Film notes: Sweet Smell of Success (1957) directed by Alexander Mackendrick


US / 96 min / b&w / Norma Productions (as Norma-Curtleigh Productions), Curtleigh Productions (as Norma-Curtleigh Productions) and Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions (uncredited) Dir: Alexander Mackendrick Pro: James Hill Scr: Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman and Mackendrick from the novelette by Lehman Cine: James Wong Howe Mus: Elmer Bernstein Cast: Burt Lancaster (J. J. Hunsecker), Tony Curtis (Sidney Falco), Susan Harrison (Susan Hunsecker), Martin Milner (Steve Dallas), Sam Levene (Frank D’Angelo), Barbara Nichols (Rita), Jeff Donnell (Sally), Joe Frisco (Herbie Temple), Emile Meyer (Lt. Harry Kello, NYPD), Edith Atwater (Mary), The Chico Hamilton Quintet (Themselves) Plot Summary: The film tells the story of J.J. Hunsecker, a powerful newspaper columnist (clearly based on Walter Winchell), who uses his connections to ruin his sister’s relationship with a man he deems inappropriate, Steve Dallas, a jazz musician. Consequently, he hires the services of Sidney Falco, a sleazy and unscrupulous press agent, to break up the affair by any means possible. Release Date: 27 June 1957 (USA), 24 August 1983 (Spain TV premiere) IMDb Rating: 8.2

I offer this entry to Rich’s Crimes of the Century at his log site Past Offences. This month the year under review is #1957.

Despite a poorly received preview screening, Sweet Smell of Success has greatly improved in stature over the years. In 1993, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.’

Sweet Smell of Success is one of those rare films where you remember the names of the characters because you remember them–as people, as types, as benchmarks. “Even today,” the writer Ben Brantly wrote about this film, “I’ve heard theater publicity representatives speak wryly of going into their ‘Sidney Falco mode’.” The film stands as the record of one of the most convincing and closely observed symbiotic relationships in the movies. Hunsecker and Falco. You can’t have one without the other. “From now on,” Falco says, “the best of everything is good enough for me.” Well, at least he’s the best flunkie. (Read the full Roger Ebert movie review here).

Sweet Smell of Success at American Film Institute

Sweet Smell of Success at IMDb

Sweet Smell of Success at Wikipedia

Sweet Smell of Success By Andrea Alsberg (PDF)

3 thoughts on “Film notes: Sweet Smell of Success (1957) directed by Alexander Mackendrick

  1. An incredible well-made, well-written and well acted film that also looks amazing – shame it is so relentlessly nihilistic and seemingly heartless, but brilliant none the less.

  2. Pingback: Scapegoats and boars’ heads: #1957book roundup | Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

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