A powerful film about a ruthless journalist and an unscrupulous press agent who'll do anything to achieve success, this fascinating, compelling story (The Hollywood Reporter) crackles with 'taut direction and whiplash di... more »alogue (Time). Bristling with vivid performances by Curtis and Lancaster, this gutsy exposÃ(c) of big-city corruption is a timeless classic that cuts deep and sends a chilling message. It's late at night in the steamy, neon-lit streets of New York's Times Square, and everything's buzzing with nervous energy. But press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is oblivious to the whirlwind of street vendors, call girls and con men bustling around him as he nervously waits for the early edition of The Globe. Whose career did gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) launch today...and whose did he destroy?« less
A. Wolverton | Crofton, MD United States | 08/12/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There's no profanity. No blood. No guns, knives, or bombs. But the lack of these things doesn't keep `Sweet Smell of Success' from being one of the most wicked, hateful, spiteful, vicious, murderous portrayals of how people can act toward one another. Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a two-bit New York press agent trying to reach for the big time. He's such a small time operator that his name is taped to his office door (which is also his apartment door). He makes promises he can't keep and ignores anyone who can't help him in stepping on others on his way to the top. J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) is the King of Gossip. His newspaper column is read by 60 million people a day. He is truly the master of all he surveys, making and breaking celebrities with the stroke of his typewriter. He can see right through you and cut you to pieces in the time it takes you to light his cigarette. Yet you light it anyway. That's how powerful he is. Falco is little more than a minor annoyance to Hunsecker, until the day that Falco learns that Hunsecker's sister is engaged to a musician that Hunsecker hates. Falco sees his opportunity to get in good with Hunsecker by wrecking the musician's career. That's when the sparks start to fly and they never stop until the end of the film. Ernest Lehman's script is sharp, biting, and relentless. Curtis has never been better. And Lancaster, who has had many great roles in his brilliant career, is perfection. `Sweet Smell of Success' is just as powerful today as it was in 1957. Tough, gritty, hard-hitting...without any four-letter words. Can anyone make `em like this anymore? Not hardly. 1 hour 36 minutes"
"You're a cookie filled with arsenic."
Cubist | United States | 01/13/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sweet Smell of Success is not only an example of a quintessential film noir, it is also a quintessential movie about New York City. As J.J. Hunsecker puts it so well, "I love this dirty town." This is a tough, gritty, uncompromising film with dialogue that crackles and pops (in some respects, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross is a homage to this movie) with intensity as the various characters trade barbs with each other.The film belongs to Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. Both were huge stars at the time and cast themselves against type in this movie. Naturally, the film tanked when it was released but it has since become a much admired and imitated film (Oliver Stone has said that a lot of his movie, Wall Street, was inspired by Sweet Smell). Curtis is note perfect as a slimy agent who'll do anything to get his clients promoted and climb the social ladder. This puts him at odds with the most powerful columnist in the city--J.J. Hunsecker, played by Lancaster. J.J. can kill careers with a few words and it is this power that makes him such a dangerous person.The film also features stunning black and white cinematography that is moody and atmospheric. New York City has never looked so dark and foreboding. The camerawork is rich and textured and it is fascinating to see a New York City that just doesn't exist anymore. Watching this film is like stepping into a time machine.The DVD is a bit of letdown. The transfer could be better. I noticed scratches and dirt on the print. And the lack of extras is unexcusable. C'mon, a retrospective documentary with film historians and Tony Curtis (who is still alive) would've been nice. The studio really dropped the ball in that respect. A classic like this one deserves more respect."
