Sunday, 11 January 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1957: Burt Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success

Burt Lancaster did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying J.J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success.

I have noticed some have considered Burt Lancaster a co-lead in Sweet Smell of Success even though his screen time is limited to about seven scenes and he actually does not first appear until over twenty minutes into the film, and the film gives the greater focus to the press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). I understand though because Hunsecker is the puppet master  of the film as he uses Sidney with promise of some sort of success. In addition to that whenever Hunsecker appears it basically becomes his film. Lancaster is playing very much oppose to his heroic leading man type here as the powerful newspaper columnist whose power comes his pen rather than his physical prowess. Alexander Mackendrick's direction does a fantastic job of helping in this transition for Lancaster actually through that unflattering lighting on his face that accentuates any flaws on his face as well as through his glasses giving him cold soulless eyes. This is not to say though that Lancaster allows himself to be overshadowed by the direction, but this nicely amplifies what Lancaster does in the role.

Lancaster is absolutely commanding in his performance, which you might expect from Lancaster as he has that movie star charisma anyways, but Lancaster kinda does this in a whole different style here. Lancaster is very effective as he makes Hunsecker almost like a snake in which you have to watch and listen to his every movement as you never know who or what he might strike. Lancaster is perhaps at his most imposing here despite he seems to purposefully diminish his usual posture on purpose. Lancaster though brings that incisive quality very much needed to Hunsecker's performance in simply the way he almost leans forward and faces his pretty intimidating them while looking for their weakness for which he will exploit. His opening scene is perfectly executed by Lancaster as Hunsecker humiliates and indicates his superiority over all four of the people around him. Lancaster nails every line as he should giving them the vicious sting they should. Hunsecker's power merely comes from his word and Lancaster establishes this as truth through his performance.

What might be most fiendish in a way about Lancaster's portrayal though is he shows the way Hunsecker can influence. He's not there merely to make fun of the people and make them feel poorly about themselves but also to show how he knows what is right. Lancaster is particularly great as Hunsecker points out to the senator at his table that his affair is quite obvious and that if he's to stay as a respectable politician he better be less obvious about his act. Lancaster does not carry only venom in Hunsecker's words, although there is a deadly dose of that there, he has a teaching tone in his voice as though he is educating in his words. Lancaster importantly gets across that Hunsecker is not merely an acerbic critic of those around him, but that he uses that as his tool to control them even further. Hunsecker ends up controlling the plot because he demands Sidney work something out for him. That something ensuring that Hunsecker's sister Suzy not marry a musician, without Suzy finding out that Hunsecker had anything to do with the breakup.

This brings us to the one side of Hunsecker the perhaps brings out the worst of him as Hunsecker will go any way he can to stop Suzy's marriage even if it means getting the musician fired as well as arrested for a false charge. It does not matter really even who the magician is Hunsecker would hate any man who tries to steal his sister from him. Lancaster does reveal perhaps the only real humanity to Hunsecker in his scenes with his sister. I have read some places that it is incestuous thoughts that propel Hunsecker in these scenes, but I disagree as I don't feel that's how Lancaster plays these scenes. Lancaster I think is far more effective by portraying the quiet moments of thinking of his sister where he creates the only possible sympathy for Hunsecker. It is not a lustful man that Lancaster shows although that does mean he's still not quite creepy. It's fear though that Lancaster suggests as he hears about Suzy's marriage, a palatable fear in a man who knows he would be absolute lone in his world of cynicism if he lost his sister. 

Lancaster often is about consistency in the cold brutality that he brings to his performance and the scene where he carefully cuts down the musician, after faking approval, is particularly brilliant. Lancaster is incredibly good here in the later scenes though as he begins to show Hunsecker's reserve to leaves him as he must get more and more involved in Sidney's plan. Lancaster is terrific in portraying a bit of a growing madness in Hunsecker, a quiet yet fervent madness so fitting for Hunsecker, and the intensity grows as he becomes more determined to keep his sister. Lancaster presents Hunsecker as a man who has always been in control, and Suzy perhaps who he has been controlling for the longest time, finally losing his command which is more than he really can comprehend. Lancaster devolves into a mess of sorts though still perfectly as the reserved Hunsecker as everything begins to collapse around him. There are perhaps two Lancasters the wild man, which the best example of is probably Elmer Gantry, and the far more taciturn Lancaster, which best example of may be found here. He gives a great biting portrayal of a villain who does not need to raise a fist to ruin the lives around him.

36 comments:

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, I stumbled upon your YouTube page and watched your "Best of Film" in whatever year videos, and I would like to ask if you could do more, because those are really cool.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Love Lancaster here, that is all.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

What're everyone's thoughts on the Golden Globes? I'm:

Overjoyed for Redmayne, Moore, and Keaton, though I can't say I was surprised. They all just seem so lovely and deserving and gosh is Moore just luminous.

I was hoping for Stone to beat Arquette but oh well, no surprises there. I'm fine with Adams, and Boyhood in general I guess. Simmons is pretty much a dead cert for Supporting Actor.

