The Sweet Smell of Success - 1957

Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick

Written by: Ernest Lehman & Clifford Odets

One Sheet for Sweet Smell of SuccessThis classic film, directed by Alexander Mackendrick, is easily one of the best films of all time. A pretty bold statement, perhaps, until you’ve actually sat down and soaked in its vicious, chilled vitriol. Burt Lancaster never portrayed calculated maliciousness more convincingly, and baby-faced Tony Curtis literally drips with self-serving viciousness. It is, as Curtis’s Sidney Falco proclaims, “a cookie filled with arsenic.”

The Sweet Smell of Success is an unflinching exploration of the evil that men are capable of. Lancaster plays J. J. Hunsecker, a newspaper gossip columnist whose poisoned pen can make or break a career, and Curtis’s Falco one of his many “press agents”. The story follows Hunsecker’s attempts to ruin his daughter’s marriage to a jazz guitarist by getting Falco to dig up dirt on him. And it is deliciously nasty.

“You’re dead, son, ” Hunsecker tells Falco at one point, “get yourself buried.” Clifford Odet’s script for The Sweet Smell of Success is astoundingly good, overflowing with snappy, yet hate-filled one-liners that resonate in the mind long after the film ends. Apparently, Quentin Tarantino based a lot of his dialogue writing style on the rapid-fire delivery heard in this film, and it shows. The banter between any of Tarantino’s characters in Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs evokes Odet’s uncanny sense of timing; they draw from the same polluted source.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer and Chinese trailblazer James Wong Howe (who was the first Chinese man to work in Hollywood in such a high position), The Sweet Smell of Success is as blackhearted and spellbinding now as it was forty years ago. Highly recommended.

ISSN 1499-7894
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