SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Starring Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Chico Hamilton
Approx. 96 min. 35mm.
“Match me, Sidney” barks sanctimonious, Winchellesque gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (a bespectacled Burt Lancaster) to sycophantic publicist Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), who’ll do anything in pursuit of that ever-elusive ink, in the quintessential portrait of The Great White Way. The ultra-stylized dialogue by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman (who wrote the original short story) is now legendary (and quoted wholesale in everything from DINER to The Simpsons), as are Elmer Bernstein’s jazz score and James Wong Howe’s glistening location-shot b&w cinematography, with midtown of the late 50s seen in the minutest detail, from a 46th Street hotdog stand, to the lights of Times Square (including the marquees of the since-demolished Loews State, Astor, and Rivoli theaters, to the Brill Building (doubling as Hunsecker’s swanky apartment building)), to a shadowy street below the Queensboro Bridge. There isn’t a greater picture about this crazy burg.
“A tough and bitter portrait of New York journalism and power corruption whose sinister, decadent atmosphere owes much to James Wong Howe’s photography.”
– Georges Sadoul
“The script is a combination of an Ernest Lehman novella and Clifford Odets supposedly sitting in a trailer as they were shooting, typing up dialogue. The talk is brilliant, and there’s no question but that the original picture was that of a comedy double act who were steadily cutting each other to pieces… But what makes the movie famous are those sublime shots of J.J. at his table, with glasses for armor, and Toy settling in beside him, glowing at the smart of every fresh insult. I’m not sure that American film had ever previously suggested that people could be so nasty — and have so much fun with it.”
– David Thomson
“A rat trap of a film… The screen was rarely so dark and cruel.”
– Chris Auty, Time Out