On a separate note, really glad that Ruth Wilson and Jeffrey Tambor got recognised for their television work, especially Wilson, she is a fucking awesome actress.

Anonymous said...

I'm basically okay with all the wins... Boyhood will probably win Best Picture and I'm sort of okay with it, although I really wish something else could upset. Same with Arquette. The other wins are deserved, except maybe Amy Adams', who I rather liked although I think that both Emily Blunt and Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars) were better.

luke higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the Golden Globes.

Louis Morgan said...

Matt:

I'll probably do some more sometime in the future, although I want to redo the ones I've already done. I need to find a better video editor than what I currently have though.

Luke:

Only one real surprise was Budapest winning comedy over Birdman. I technically prefer Birdman but I also really liked Budapest so I was fine with that. Also I do believe, with that Bafta nomination and the clear love for the film, Fiennes may be getting in although it may be a bloodbath for the "locks".

The rest of the winners were extremely predictable although they were deserving, although there were a few exceptions.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Louis, do you consider Simmons co-lead in Whiplash? Because I'm starting to feel like an argument could be made.

luke higham said...

Louis: Seen any new films, such as Joe, Enemy or A Most Violent Year.

Louis Morgan said...

Robert: I could see it in a Forest Whitaker in Last King of Scotland sort of way, but I would not quite agree. In terms of perspective we only ever see Simmons from Teller's perspective and it always feels Tellers story whereas in Last King it did feel just as much Idi Amin's story as it did the doctors. The doctor felt like a way for us to get into Amin's mind, whereas I don't think that's the case for Simmons in Whiplash. I'd say Lancaster above is actually more lead than Simmons in Whiplash as Simmons fits in well as that character that lords over the proceedings even though he is supporting them like his predecessors who won the Oscar such as John Houseman and Louis Gossett Jr.

Luke:

Nothing new yet.

luke higham said...

A Most Violent Year Ratings
Isaac - 4.5
Chastain - 4 (leaning towards a 4.5)
Oyelowo - 3.5
Brooks - 3.5

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Someone told me that Carell has an equal percentage of screentime in Foxcatcher to Simmons in Whiplash (42%). However, I agree Simmons is Supporting based on lack of POV.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

As much as I like Fiennes, if he gets in over Oyelowo I'll be a bit annoyed, though only a bit. I won't mind the lineup being

Fiennes
Oyelowo
Redmayne
Keaton
Gyllenhaal

but I really can't see Cumberbatch missing out.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

On the plus side, Moore seems guaranteed to win now.

If Carell gets into Supporting I will flip. I didn't love Ruffalo but at least there won't be category fraud involved with him.

Luke: what were your thoughts on Isaac.

RatedRStar said...

I am fine with Eddie Redmayne winning, he was indeed very good and he is a very nice man =D, but then again most actors/actresses are nice people deep down, even my old nemesis Joaquin seems a lot more likable nowadays =D, ill even say to Moviefilm that I think Johnny Depp is a very nice man and I have enjoyed numerous performances with him, he just needs to try harder in picking better scripts.

My wish for 2014 best actor, is that it is the best ever =D, too many times in the 2000s, the best actor category was terrible, nowadays they seem stronger and stronger, let that continue =D.

RatedRStar said...

Even if Jake misses out, I will still be somewhat pleased if all 5 of the nominees were 4.5 caliber or higher, and the only way that doesnt happen is if Carell is nominated, afraid to say it, Carell is the weak link in this best actor race.

Anonymous said...

@luke: Thoughts on Chastain too.

luke higham said...

GDSAO & Anonymous: Isaacs's not a 5, but I really liked that he portrayed his Pacino-esque character with an actual morality, which you hardly ever get in the history of cinema, this may be a spoiler for people, but not once does he kill anyone in the film.

Chastain was really good as his wife and I might consider it being her 2nd best of the year on a rewatch.

RatedRStar: As much as I love Fiennes, and was surprised by Budapest's win in the Comedy/Musical category, I still want the same lineup, that I gave on Friday, since I'm really interested in seeing reviews for Redmayne, Cumberbatch and obviously Oyelowo in Selma and would still think it could be the best lineup ever on the blog, but I'm very confident that Fiennes, will be reviewed for the alternates. Carell is a massive no-no for me and I'll be extremely pissed if he does get nominated.

Michael McCarthy said...

Honestly, even though I loved Oyelowo, I'd personally rather see Fiennes nominated. He's one of my favorite actors currently working and his performance has been in my top 5 for the year since I saw it in march. I will say I'd rather he beats out Cumberbatch or Redmayne than Oyelowo.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Eddie Redmayne is indeed a very nice man, it seems the Oscar lineup this year will be full of very nice men and women regardless of the outcome, just look at the contenders:

Redmayne (seems like such a genuine, down-to-earth British chap, like Ben Whishaw and Tom Hiddleston)
Felicity Jones (seems like such a lovely girl)
Keaton (seems like a top bloke IRL and is always likable on film)
Oyelowo (always so eloquently spoken in interviews, so refined and classy)
Cumberbatch (same as Oyelowo)
Even if Carrell is nominated, he's a very likable guy, same for Ruffalo, they seem like nice people to hang out with.
Jake G is one G, he seems like a great buddy sort

The supporting category is basically one likable group of guys, yes even Ed Norton seems like someone who'd be very easy to chat to, if not necessarily work with, haha, and Duvall could be a bit grumpy I guess but what do I know.

