Sweet Smell Of Success & The Lost New York

Written by Joe D on September 1st, 2008

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SSOS just showed on TCM as part of a Tony Curtis retrospective.
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Sidney Falco on the threshold of Success, the entrance to “21″

This time it really brought back memories of Lost New York. Some of the spots are still there but they’re not the same. First off, this is an incredible movie. Great classic performances out of Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Great dialog, “Match me Sidney.” ” I’d hate to take a bite out of you, you’re a cookie full of arsenic.”
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One of Burt’s Greatest Roles
There’s more quipping in this movie than any other that I can think of. ” Here’s your head, what’s your hurry.” It does not stop. James Wong Howe’s cinematography is amazing, they went for a reverse, long lenses to shoot long shots, exteriors of NYC stacked up in a telephoto lens, wide angle lenses for close ups, distorting, paranoid, powerful images of the characters and this technique works incredibly well. The characters jump off the screen at you with all the dynamism of a Steve Ditko comic.
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Pure Genius!
The environs of New York never looked better. Great locations! Shots of a bygone NYC. There’s a scene at A Times Square hot dog stand, you can picture Jack Kerouac walking in. It reminds me of Papaya King, a stand I used to frequent. Two dogs and a papaya drink for $1.50! That was a deal!
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Time Travel via HotDog Stand!
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Hey Kerouac! Pass The Mustard!
All that stuff in midtown, the 40’s and 50’s , the “21″ club, the Ed Sullivan Theater, the crummy offices, the streets, J.J.(Burt Lancaster) lives in the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway. I used to work there, there were a lot of editing rooms in that building. Saturday Night Live had offices there, I once had a run in with a belligerent John Belushi on the service elevator.
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Sidney in the lobby of The Brill Building, 1600 Bway was right across the street
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Reverse on the Brill lobby. This was it, Tin Pan Alley!

Across the street was 1600 Broadway, the National Screen Services Building. They had a ton of cutting rooms in there as well and it was one of the last buildings in the city to have elevator operators! Next door was the Rincon Argentina, a great restaurant, full of editors at lunch time, half a chicken, french fries, salad for $3.59, plus a demi boutee of house red for a buck! Those were the days. So to see J.J. and Sidney cruising my old neighborhoods blew me away. I worked up the street at my friend’s company “CineHaven”, 254 W.54th street. Rumor had it that Marlon Brando and Wally Cox were roommates there in the 50’s.
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I used to work (and crash) right up the street!

Just up the street from Studio 54 and Trans Audio , a mixing studio with a lot of cutting rooms. But back to SSOS, the bar that Martin Milner plays at when Sidney sets him up, I think it’s by the old West Side Highway, the location is so cool, Sidney up on the overpass signaling Kello the bad cop to get Martin. Incredible!
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West Side Highway Location?
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Evil Cop Harry Kello beats up Jazz Guitarist Martin Milner
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Life imitates Art, Miles Davis was beaten up by a cop on 52nd Street while standing outside a gig

The great Chico Hamilton Quintet appears in the film and they are excellent. Great score by Elmer Bernstein, great screenplay by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, great direction by Alexander Mackendrick.
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Chico Hamilton on drums, the guy on cello is Fred Katz, he wrote the super cool score for Roger Corman’s Little Shop Of Horrors!

Great characters, supposedly J.J. was based on Walter Winchell, the influential columnist. It’s an interesting character, he wraps himself up in the flag spouting a lot of rhetoric about patriotism, all the while spewing vitriol on everyone he doesn’t like, and if anyone complains, they’re un-American! A petty tyrant whose motivations are his personal vendettas and small minded attacks pretending that he’s doing it for the good of his “60 million readers”. I think this is a very timely character, as relevant now as back then, even more so. We’ve got a J.J. Hunsecker in the White House, only without the witty quips. The movie introduces the wonderful Susan Harrison, what happened to her?
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If you want to get a feel for that old lost New York check out this guy, Jean Shepherd. He had a late nite radio show broadcast from NYC, I’d listen to him when I was a kid. Sometimes he talks about NYC and it doesn’t get any better than this. He also wrote the Christmas Story film. Here’s a link to some of his shows. Here it is : Jean Shepherd Shows
flatiron.jpgI used to live around the corner from the Flatiron Building, an early structural steel building in NYC courtesy of Chicago architect Daniel Burnham