A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
A frustrated former big-city journalist now stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to rekindle his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus.
J.J. Hunsecker, the most powerful newspaper columnist in New York, is determined to prevent his sister from marrying Steve Dallas, a jazz musician. He therefore covertly employs Sidney Falco, a sleazy and unscrupulous press agent, to break up the affair by any means possible.Written by
David Levene <D.S.Levene@durham.ac.uk>
They know him - and they shiver - the big names of Broadway, Hollywood and Capitol Hill. They know J.J.- the world-famed columnist whose gossip is gospel to sixty million readers! They know the venom that flickers in those eyes behind the glasses - and they fawn - like Sid Falco, the kid who wanted "in" so much, he'd sell out his own girl to stand up there with J.J., sucking in the sweet smell of success! This is J.J.'s story - but not the way he would have liked it told! See more »
According to TCM's Eddie Muller, Walter Winchell was delighted that this film bombed at the box office. And, at a preview showing of the picture, an audience member commented "Don't change a thing, just burn all the prints". See more »
In the first scene in Sidney's office, the secretary picks up a stack of magazines and newspapers that changes position and height from shot to shot. See more »
Tony Curtis learns the hard way about the "Sweet Smell of Success" in this 1957 film that stars Burt Lancaster, Sam Levene, Susan Harrison, and Barbara Nichols. In the pre-Internet days when the newspaper was king, the columnists ruled - Winchell, Ed Sullivan, Cholly Knickerbocker, Radie Harris, and let's not forget Hedda and Louella! But the King was Winchell, and while I don't think the Burt Lancaster character of J.J. Hunsecker is modeled on him, the power and control the man wielded certainly is.
Tony Curtis plays one of his best roles as Sidney Falco, a low-ranking press agent who is dependent on people like Hunsecker to mention his clients in their daily columns. But Sidney is on the outs with Hunsecker, a very bad place to be. Hunsecker has ordered Sidney to break up his sister Susan's relationship with a jazz musician, Steve (Martin Milner), and Susan is still seeing him. Sidney comes up with a plan to tear the two apart which probably would have worked, but when Steve stands up to J.J., Hunsecker is out for blood. He demands the plan be taken one step further and dangles an attractive carrot in front of Sidney to make it happen.
Done in black and white with most of the action taking place at night and often on the streets of Times Square, "The Sweet Smell of Success" has an atmosphere of slime and grit. The handsome Lancaster and Curtis are not particularly well photographed - it's not meant to be a glamorous picture. The dialogue is fast, to the point, and witty and the performances are breathtaking. Lancaster underplays the twisted Hunsecker so that his contempt for the people he writes about - and his sick attraction to his sister - can be clearly shown. He could have played it more along the lines of Curtis' Sidney - an obvious, manipulative rat - but it wouldn't have been as right as Lancaster's tightly-controlled J.J.
Curtis was born to play Sidney - an attractive, fast-talking man with no morals who plays both ends against the middle. He's a New York character, ideal for a New York guy like Curtis who grew up on the streets. Sidney is totally outrageous - he invites a cigarette girl to his apartment and then pimps her out to a columnist so he can get an item in his column; he tries blackmailing another columnist, but that backfires. It doesn't stop him from trying again.
The two victims of these piranhas are Susan and Steve, a young couple deeply in love who want to be married. Their simple story is told against a backdrop of scandal, revenge, manipulation and blackmail. Their situation makes the actions of J.J. and Sidney even seedier and more cruel than they already are.
"Sweet Smell of Success" has become a cult classic and was actually mounted at one point as a Broadway musical. Like "Nightmare Alley," it probably was too grim for audiences back then. Is anything too grim for audiences of today? Doubtful.
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