Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Poster

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Burt Lancaster is scary!
bregund28 December 2003
Remember how scary Robert Mitchum was in Night of the Hunter? Or Darth Vader in the first Star Wars movie? Well Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker is right up there with them. With his clipped words, ice-cold gaze, rigid neck and steel-rimmed glasses, he looks like he's ready to break people in half with just the power of his voice. He drifts through the film like an unstoppable barge, commanding every scene with just the turn of his head. Seldom is there such a powerful screen presence.

Lancaster's performance alone is worth seeing this film, but the writing cracks like a whip. This is some of the best writing I've ever seen in any film, recalling the brilliant writing of All About Eve or Citizen Kane: "Come back Sidney, I want to chastise you some more", "turn around and look: is she still standing there?", "you're a cookie full of arsenic", "I see your brother's words coming out of your mouth like a ventriloquist's dummy", "I would never use an elephant gun to shoot a mosquito". Over and over, the witty dialogue slices through the scenes like a razor. You have to see this film to believe it.

Tony Curtis was never better as a sleazy PR guy as he pimps his secretary, slobbers at J.J.'s heels like an obsequious mutt, and colludes with the crooked cops to frame people. Within this maelstrom of cynicism and anger are two young lovers, driven apart by J.J.'s overbearing presence.

The photography is excellent, you can almost smell the wet NYC streets. Black and white never looked better.

This is an excellent film, and highly recommended. I wish they still made movies like this.
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3 Good Reasons To Watch This Film
ccthemovieman-124 June 2005
There are three reasons that movie fans should check this film out, if you haven't seen it yet:

1 - Outstanding dialog. I can't recall a film in which I heard so many clever film-noir lines as this one. Almost everyone in the movie has a unique way of expressing their feelings. It makes the movie one that you want to go back and HEAR again. Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay and deserve special recognition as well as the people below.

2 - Fabulous acting, led by the two male leads: Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. Curtis is the star of the film with many more lines than anyone else, and many consider this to be his greatest acting achievement. I have no quarrel with that. It's one of the finest acting jobs I've ever witnessed by anyone. It's that good.

Lancaster is memorable and plays to his strengths as a tough guy, not only with his physical presence but his tactless and cutting verbal assaults. He has the best and most brutal lines in the film.

The minor characters in here, from the cop to the comedian to the cigarette girl to the young romantic couple are all top-notch.

3 - The cinematography. A big name in the film business, James Wong Howe, more than lives up to his reputation. This is beautifully photographed and looks absolutely stunning on DVD. I have watched hundreds and hundreds of black-and-white films and this ranks with the best of them. He captured nighttime New York City as well as anybody ever has done.

"Well," you might ask, "if this movie is so great, why haven't I heard more about it?"

Maybe because it never did well at the box office. It wasn't promoted a lot, from what I heard, and the storyline is not a pleasant one. Basically, this is about two immoral people who smear a nice guy so that it will ruin the romance between he and Lancaster's sister.

Lancaster plays an absolutely ruthless newspaper columnist who makes and breaks careers and Curtis plays his slimy press-agent who will do anything to please his powerful boss, including doing the worst of his dirty work.

Furrther details of the film can be read by many of the other fine reviewers here on this website, so no need to go into that.