Actress and Supporting Actress is filled with actresses I feel very compelled to root for, especially Pike, Stone, did I mention Jones, Moore, I love this year's award race.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

I have to disagree though RatedRStar.

Johnny Depp USED to be a nice man, when he was doing great films like Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, and Corpse Bride. Once he broke up with Paradis and left for that awful Amber Heard it's all gone downhill from there, he strikes me as a bit of an asshole now.

On the opposite side, the likes of Joaquin Phoenix and Downey Jr. have turned into very pleasant public figures.

RatedRStar said...

@Donald: I understand, maybe he is just going through a rough patch of sorts, needs a bit of well, good fortune perhaps is what I would call it, I think a good performance might help him, unfortunately Mortdecai looks really bad I have to say from its trailer.

luke higham said...

After seeing every major film for 2014, here's who I want to see reviewed

Best Supporting Actor
Duvall
Ruffallo
Norton
Hawke
Simmons
I honestly don't mind if there were no surprises here since it's a very solid lineup.

Best Lead Actor
Redmayne
Cumberbatch
Oyelowo
Keaton
Gyllenhaal

Alternate Supporting Actor
Fassbender
Armitage
Kebbell
Brolin
Poulter
Sutherland

Alternate Lead
Pearce
Hardy
Gleeson
Fiennes
Hoffman
McConaughey
Gyllenhaal
Spall
Cage
Phoenix

And if Louis finds these 5 star worthy as well, Tatum, Cooper, Waltz and Serkis.

luke higham said...

Michael McCarthy: I accept your view, but for me, I'd like to see those that I mentioned in the previous comment, get their fair slice of the pie here, plus, being British, makes me biased for Redmayne and Cumberbatch.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Oyelowo's British too.

luke higham said...

KoooK160: Yes, I know that but Michael said that, he would rather have Fiennes over Redmayne & Cumberbatch than Oyelowo.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Seen any films recently.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Redmayne better pray no one sees Jupiter Ascending while voting is going on, because that looks like his Norbit.

moviefilm said...

As for Carell, I'm not going to tell my opinion on him (just in case anyone is (or is going to be) reading my blog and in case he's nominated), but his nomination wouldn't bother me that much. In Little Miss Sunshine she showed us, what he's capable of and since then he didn't have any dramatic role (except of maybe The Way Way Back, but in that he was not so remarkable in that) and that is a thing I always appreciate, when an actor breaks his stereotype and it works (Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls, Jim Carrey in The Man on the Moon, Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side...).
And this year was an especially good one in terms of this.
Steve Carell in Foxcatcher
Adam Sandler in Men, Women & Children (though he wasn't very remarkable)
Melissa McCarthy in St. Vincent
Naomi Watts in St. Vincent
Tyler Perry in Gone Girl
Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer
Alec Baldwin in Still Alice (though he was terrible)
Jennifer Aniston in Cake
Zach Galifianikis and Emma Stone in Birdman

I just want him get nominated, because he was the mostly mentioned this year among the precursors and it might encourage actors to take roles against their usual stereotype. I can't help myself, but I love when and actor shows off his range.

luke higham said...

Moviefilm: Aw Hell Naw.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I didn't even dislike Carell that much, but it would be a travesty if he got in over Gyllenhaal.

luke higham said...

I didn't dislike him much either, he's a 4 for me, but I've seen so much better, including all the performances I've mentioned before.

Michael McCarthy said...

Moviefilm: I'm all for actors taking risks and showing off their range, and I guess in that regard I admire Carell. But I personally think it would be a shame if he got nominated because I think it would show other actors that they'll be rewarded for playing against type no matter whether or not they succeed in the role, and I still insist that Carell didn't.

luke higham said...

Michael: Could not have said it better, I honestly don't know why people make such a big deal, when actors go against type, as it guarantees acclaim and awards.

moviefilm said...

You all are right, actually. There are plenty of contenders that deserve a nomination, I just said I like actors against their types. But you're all right that it's better to see an actor playing his usual type and doing it excellently (Robert Duvall in The Judge for example), than an actor against his type and not succeeding in that very much (Carell)...

luke higham said...

Moviefilm: At the end of the day, most of us, if not all of us (especially me) just want the best of the best nominated or reviewed, that is all we want.

Lezlie said...

Moviefilm: I seem to be the only person on the planet who thought that Tilda Swinton kinda sucked in Snowpiercer. Apart from the production and costume design and its general atmosphere I found the film to be underwhelming too.