I enjoyed Samira Ahmed’s trawl through the history of movies about journalism but was surprised she didn’t mention arguably the greatest example of the genre: Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success. It’s just as, perhaps even more, relevant today as when it was made.
Lancaster, playing the all-powerful columnist J.J Hunsecker, produces the performance of his career. So does Tony Curtis as that "cookie full of arsenic" and press agent Sidney Falco. Though set in New York, the movie is easily seen as a searing expose of the viciousness, hypocrisy, venality and arrogance of our own beloved tabloid press.
It’s all there: the ceaseless bullying of public figures, the rebarbative alliance between editors and the public relations industry and, above all, the revelation that much of what passes for so-called news is little more than a tawdry commodity to be bought and sold like so much else. The game is rigged and the only way to win is to refuse to play. And even that may not be enough. It is not, in short, a pretty picture. It’s summed up in Hunsecker’s line, "You sound happy, Sidney. Why should you be happy when I’m not?" There speaks the authentic voice of the tabloid editor…
As this superb scene demonstrates…