I am not one who generally likes films that feature mostly nasty people but this was done so well that it fascinates me every time. A final tip of the hat to director Alexander Mackendrick. Why he wasn't given more films to direct is a mystery to me. Highly-recommended.
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Brilliantly Oppressive Film-Noir
twm-22 March 2005
**MILD SPOILERS** It is amazing the number of different ways a great film can weave its alluring web and pull you into its story. Of my 100 favorite films, this one's journey into that rarefied status is unique, based on but a single viewing. I saw "Sweet Smell of Success" when I was too young to really grasp the subterranean motivations of the characters who so vividly populate the film. I did not understand, for instance, why this powerful, loathsome gossip columnist, Burt Lancaster's JJ Hunsecker, who so clearly despised Tony Curtis' Sidney Falco (press agent), nonetheless tolerated his presence. There was much that I DID appreciate--the brilliant and daring acting of the two leads, the beautifully oppressive cinematography, and the scintillating dialogue--but after that single viewing, the film slowly faded from my consciousness. Twenty-five or 30 years later, I decided to make a list of my favorite movies, and came across the title of this film. Apparently, memories of seeing this production had been roiling around my unconscious all this time and now, triggered by the little blurb in the Leonard Maltin book, these half-forgotten images came bounding back into mind, now concatenated with a quarter century of life and movie-going experience. Honing my list over the next few months, and considering this film's merits, I more and more began to realize what a truly marvelous work this was. This was a study nonpareil of two creatures wholly wrapped up in themselves and their ambition, yet bound together in a mutual parasitism (the term symbiosis sounds much too nice to describe their relationship). I understood, finally, why JJ tolerated Falco's presence. He NEEDED Falco. It wasn't just that Falco would occasionally offer up tidbits that he could use in his column. It wasn't that the fawning Falco could be manipulated into performing certain . . . uh, tasks that were too dirty for JJ to touch. No, as a ruthless power-monger, he needed the treacherous sycophant as a constant reminder and test of his superiority. Falco could be demeaned and ridiculed, but he also represented a danger, a challenge. Falco might seem a toady, but he was also a cobra waiting his chance to strike, and Hunsecker relished his role as sadistic snake charmer. Watching these two play at their oppressive games of perfidy, and dealing dirt, provide a fascinating character study perhaps the equal of the more famous examination of one Charles Foster Kane in an earlier film. There are many other characters in the movie, such as JJ's sister and her lover, and some are played with great aplomb, but they are all pawns in this disdainful dance between JJ and Falco, and it is their personalities that stay with you long after the lights come back on.

Everything about this movie seems to be nearly perfect (some have criticised the film for the relatively weak portrayal of the two hapless lovers, but a stronger emphasis on these two would only detract from the real focus--JJ and Sidney) even to the choice of names. JJ Hunsecker and Sidney Falco seem perfect monikers, by themselves conjuring up images of loathsome characters. Unfortunately, for the team that put together this masterpiece of film-noir, "Sweet Smell of Success" was no success, and critics and movie-goers alike left the theaters convinced that the "smell" generated by the film was far from sweet. Amazingly, this film not only failed to garner an Oscar, it failed to receive a single solitary nomination--not for Alexander Mackendrick's direction (this abject failure truncating his promising career), not for the incisive, endlessly quotable screenplay (Ernest Lehman & Clifford Odets), not Elmer Bernstein's wonderful score, nor the tremendous performances of Curtis and Lancaster--not even James Wong Howe's gritty cinematography, beautifully capturing the seamier side of New York City. Fortunately, history has stepped in to provide a more accurate critique of this once ignored masterpiece. I can hardly wait to see it a second time.
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Oh yes.
phiggins11 March 2002
"I love this dirty town". "Match me, Sidney". "Maybe I left my sense of humour in my other suit". Great dialogue. Great script, great cinematography, great acting, great music. Christ, what do you want, blood? From the first moment we see Burt Lancaster as the impossibly sinister J.J., we know we're in for a cracking time. There he is, sitting at the restaurant table, wearing those strangely scary glasses, his face expressionless (perhaps he's smiling, just a little bit), talking to Sidney without even looking at him, firing the dialogue like bullets. When the action seeps into the New York streets, oozing menace, there's J.J. - master of all he surveys, twisting cops round his little finger, snarling and seething like some desperate animal. And there is something animal about this film: its characters writhe and twist in the lights and the shadows - demented, tortured creatures, all of them trying to maintain some semblance of normality, all of them aware, deep down, how corrupt and helpless they are. The symbols of goodness - J.J.'s sister and her boyfriend - are weak, pathetic, hopeless, unable to keep up with the neverending twists and turns of this awful labyrinth of manipulation and cruelty. Curtis and Lancaster were never better, and it's awesome to see them play such grotesque yet believable roles. How do people get like this? Where do they go from here? Perhaps it's best not to think about it, and just wallow in the brilliant nastiness of it all, before maybe going home and getting in the shower for a long, long time.
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"You want information, ask for it like a man, instead of scratching for it like a dog."
bkoganbing20 October 2005
The fact that in 1957 this film was made at all is proof that Walter Winchell's decline was already setting in. Burt Lancaster's J.J. Hunsecker based on Winchell and very frightening accurately portrays the columnist and the power he wielded.

