Sweet Smell of Success, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis surprised their fans by taking their first serious roles in this master account of the underbelly of New York life on the 1950s.


Studio: Arrow Films

Time: 96 mins + Bonus materials

Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis are both great actors, but that did not prevent this movie from being a commercial flop. It was the first time that the pair had played straight roles and their pent-up ruthlessness feeds this cynical, but well-observed, portrayal of power-hungry press personalities. This nastiness was what their fans found hard to take.

Based on the experiences of press agent Ernest Lehman, this authentic story shows high-profile columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Lancaster) putting pressure on Sidney Falco (Curtis). Falco is the sidekick who does Hunsecker’s dirty work and the gossip columnist wants him to break up his kid sister’s (Susan Harrison) unsuitable romance with the bass player in a jazz band.

Sweet Smell of Success charts Falco’s descent into ever more manipulative tricks as he becomes Increasingly desperate to get back into Hunsecker’s good books, so that his clients might get a good write-up in the column,

The leads’ excellent acting is one delight in this restored Blu-Ray, along with a taut script, some atmospheric noir lighting and its study of the lust for power and influence.

sweet smell of Success Curtis Lancaster

Bonus features: A generous two-hour bundle of bonuses makes the most ignorant viewer feel like an expert.

A Scottish TV biopic of director Alexander Mackendrick gives a useful background to his life and where the movie fits among his other works.

Closer up, film historian Philip Kemp provides an appreciation of the movie and also gives an insightful six-scene commentary. These add tremendously to appreciating the 1957 work. For example, he shows how, to convey the pace and pressure of his position, Curtis never stops moving. Behind the scenes information also helps, such as telling the viewer how Lancaster was always down-lit so that his glasses always made shadows under his eyes, making him seem darker and more malevolent.

The obligatory trailer adds to the package.

As well as fans having to adapt to the lead actors suddenly playing ruthless characters, the press helped the work to commercial failure, because they disliked the way their trade was so cynically portrayed.

It may have flopped at the box office, but time has washed away such politics to reveal a master account of the underbelly of New York life on the 1950s, which still resonates today.



Movie: 4tocks

Extras: 4nhalftocks

Derek Walker

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