A knockout script, stellar acting, and dazzling photography
Robert E. Lloyd | Deerfield Beach, FL | 12/22/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film, barely distributed upon release (it's a thinly veiled barb directed at the Walter Winchells of the world), features what is arguably the finest screenplay ever written. Ernest Lehman started the task, but Clifford Odetts (the later years, more bitter Odetts) was called in to "punch it up," as Tony Curtis later explained in a lecture at the Smithsonian a couple of years ago (the film was never shown publicly in Washington until the mid-1990's). (According to Curtis, such lines as "The cat's in the bag, the bag's in the river" were by Odetts, whom Curtis observed in a trailer on the set after midnight in Manhattan at a typewriter next to a whiskey bottle.) What other movie features lines like: "My left hand hasn't seen my right hand in 30 years"? This is clearly Tony Curtis' greatest role as a sleazy press agent, yet it is nearly topped by Burt Lancaster's chilling performance as a corrupt columnist. The dialog moves at breakneck speed chock full of such artifice that one is left nearly breathless trying to follow along. For jazz aficionados, check out the cameo appearance by Chico Hamilton's quintet with Paul Horn on flute and Fred Katz on cello, a rare film recording of their trademark "Tuesday at 2" late night jazz riffs. (The soundtrack equals the excellence of the rest of the film.) The photography by James Wong Howe is, as usual, impeccable, making ample use of wide angle lenses. For New Yorkers, this film captures the essence of Manhattan after dark. Although the setting is the world of the airwaves, the print media, and publicity hounds, the script is so true to life that I've found astonishing parallels to my workplace. Yet the words are so laden with methaphor as to defy the imagination. Sit back and let this picture take you away. It's a ride you won't soon forget."
On my list of favorite overlooked films.
Type12point | Ottawa, ON | 04/12/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"April 12, 2002 If I had to pick one American studio movie that I felt was
unjustly forgotten in surprising relation to how entertaining and
timeless it was, there'd be no contest. `The Sweet Smell Of
Success' nearly always comes out of my mouth first when I'm asked
about my favorite movies. Inevitably, I'm told rather pleasantly, "Never heard of it." Try explaining to someone under forty that it stars Burt
Lancaster and Tony Curtis (two studio stars who don't penetrate
very far into contemporary consciousness) and that it concerns
newspaper columnists, and you're liable to receive a puzzled smile
in return. "That's one of your favorite films?" By contemporary standards, on the surface, it just doesn't
appeal. Trying to explain its excellence in five hundred words or so
isn't easy, but I'll try. For starters, we like to think that our present day is as
wise and hip a period as has ever existed. Why, this is the age
of irony. We've been there, done that. We're tougher, more jaded,
more cynical, more smart-alecky that anybody else, right? Wrong. The flick is sharper, more adult and more vicious
than ninety percent of the stuff being made today, fifty years later. What's more, watch this movie and you'll quickly realize that
the smarter-than-smart, hipper-than-hip dialogue of today (like all
that light weight mush from Kevin Williams and the beating-around-the-bush repetitions of Quentin Tarantino) is apple pie easy compared to having
to do it a) without pop culture references or cursing, b) in double
time, and c) with a perfectly balanced ear. The dialogue in this movie
is like jazz: it's syncopated, it's learned, it's clever, and it demands
more than one listen. `The Sweet Smell Of Success' tops a short list of films from
roughly the same period (`The Asphalt Jungle' and `The Killing' are
two) that form a last hurrah for the black and white movie with bite. Before things supposedly became so complicated in this world that
the movies forgot how to talk. PEOPLE WHO'LL LIKE THIS MOVIE: classic Hollywood fans; hard-boiled
fans; incurable Manhattan enthusiasts (like myself). PEOPLE WHO WON'T LIKE THIS MOVIE: it is in black and white, folks,
and Tony Curtis is in it."
Dripping with contempt, loathing, and hatred
bruce horner | 11/16/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a film that holds up well to repeated viewings. The jazzy score by Elmer Bernstein combines with the beautiful black & white cityscapes of cinamatographer James Wong Howe and the acid dialog for one hell of a ride. Burt Lancaster projects icy menace as the powerful, Walter Winchell-derived J. J. Hunsecker. Tony Curtis has the role of his life as the oily, grasping press agent, Sidney Falco. (In fact, I think this is the only movie in which Curtis could be mistaken for a good actor.) Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman turned out a script that's a caustic indictment of the American worship of money, fame, power...but that makes it seem serious and dull. There's a tightly-wound, over-the-top quality to the dialog and characterizations that's fun and enormously entertaining. The evocation, too, of New York circa 1957 gives the whole thing context and heft. There are loads of location shots, almost all at night, that give a real feel of the city----the clubs, the all-night diners, the newstands, the trash, the neon. You can almost taste it. Plus the real-life Chico Hamilton Quintet plays on screen!"