For those who are interested in how Winchell got to where he was J.J. Hunsecker I would recommend Neal Gabler's biography of him which came out a few years ago. Sweet Smell of Success is the story of a day in the life of this monster who everyone on the planet it seems is terrified of offending. Like Winchell at the Stork Club, Hunsecker holds court like some monarch at a nightclub where people are obsequiously asking for some recognition in his column.

One of these is Sidney Falco, press agent and bootlicking dog extraordinaire. Hunsecker is mad at him because he sent him on an errand to break up a romance his younger sister is having with a jazz musician he doesn't approve of. The film is essentially Falco's attempts to carry out his master's wishes.

Burt Lancaster had already received critical acclaim as an actor, but this was a breakthrough role for Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco. Up to then Curtis was the handsome romantic lead in many lightweight films for his home studio of Universal. Sidney Falco was a lot of things, but heroic wasn't one of them. Next year Tony Curtis would get an Oscar nomination for The Defiant Ones. How Lancaster and Curtis were ignored by the Academy for nominations is beyond me.

The young lovers are Susan Harrison and Martin Milner. This was probably Marty Milner's finest screen role. As Lancaster was also the producer he personally cast Milner in the part having worked with him on Gunfight at the OK Corral. Susan Harrison strangely enough never had much of a career after a promising debut. She ultimately wreaks a terrible vengeance on one of our protagonists.

One of the ironic lines in the film is Lancaster saying that he'd fold up if he had to exist on a press agent's tidbits. But ironically that's how Winchell/Hunsecker did exist. Winchell had no real skill as a reporter as Gabler's biography pointed out. When the tidbits stopped, he dried up and blew away.

Sweet Smell of Success was a commercial flop, movie audiences did not take to the offbeat casting of the leads nor to the gritty realistic story. Today the film is a deserved classic.
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Oh, Those GREAT NY Scenes!
chconnol16 September 2004
Another poster "stole" the one line summary I wanted to use: "Match me, Sidney." Damn. It's one of the best lines in the movie. Oh, well.

"Sweet Smell of Success" is a great, wildly entertaining movie. It reminds me of "Dangerous Liasons" in both it's subject ("bad" people making life worse for more decent folk) and how swiftly and imaginatively directed it is. It's juicy from beginning to end. Burt Lancaster is once again terrific as J.J. Hunsecker, Walter Winchell-esque writer of a "society" column which is more of a tool of destruction for those who cross his path.

But it's Tony Curtis who holds the movie together. Always scheming and plotting and never letting a decent human emotion take precedence over his drive to succeed at any cost. He's Marvelous and was never again to achieve what he did here.

But there's a third star to this production and it's New York City itself. The on location photography is stunning. What is amazing is that at the time the movie was made (1957) on location filming was just becoming "in vogue". For a film like this, it HAD to filmed on location or else it's power would be substantially diluted. I work in Manhattan near where a lot of this film was made (J.J. lives in the Brill Building which is on Broadway between 49th and 50th Streets, right around the corner from me). To see what the neighborhood looked like over 40 years ago is amazing. Surprisingly, it's the astonishing on site photography that prevents the film from really feeling dated. Also, the themes in the film are timeless as well.

"Sweet Smell of Success" is a classic from top to bottom.
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A dark drama/noir masterpiece that is often overlooked
FilmOtaku28 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Make no mistake – you will not walk away from Sweet Smell of Success feeling uplifted and carefree. It is a dark, gritty tale of deception and the desperate strive for survival in New York City. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorite films.

