Sweet Smell of Success

Sweet Smell of Success

4.6 6
Director: Alexander MacKendrick

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Ernest Lehman drew upon his experiences as a Broadway press agent to write the devastating a clef short story "Tell Me About Tomorrow." This in turn was adapted by Lehman and Clifford Odets into the sharp-edged, penetrating feature film Sweet Smell of Success. …  See more details below


Ernest Lehman drew upon his experiences as a Broadway press agent to write the devastating a clef short story "Tell Me About Tomorrow." This in turn was adapted by Lehman and Clifford Odets into the sharp-edged, penetrating feature film Sweet Smell of Success. Burt Lancaster stars as J. J. Hunsecker, a Walter Winchell-style columnist who wields his power like a club, steamrolling friends and enemies alike. Tony Curtis co-stars as Sidney Falco, a sycophantic press agent who'd sell his grandmother to get an item into Hunsecker's popular newspaper column. Hunsecker enlists Falco's aid in ruining the reputation of jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), who has had the temerity to court Hunsecker's sister Susan (Susan Harrison). Falco contrives to plant marijuana on Dallas, then summons corrupt, sadistic NYPD officer Harry Kello (Emile Meyer), who owes Hunsecker several favors, to arrest the innocent singer. The scheme eventually boomerangs, resulting in disaster for both Hunsecker and (especially) Falco. The real Walter Winchell, no longer as powerful as he'd been in the 1940s but still a man to be reckoned with, went after Ernest Lehman with both barrels upon the release of Sweet Smell of Success. Winchell was not so much offended by the unflattering portrait of himself as by the dredging up of an unpleasant domestic incident from his past. While Success was not a success at the box office, it is now regarded as a model of street-smart cinematic cynicism. The electric performances of the stars are matched by the taut direction of Alex MacKendrick, the driving jazz score of Elmer Bernstein, and the evocative nocturnal camerawork of James Wong Howe.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Lucia Bozzola
A late New York City noir skillfully helmed by a director renowned for his British comedies, Sweet Smell of Success is a tasty cinematic cookie full of arsenic. With James Wong Howe's peerlessly sleek location monochrome photography setting the nocturnal mood of New York's lost theaters and nightclubs, Alexander Mackendrick guides his stars to career performances as the dregs of celebrity culture. Eschewing his trademark box-office grin, producer/star Burt Lancaster cunningly plays dirty as sublimely malevolent right-wing columnist J.J. Hunsecker, biting off Clifford Odets-Ernest Lehman bon mots in his distinctively clipped manner. Co-star Tony Curtis is excellent as weaselly, grasping press agent Sidney Falco, painfully revealing how low a 1950s climber would go for the titular odor. Though a de facto N.Y.C. companion to Billy Wilder's equally superb and mordant West Coast showbiz exposé Sunset Boulevard (1950), Sweet Smell suffered an ignominious contemporary fate more akin to Wilder's acid press satire Ace in the Hole (1951). Since then, Sweet Smell of Success has aged gracefully into a masterwork; it was adapted not so gracefully as a Broadway musical in 2002.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Region Code:
[B&W, Wide Screen]

Special Features

New audio commentary featuring film scholar James Naremore; Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, a 1986 documentary featuring interviews with director Alexander Mackendrick, actor Burt Lancaster, producer James Hill, and others; James Wong Howe: Cinematographer, a 1973 documentary about the Oscar-winning director of photography, featuring lighting tutorials with Howe; New video interview with film critic and historian Neal Gabler (Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture Celebrity) about legendary columnist Walter Winchell, inspiration for the character J. J. Hunsecker; New video interview with film-maker James Mangold about Mackendrick, his instructor and mentor; Original theatrical trailer

