4.14.2011

Interiors


Images of J.J. Hunsecker's (Burt Lancaster) Manhattan apartment in the classic Sweet Smell of Success (dir. Alexander Mackendrick, 1957), which is the latest film in my "chronological project" (but one that I've seen several times before).  I'm always struck--and strangely put-off--by the decor in J.J.'s office, shown here: the dark wood and antiques don't seem right for this thoroughly modern film, or the ultra-slick J.J.  There's something too cluttered and heavy about these interiors--they seem somehow unflattering in a film that's otherwise so stylishly dead-on (although I suppose their oppressiveness helps keep up the off-putting, sick-to-your-stomach feeling that this film is so good at invoking).  

Cf. these more "representative" shots of the film's portrayal of seedy nighttime New York:



(Note that harsh over-lighting in the soda fountain where Tony Curtis makes a phone call--really wonderful cinematography here by the great James Wong Howe.)  Even if they're sometimes shabby and sad (or downright rank--the very title puts emphasis on smell, after all), the public spaces in this film generally have a certain sleekness or coolness that seems to be missing from J.J.'s crowded, almost baroque apartment.  Although perhaps it is fitting, as its rich, heavy, dark tones suggest a kind of devil's lair--or, with its ornate, intricate woodwork and Orientalist touches, perhaps something decadent and sexually perverse (this is the apartment, after all, where J.J. essentially tries to keep his long-suffering sister a sexual prisoner).  It all looks even better than ever on Criterion's lavish new DVD edition.  I'm also currently making my way through James Naremore's BFI monograph on the film (though he has yet to say anything about J.J.'s furniture).

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