*Spoilers within*

Burt Lancaster plays J.J. Hunsecker, a powerful gossip columnist whose emulation of Walter Winchell was so thinly veiled that Winchell himself tried to stop the film's release. Hunsecker is so powerful that underling press agents like Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) will push aside any scruples or morals they may have in order to do him favors just to get a favorable mention for their clients in Hunsecker's column. In Falco's case, he must try to break up the relationship between Hunsecker's young sister Susan and up-and-coming jazz musician Steve Dallas, as Dallas is not `worthy' in Hunsecker's eyes. It becomes quickly apparent that due to an almost incestuous fascination with his sister, no one will be worthy of her, something that Susan has to come to terms with and finally resign herself to. In his pursuits, Falco finds himself compromising any moral fiber he may have had left, and no one escapes undamaged.

Sweet Smell of Success is indeed a dark film and morally bereft, but it is so compelling and thought-provoking that it is hard to imagine any viewer, love or hate the film, not able to come away from it without at least a few questions in mind: How far would you go for fame? What would you do to survive? The majority of the main characters has the morals of an alley cat, and is as unconcerned with doing anything for survival. Ironically, one of the few people to exhibit any modicum of pride and conviction is the one who ends up getting slandered and unjustly punished.

The backdrop for this film is the vibrant, busy and exuberant New York City, usually at night. Every social scene is crowded; every outdoor shot shows bustling streets. Wild, loud jazz music is the soundtrack the compliments the frenetic surroundings. The film is shot in crisp, sharp black and white, and any hint of color would have changed the film drastically for the worse. Lancaster plays Hunsecker as a level, even toned man which belies his hateful personality and only makes him more sinister. Curtis' Falco is like the yipping and bouncing dog in the old cartoons, and delivers his lines with a machine gun-like staccato, but his eyes are dead and bleak, and the only emotion he can convey that approaches regret is nothing more than fleeting until `survival mode' visibly kicks in.

Sweet Smell of Success is a certified classic, but it is easy to see why it is not more popular. The good guys don't win because there ARE no good guys. And every time the viewer thinks that something may not be realistic or that something is overblown, with even a second of reflection, one realizes that this IS real life, and it's hard to look at sometimes because it is not always pretty.

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The sharpest ever dissection of the lure of fame.
PrinceMishkin24 January 1999
There are many unbeatable things about this splendid film, but more than anything else there is the dialogue - dialogue as sharp as the suits and as bleak as the slate grey cinematography. Lancaster and Curtis have never been better and the American fim industry never produced a more enjoyably bitter film.
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Sinister and terrifying
Jim A19 March 2004
After reading Neal Gabler's biography of columnnist Walter Winchell, I watched this again with new eyes. Lancaster captures not the mannerisms or speech patterns of Winchell, but the sense of menace and terror the man held over anybody who wanted to be somebody in New York or the entertainment business. J.J. Hunsecker reminds me of a glowing radioactive ball of plutonium, terrible in its simple existence. He can make or break you with a single word, and everyone knows he can and will without a single look back. The film captures perfectly the smoky nightclub world of 21 and the Stork Club along with the grubby little burrow belonging to Sidney Falco, press agent and repellent social climber. Great movie and by far, Curtis's best performance.
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MatBrewster3 May 2005
This is the kind of film that could coin an expression like "They don't make 'em like that anymore," except that people have been using that line for every piece of crap that was made more than two years ago. Go ahead and say it to yourself, and I'll say that David Mamet's Glengarry, Glen Ross comes close. Both feature snarling, biting dialog. Both have irredeemable characters that will do anything for success. Mamet's characters are mostly down-and-outers who are scrapping at each other to find some sampling of their former successes. In Sweet Smell of Success there are successful characters and losers, both of which need each other to survive. It is a tale of a successful columnist and his need for a low life press agent. It is a bitter, bleak story of power, success and the desire to have more. Burt Lancaster plays JJ Hunsecker, a powerful, successful columnist who is at the top of his game. He gets what he wants, when he wants it with no questions asked. He can make or break celebrities with a quick blurb in his column. He dines with politicians and gets any girl he wants. Tony Curtis is Sidney Falco, a low rent press agent who needs Lancaster's blurbs for his clients to keep in business. Problem is, Hunsecker has cut Falco out of his columns because Falco hasn't delivered on a deal they made. Though Hunsecker can garner the love and admiration of anyone he chooses, the one woman he cannot win over is his own sister. As he repeatedly says throughout the film, she's all he has. Problem is she is in love with a jazz singer, and they plan to marry. Hunsecker can't bear the thought of losing his sister, so he forces Falco to get rid of the boy by any means necessary. The film is relentless. From beginning to end it never stops its pounding. There is never a breath of kindness. The two characters with some redeeming characteristics Hunsecker's sister, Susan (Susan Harrison) and her boyfriend, Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), are so overshadowed by the continual foul play by Hunsecker and Falco that they come away with a foul stench. Tony Curtis pulls a performance that reminded me of his turn as the Boston Strangler. It is not difficult to see his Falco turning to murder if it helped him succeed. Though as the strangler, he seems to have found some remorse for his actions, where Falco is irredeemable to the very end. There is a seen in the middle of the picture where Falco pulls a trick to convince a mid level performer to make Falco his press agent. At this point Falco needs all the clients he can get. Later the performer comes to Falco, ready to sign him as his agent. Falco, now feeling some signs of success brushes the performer off without a second thought. It is a telling scene of just how heartless and uncaring Falco has become. Where has Burt Lancaster been all my life? Sadly enough, the only film I can remember watching him in is the 1986 toss-off comedy Tough Guys. His performance here is nothing short of astonishing. He is the king of his castle, never stepping off his high throne, treating everyone as servants. Even his shows of affection for Susan are grotesque and menacing. This is a story that his hard to watch. It is brutal, and menacing with nary a redeeming aspect. But it is a film that must be watched. The craftsmanship of the filmmakers and the performances of the actors elevate it above so many others. It is nearly a morality tale of the horrors that befall humanities greed.
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It's a putrid smell after all
blanche-26 October 2007
Tony Curtis learns the hard way about the "Sweet Smell of Success" in this 1957 film that stars Burt Lancaster, Sam Levene, Susan Harrison, and Barbara Nichols. In the pre-Internet days when the newspaper was king, the columnists ruled - Winchell, Ed Sullivan, Cholly Knickerbocker, Radie Harris, and let's not forget Hedda and Louella! But the King was Winchell, and while I don't think the Burt Lancaster character of J.J. Hunsecker is modeled on him, the power and control the man wielded certainly is.

