Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Art of the Script: Sweet Smell of Success

I rewatched Sweet Smell of Success this afternoon. Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman's screenplay, based on a novelette by Lehman, never ceases to amaze me. It's one of the best scripts I've ever seen filmed. The plotting is tight and the characters vivid, but it is the dialog that most impresses me.

Burt Lancaster (as JJ Hunsecker) and Tony Curtis (as Sidney Falco) nail the rhythm and the accents of the dialog. There's such edginess and ferocity to their banter. They manage to be both graceful and violent, just like the big city they stalk by night.

The full script is available online. Here is one of my favorite moments.

CAMERA now SHOOTS down 52nd Street. Hunsecker, back to
CAMERA, studies the evening, hearing the sound of a screech
of female laughter from one of the groups in the distance.
A drunk is being thrown out of one of the strip tease joints.

HUNSECKER
I love this dirty town.

Amused, Hunsecker turns back; he signals across the street
to the car park, indicating that the big black Lincoln
Continental should follow as he strolls with Sidney.

HUNSECKER. SIDNEY FOLLOWING.

HUNSECKER
(after a pause)
Conjugate me a verb, Sidney. For
instance, TO PROMISE!

CAMERA TRACKS with them in a CLOSE TWO SHOT. Sidney is
alert now.

HUNSECKER
(continuing)
You told me you'd break up that
romance - when?

SIDNEY
(hesitantly)
You want something done, J.J., but
I doubt if you yourself know what's
involved.

HUNSECKER
(soft and sardonic)
I'm a schoolboy - teach me, teach me.

SIDNEY
(carefully)
Why not break it up yourself? You
could do it in two minutes flat.

Hunsecker pauses, halts.

HUNSECKER
(harshly)
At this late date you need
explanations...? Susie's all I
got - now that she's growing up, I
want my relationship with her to
stay at least at par! I don't
intend to antagonize her if I don't
have to.

1 comment:

  1. I just saw this for the first time a couple weeks ago, and was staggered by the snappy pace, the dialogue, and the pure sleaziness of the central characters. Tony Curtis was like a whirlwind; he actually stopped moving, what, twice in the whole movie? Just amazing from start to finish.

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