Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)

A customer recently wanted a recommendation of something akin to Sweet Smell of Success, the 1957 picture starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. We were a bit stumped, as there really isn’t anything quite like it.

The film centers on the tense relationship between a young press agent, Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), and an influential columnist, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), whose ability to write-up a gossip-filled scandal-yarn can make or break careers. At the heart of their story is J.J.’s younger sister, Susan, of whom J.J. is overly protective and controlling. As J.J. and Sidney wrestle with one another in an attempt to get the upper hand in their game of political power and influence, J.J. attempts to lure Sidney with a promise of success in exchange for breaking up the relationship that Susan has with a man whom he deems inappropriate.

The film is unusual partly for being so verbose, partly for being a classic noir that centers on the jarring relationship between two siblings, partly for its fantastically raw and snappy music – provided by the fabulous Chico Hamilton Quintet, and partly for its incredible location-shots of Broadway with the frenetic energy of the crowd-filled sidewalks and its bizarre scenes shot down alleyways. Perhaps it’s because the director, Alexander Mackendrick, was so anxious during shooting – as a result of all the above, and because Burt Lancaster, who was also one of the producers, had a reputation for being hostile to directors. Perhaps it’s because the cast and crew often had no script to work with so they just had to shoot with only a general sense of where they were going. Whichever it is, and despite what the critics and audiences felt at the time, Sweet Smell of Success is an enduring classic of ’50s cinema. Enjoy.

“I’d hate to take a bite out of you, you’re a cookie full of arsenic.”

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