Tony Curtis plays one of his best roles as Sidney Falco, a low-ranking press agent who is dependent on people like Hunsecker to mention his clients in their daily columns. But Sidney is on the outs with Hunsecker, a very bad place to be. Hunsecker has ordered Sidney to break up his sister Susan's relationship with a jazz musician, Steve (Martin Milner), and Susan is still seeing him. Sidney comes up with a plan to tear the two apart which probably would have worked, but when Steve stands up to J.J., Hunsecker is out for blood. He demands the plan be taken one step further and dangles an attractive carrot in front of Sidney to make it happen.

Done in black and white with most of the action taking place at night and often on the streets of Times Square, "The Sweet Smell of Success" has an atmosphere of slime and grit. The handsome Lancaster and Curtis are not particularly well photographed - it's not meant to be a glamorous picture. The dialogue is fast, to the point, and witty and the performances are breathtaking. Lancaster underplays the twisted Hunsecker so that his contempt for the people he writes about - and his sick attraction to his sister - can be clearly shown. He could have played it more along the lines of Curtis' Sidney - an obvious, manipulative rat - but it wouldn't have been as right as Lancaster's tightly-controlled J.J.

Curtis was born to play Sidney - an attractive, fast-talking man with no morals who plays both ends against the middle. He's a New York character, ideal for a New York guy like Curtis who grew up on the streets. Sidney is totally outrageous - he invites a cigarette girl to his apartment and then pimps her out to a columnist so he can get an item in his column; he tries blackmailing another columnist, but that backfires. It doesn't stop him from trying again.

The two victims of these piranhas are Susan and Steve, a young couple deeply in love who want to be married. Their simple story is told against a backdrop of scandal, revenge, manipulation and blackmail. Their situation makes the actions of J.J. and Sidney even seedier and more cruel than they already are.

