Sweet Smell of Success [1957]

Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Jeff Donnell
Genre: Drama, Film-Noir
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 96 minutes

A classic of the late 1950s, this film looks at the string-pulling behind-the-scenes action between desperate press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) and the ultimate power broker in that long-ago show-biz Manhattan: gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Written by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets (who based the Hunsecker character on the similarly brutal and power-mad Walter Winchell), the film follows Falco's attempts to promote a client through Hunsecker's column--until he is forced to make a deal with the devil and help Hunsecker ruin a jazz musician who has the nerve to date Hunsecker's sister. Director Alexander MacKendrick and cinematographer James Wong Howe, shooting on location mostly at night, capture this New York demimonde in silky black and white, in which neon and shadows share a scarily symbiotic relationship--a near-match for the poisonous give-and-take between the edgy Curtis and the dismissive Lancaster. --Marshall Fine

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