Sweet Smell of Success
 
         
   
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.
Release Date: June 27th, 1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Actors: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols
 
         
"Gordon Gekko doesn’t have anything on the unscrupulous activities of these publicity moguls."
   
 
             
 
Theatrical
8/10
 
DVD
N/A
 
Blu-ray
N/A
 
             
 
 

 “The Eyes of Broadway” J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) is the hottest columnist for the New York Globe. He continually cuts out Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), an underling journalist and underhanded, blackmail-prone press agent that aspires to be as big as his boss; Falco struggles to conceal what he really thinks about one of his “very best friends.” As the right-hand man, he furnishes the columnist with dirty gossip, continually digging up scandal ripe for the printing. Unfortunately, J.J. is none too grateful, with a hearty ego that helps him spin his own web of deceit and feel above the crooked politicians and seedy bigwigs that he makes and breaks in his column (J.J. assumes he represents his 60 million readers’ thoughts, even though he only really does what furthers his own quest for control).

Steve Dallas (Marty Milner), an up-and-coming musician (with the Chico Hamilton Quintet) is in love with Hunsecker’s sister Susan (Susan Harrison), much to J.J’s dismay. Sidney is employed to try and break it up, and uses his various clients, promises of publicity and devious schemes to promote his own power through assumed persuasion over Hunsecker’s column – which he can rarely deliver. Leo Bartha (Lawrence Dobkin) is one such blackmail subject, who runs a more respectable column; he’d rather expose his own infidelity than print one of Falco’s slimy write-ups – this time about Dallas’ drug-and-communist-riddled smear campaign. Ruining the kid’s reputation is the surefire way to end the relationship – or so thinks Falco.
 
 
 

Sweet Smell of Success Movie Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols

Sweet Smell of Success Movie Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols

 

Sweet Smell of Success Movie Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene, Barbara Nichols

 
 

 J.J.’s stranglehold over his sister is destined to aid the immoral man’s wounded pride. But phony Falco soon begins to learn that his shady dealings drag him down to the depths of moral depravity; others refuse to sink to his level, even when they suffer from his libelous writing. Every man has his price, as Sidney soon discovers, and he isn’t afraid to misuse his friends and acquaintances, such as cigarette girl Rita (Barbara Nichols) with her good looks to swindle and coerce his rivals. Falco’s rise and fall is only amongst the corrupt, never truly breaking free from his greed and ambition - his character doesn’t get to travel full circle, instead staying in his unending routine of base decisions.

The dialogue is smart, shrewd, quick and hilariously cynical, and the subject matter is incredibly mature, despite being shrouded in 1957-appropriate insinuation. Curtis rattles off his lines with conviction and fervor, while Lancaster matches him with his crooked, wily ways. They both use words to convince everyone they’re the good guys, while simultaneously, sleazily working columns and associates to prove the opposite. Both leading men combat for the top spot of villainy, leaving the audience with no one to side with. Perhaps it’s best to watch as each struggles to rise in power while sinking to the bottom of human decency. They toy with the lives of the commoners, twisting around words and ideas until they come out ahead – and not just in the lead; Hunsecker is only content when his enemies have not only lost, but have also been destroyed.

Smooth jazz and blaring trumpets oversee the conniving proceedings, with rapid percussion to increase the suspense. Sweet Smell of Success, with its sarcastic title, also offers up some of the best quotes: “Mr. Hunsecker, you've got more twists than a barrel of pretzels!” which sums up Lancaster’s character; “I'd hate to take a bite outta you. You're a cookie full of arsenic,” says it all about Sidney; betting is referred to as “compensation for the marginal life we lead”; Falco is described as the “Boy with the ice cream face” and refers to his break-up scheme as “the cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river”; and J.J. complains about Falco’s lighter tone - “You sound happy Sidney. Why should you be happy when I’m not?” Gordon Gekko doesn’t have anything on the unscrupulous activities of these publicity moguls.

- Mike Massie
 
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