SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS
The powerful New York columnist, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancester), is respected and feared – and wooed by all press agents, none more so than the venal Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). Hunsecker uses access to his column for Falco’s showbiz clients as a tool to enlist Falco’s aid in snuffing out the budding romance between Hunsecker’s sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Falco fabricates a story about Dallas being a pot-smoking communist and gets a friendly cigarette girl (Barbara Nichols) to sleep with an entertainment reporter who agrees to run the smear item. Dallas loses his job but Hunsecker agrees to get him reinstated if he stops seeing Susan. When Hunsecker discovers the lovers are still seeing each other, the furious Hunsecker offers Falco extensive access to his column if he can finally cut the bonds between Susan and Dallas. Falco plants marijuana on Dallas and tips off sadistic NYPD cop Harry Kello (Emile Meyer) who beats up Dallas. Susan is suicidal and Falco races to the apartment she shares with her brother; Hunsecker walks in and misconstrues the scene; he phones Kello to tell him Falco duped him. Susan has a choice….
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Blistering dialogue by characters whose morals are misplaced in a midnight Manhattan combine to make Sweet Smell of Success a sizzling example of film noir, stylistically impeccable, moody and penetrating. As fresh and as relevant today as it was 50 years ago, English director Alexander Mackendrick (a frequenter of Ealing comedies) turns his attentions to noir with relish.
He picked a great project to do it with, a screenplay based on Ernest Lehman’s novel; Lehman was a press agent-turned novelist, a change which either precipitated or was followed by the acquisition of a conscience. But it gave the material such veracity that an ageing Walter Wenschell, the columnist most like the Hunsecker character, was infuriated. Lancester is repression itself as the powerful but loveless columnist who uses his syndicated column as both a steamroller and as candy. His relationship with his sister is given a subtle incestuous twist, and is his most vulnerable spot.
Tony Curtis pitches Falco perfectly in the first role of his career that really gives him a chance to show his great talent. The charm and pretty good looks hiding a selfish, greedy liar and manipulator always on the make, an urban vulture dressed like Polly the parrot. The physical setting is mid 50s New York, but the moral playground depicted is strikingly familiar. Masterful direction and cinematography are shown off in this restored version, with Bernstein’s apt jazzy score nailing all the right notes.
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SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (PG)
(US) - 1957
CAST: Burt Lancester, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Marty Milner, Sam Levene, Emile Meyer
PRODUCER: James Hill
DIRECTOR: Alexander Mackendrick
SCRIPT: Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman (novel by Lehman)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: James Wong Howe ASC
EDITOR: Alan Crosland jr
MUSIC: Elmer Bernstein
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Edward Carrere
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Chappel Distribution
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 18, 2003
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.