The Film

***This is an A/V and Extras review only. For reviews on the movie from various critics, we recommend visiting HERE.***

One of the darkest films ever to come out of the Hollywood mainstream – both literally and figuratively – this spellbindingly cynical study of Machiavellian media machinations in a neon-drenched New York City was the first and best American film by Alexander Mackendrick, who already had several Ealing Studios classics on his CV (Whisky Galore, The Man in the White Suit, Mandy, The Ladykillers) when he crossed the Atlantic.

Considering his star status, Burt Lancaster was famously fearless when it came to risking audience sympathies, and he gives one of his most memorable performances as ruthless gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker, who’ll go to any lengths to break up his sister’s unsuitable romance, even if it means destroying the reputation of press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis).

Brilliantly scripted by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman from the latter’s autobiographical short story, and filmed in gleaming monochrome by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe, Sweet Smell of Success is one of the greatest and most clear-eyed of all American films, lifting up the stone of Fifties decorum and unflinchingly revealing what was crawling underneath.

Video

Arrow Films have released "Sweet Smell of Success" on to Blu-ray in the United Kingdom as part of their acclaimed Arrow Academy range. The transfer is an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is 1080p. It receives an AVC MPEG-4 encode, and uses Criterion's 4k restoration as its basis.

Suffice to say, this is a great transfer that impresses in several ways. Details are very good, with the various close-ups of the characters showing facial wrinkles and intricacies in hair very well indeed. Clothing is also worth noting, with all the minute details in the suits and in fur coats immaculate, without any problems needing mentioned. Shadow details also surprise, with no signs of large-scale crush. Damage wise, there really is nothing to worry about. This is an extremely clean print bar some very faint scratches, usually found in external scene at circa 26:45, and again from 29:16 intermittently for approximately a minute, but occasionally also in internal scenes such as 32:31. However, these scratches shouldn't be any causes for concern. This is the first time I have seen this film (embarrassed to say!), but I hold no doubt in my mind that this stamps all over previous DVD releases with a vengeance. A natural layer of film grains runs throughout, and is a little heavier in external scenes in comparison to internal scenes but contrast levels are fine, and there no signs of aliasing, banding, edge enhancement, or digital noise reduction. A very strong effort.

The feature is uncut and runs 96:40.

Audio

Arrow have provided us with a single English LPCM 1.0 mono audio track for this release, which is the original mix. Like the transfer, it's a strong presentation without any issues bar some insignificant background hiss on occasional. Dialogue is clear at all times and volume levels are consistent throughout. Despite the limitations of a mono track, it still has some reasonable depth and never sounds too flat. Even the echoes of Susie running away at 69:20 sounds particularly good. The score by Elmer Bernstein sounds fine, never overpowering the dialogue, whilst at the same time making it's presence known, like at 71:50. There are no problems with drop outs, scratches, or pops.

Optional English subtitles are included for the hard of hearing.

Extras

First up, we have an appreciation for the film by critic and film historian Philip Kemp, author of "Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick", clocking in at 26:11. This has Kemp as a talking head in the top left of the screen, talking over various scenes from the feature (though not talking about those exact scenes) and photos. This is an interesting video essay, especially if you're like me and your knowledge of Mackendrick is virtually non-existent. There is a lot of great info here about his career and how it progressed whilst Ealing Studios started to wind down.

Next up, Kemp joins us for a selected scene commentary in which he talks over some of the more important scenes. Running 32:00, this is split into a Play All option, or individual options as noted in the comparison. This carries on in a similar tone to the appreciation, though Kemp's information is a lot more specific to various aspects of the film this time. He talks about the dialogue, the characters, and the confrontations. A welcome addition, but it is a shame Kemp didn't do a full-length commentary.

The final substantial extra is "Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away" - Dermot McQuarrie's Scottish Television documentary from 1986, featuring interviews with Mackendrick, Burt Lancaster, producer James Hill, director John Milius, James Coburn and more (54:45). He has garnered a lot of respect in the industry, and his standing among his colleagues is obviously high. There is a good range of interviews included within the documentary, and it was a surprise this was made by Scottish Television when you consider their output (which, living in Scotland, I see first hand) isn't that great in general.

The on-disc extras end with the theatrical trailer (3:06).

The release comes with a reversible sleeve featuring an original poster and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Walker, and a collector's booklet with new writing on the film by Michael Brooke and Mackendrick's own analysis of various script drafts, illustrated with original stills and posters.

Overall

Another hit for the Academy line.

The Film: A- Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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