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Burt Lancaster J.J. Hunsecker
Tony Curtis Sidney Falco
Susan Harrison Susan Hunsecker
Martin Milner Steve Dallas
Sam Levene Frank D'Angelo
Barbara Nichols Rita
Jeff Donnell Sally
Joseph Leon Robard
Edith Atwater Mary
Emile G. Meyer Harry Kello
Joe Frisco Herbie Temple
David White Otis Elwell
Lawrence Dobkin Leo Bartha
Lurene Tuttle Mrs. Bartha
Queenie Smith Mildred Tam
Autumn Russell Linda
Jay Adler Manny Davis
Lewis Charles Al Evans
Chico Hamilton Actor
Chico Hamilton Quintet Actor

Technical Credits
Alexander MacKendrick Director
Elmer Bernstein Score Composer,Musical Direction/Supervision
Edward Boyle Set Decoration/Design
Edward Carrere Art Director
Alan Crosland Editor
Mary Grant Costumes/Costume Designer
Chico Hamilton Songwriter
James Hill Producer
James Wong Howe Cinematographer
Fred Katz Songwriter
Ernest Lehman Screenwriter
Richard McWhorter Production Manager
Clifford Odets Screenwriter
Robert J. Schiffer Makeup
Jack Solomon Sound/Sound Designer

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Sweet Smell of Success 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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poughkeepsiejohn More than 1 year ago
A little background here: In the 1930's, there was a New York gossip columnist named Walter Winchell who catapulted to fame on the radio with his rapid-fire delivery of lurid tales involving actors and politicans of every stripe. This popularity continued until about the 1950's when he got involved in the Red Scare. He was especially hard on Hollywood filmmakers, like The Hollywood Ten. One such writer was Clifford Odets, who named names (who were already known, by the way) and felt guilty as hell about it. In 1957, he and a former press agent named Ernest Lehman wrote this film as a response to all that power that Winchell weilded. The result is "Sweet Smell Of Success", a lacerating film rooted in 1950's noir with its eyes planted firmly towards the present. The drama centers around an uber-desperate press agent named Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), who lives out of his shabby office. Falco's job is to feed info to a mega-powerful gossip columnist named J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) in the hopes that Falco will get his name in Hunsecker's column. Lately, business has been bad. On top of that, Hunsecker's sister, Susan (Susan Harrison), has been dating a jazz musician (Martin Milner) whom Hunsecker despises. The relationship between J. J. and Susan almost borders on incestuous and how J. J. sets out to destroy that relationship is very much akin to how Walter Winchell destroyed his own daughter's relationship with a Broadway hustler. Lancaster and Curtis have rarely been better but it wouldn't have worked so well if they didn't have a biting, brutal script to go along with it. The script is loaded with memorable moments, most of which are delivered with Lancaster's acidity and Curtis' rapid-fire street-smartness. Even James Wong Howe's shadowy B&W photography is a marvel, adding to the film's noirish quality. This classic was the work of a British filmmaker named Alexander Mackendrick, who up until that time worked at The Ealing Studios and made Alec Guinness comedies like "The Ladykillers" and "The Man In The White Suit"; it should be mentioned this DVD has a great doc about his career and how he couldn't cope with the Hollywood studio system and quickly dropped out of filmmaking. Today, hardly anyone knows who Walter Winchell is, despite the fact that his gossipy style is copied in the guise of TMZ, Extra! and Entertainment Tonight. Considering the fact that Rotten Tomatoes gave this fifty-year-old film a 100% rating says a lot. That's because "Sweet Smell Of Success" speaks volumes about media manipulation. Loudly. By the way, when Walter Winchell died in 1972, only his daughter came out to mourn him. Many believe that the reason for that was because of this film and the lasting, arrogant impression it has on his memory.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sweet Smell Of Success is proof that when you make a movie about a sleazey tabloid reporter in the 1940's starring Burt Lancaster you can't go wrong. The film stars Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker a really trashy reporter who can single handedly destroy a celebrities life. I don't want to give away much of the plot because it will ruin the movie for you and you won't be suprised by some of the plot twists. I want to see the broadway show starring John Lithgow but I have some doubts because nobody can match Lancaster.