Movie Review: Age long Rivalry between a Press Agent and a Columnist

Cover of Sweet Smell of Success

Movie title: Sweet Smell of Success
Runtime: 96 minutes
Written by: Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman and Mackendrick
Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
Year of Shooting: 1957
Reviewer: Olutayo Irantiola

There are many silent tussles between professional collaborators, it is disheartening when those who are supposed to synergize for the betterment of the society became competitors as they seek relevance and they assert their personality. The movie is a clear depiction of the age long rivalry between PR Specialists then referred to as Press Agents and the Columnists which is the Journalists.

The principal characters in the movie included JJ Hunsecker, Leo Bartha and Otis Elwell who were all columnists while the press agent is Sidney Falco of Sideny Falco Publicity. Sidney Falco wanted to desperately appear in the news the following morning and he did everything in the dead of the night to ensure that one of all these columnists pick up the news.

However in the process, the characters in the movie described him in maligning phrases such as- “A publicity man’s nature is to be a liar, I won’t have hired you, if you wasn’t”– Mr Joe Robard. “It’s a dirty job but I pay clean money”– Mr James Jimmy. “Hungry press agent and full of all the tricks of his slimy trade”– JJ Hunsecker. When Sidney was asked by Senator Harry Walker to describe the work of a Press Agent, he said, “A press agent eats the columnist’s dirt and is expected to call it Manna”. Later on in the same scene, JJ Hunsecker said, “They (Press agents) dig up scandal about prominent people and spread it among columnists.”

Other demeaning words included, “I can’t see any good reason to print what you give me! I can’t even think of a bad reason”– Elwell Otis. “Watch out for this guy, he’s a press agent” and “Mr. Temple does not believe in Press Agent”. With all these, it sounded denigrating saying that one is a press agent.

Some of these notions still abound today despite the present day understanding on the
need for strategic thinking and appropriately communicating with the publics. In fact, in the face of real crisis communication, PR Specialists are always under close scrutiny because it is believed that the role blurs out the truth but this is not always true.

The fourth estate of the realm was not spared in the mudslinging, they were perceived as more powerful than the press agent because the final output is visible in their tabloids with their bylines but PR Specialists are typically behind the scene but Sidney mentioned, “the columnist cannot do without us” while trying to defend his role, JJ Hensecker said, “the columnist gives sound advice”.

Hensecker was described as a “disgrace to his profession, he prints anything! Use any spice to pepper up his daily garbage.” Unfortunately, Leo Bartha and Otis Elwell were all depicted as randy columnist who used the power of the pen to get involved in illicit sex. Sidney in particular used that of Elwell to achieve his aim of getting a publication. The ego of the columnist was smashed by Dallas of the Quintet whose relationship was broken as a result of the publication of Otis Elwell, he said, “you think about yourself and your column. To you, you are some kind of a national glory.”

Regardless of all these, the film represented the enduring tradition of columnist of not showing their document to the client for vetting as mentioned by JJ Hunsecker’s secretary, “JJ does not like people to look at the column proof in advance.”

Well, the audience is left to determine if Sidney actually enjoyed his acclaimed success which he gladly said, “My favorite new perfume- Success” with the publication that ruined the career of Dallas and his relationship with Sussie.

In summation, asides the pitfalls of a press agent, Sidney is a typical press agent who is agitated to get his client in the press as he anxiously begs Elwell, “please print me an item”, he understands deadline required in the newsroom, he is more than just a business partner with the columnist but he knows them very well, he monitored the press. He also represents a press agent that collaborates with the columnist and he knows his onions, this is depicted in his interaction with Mr. Temple, he said, “when I tell a client I can get him a space in Hunsecker’s column, it’s not talk”. As professional collaborators, can press agents and columnists henceforth collaborate in giving quality news items to the publics?

Enjoy the trailer of the movie-

 

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