A lacerating dissection of yellow journalism on Broadway, and one of the most acclaimed films of 1957.
Burt Lancaster is the evil gossip columnist, J.J. Hunsecker, read by millions, who has the power to make careers or destroy lives with his acid typewriter (these were the days before computers).
Tony Curtis, in the best performance of his career, is Falco – the unprincipled hustler of a cheap, small-time press agent who will stop at nothing (including prostitution and blackmail) to achieve fifteen minutes of fame, not to mention a fast buck.
The fawning Falco is called upon to break up the relationship that has blossomed between Hunsecker’s sister (Susan Harrison) and a jazz musician – a further example of the vile egotism that fills every molecule of Hunsecker’s being.
As far as he’s concerned, everyone can be bought, sold, bribed or destroyed. It’s just a question of money and influence
Falco is far too eager to please, no doubt assuming that one good turn deserves another and that this can only mean positive things for his career prospects.
Columnists no longer have the kind of paralysing power they once had, but this film is set in the days of Walter Winchell, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Hedda and Louella, who dished the dirt and buried people under it.
With pulsating dialogue by Clifford Odets, brisk direction, chilling performances, and the kind of stainless steel cinematography that captures the sights, sounds, and even the smells of New York after dark, Sweet Smell of Success has the perfect tempo to illuminate the sleazier, more sordid aspects of the Big Apple’s nightlife.
Director Mackendrick makes no real attempt to highlight any redeeming features that might be hidden in these two men. You might not love the hardened, immoral, and corrupt characters who make the scene come alive, but you will never forget them.
Frank D’ Angelo
Lt. Harry Kello