"Sweet Smell of Success" has become a cult classic and was actually mounted at one point as a Broadway musical. Like "Nightmare Alley," it probably was too grim for audiences back then. Is anything too grim for audiences of today? Doubtful.
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Cynicism, Sleaze & Blistering Dialogue
seymourblack-125 November 2008
The main characters in "Sweet Smell Of Success" are two of the most unpleasant, unprincipled and unsympathetic people imaginable. Both are utterly corrupt and would do whatever it takes to achieve their own perverse ends.

J J Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) is a gossip columnist who wields enormous power in New York and has the ability to make or break the careers of anyone who features in his articles. He plies his vicious trade without any concern for those whose lives he damages and frequently influences people to do his bidding by threatening to expose some unflattering or scandalous information about them. Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is a press agent who makes his living by providing material for Hunsecker's column. When Hunsecker becomes unhappy about a relationship that has developed between his sister and a jazz guitarist, he orders Falco to do whatever's necessary to break them up. Hunsecker racks up the pressure on Falco by not accepting any of his contributions for the column until he succeeds in his mission.

Hunsecker's power and threatening manner preclude him from having any genuine or meaningful relationships with other people. He is unconcerned about this but has an unnaturally close relationship with his sister, who on various occasions, he describes as being all that he's got.

In his efforts to get a smear about the guitarist published, Falco threatens to blackmail one columnist by telling his wife about one of his indiscretions with a cigarette girl and also provides another columnist with an inducement to print the story by getting his girlfriend to prostitute herself. He later plants marijuana in the guitarist's pocket and tips off a corrupt police officer who has the guitarist arrested.

Hunsecker thrives on the amount of power and control that he is able to use and it's ironic that he has such a hard time using his power successfully in the area of his life which is most personal and important to him.

"Sweet Smell Of Success" is expertly directed by Alexander Mackendrick and the story and it's characters are considerably more original in nature than those found in the vast majority of movies. The dialogue is impressively incisive throughout and some of the remarks made by Hunsecker are delivered with great panache. When he says "I love this dirty town", the comment exemplifies what he's all about and also highlights the source of his power. His remarks that Falco is a "cookie full of arsenic" and "lives in moral twilight" are typical quick-fire put-downs. These and his "40 faces speech" could seem pretentious and contrived if uttered by some characters but sound perfectly credible when said by Hunsecker, who is clearly very literate and well practised in coining such bitter and brutal insults. Lancaster and Curtis both contribute exceptional performances which must rank among the greatest achieved in their illustrious careers.
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Cynical look at how power corrupts...brilliant performances...
Doylenf3 December 2006
BURT LANCASTER was at the height of his illustrious film career when he played J.J. Hunsecker, the Broadway gossip columnist who dipped his pen in poison to destroy careers. TONY CURTIS was a long way from the days when he was ridiculed for saying "Yonda is the castle of my fadder" in films like SON OF ALI BABA and THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH.

Here, Curtis is every bit up to the chore of playing the slavishly obedient but hateful publicity man who seems to be fawning over Lancaster, but really despises him. Two towering performances in a film with some of the sharpest exchanges of dialog ever heard.

The cruel side of show biz gets full and rich observation from screenwriter Clifford Odets from a novel by Ernest Lehman. The bright lights of Broadway play against the rainswept streets of Broadway and Times Square, a shadowy sort of film noir background for the brutal story being told.

The story abounds in quotable moments, such as when Lancaster tells Curtis, "You're a cookie full of arsenic." The jazz score background sets the appropriate mood for a story as cynical as this, and the twists and turns of the plot will keep you hooked until the uncertain ending. The main plot line has Lancaster opposed to his sister's suitor, a jazz musician (MARTIN MILNER) and his efforts to get this man out of his sister's life with the help of his obedient slave.

But mainly, this is a film worth savoring to watch the intense performances of Lancaster and Curtis. I doubt whether either of them has ever done better work. For Lancaster, it only cemented his reputation as a man already judged to be a fine actor in the right role. For Curtis, it made film critics take this "pretty boy from Brooklyn" seriously for the first time and was the first big milestone in his budding film career.
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sweet smell of lie
esteban174721 February 2006
Press freedom is one of the best thing in any democratic society but it may sometimes produce/bring lies used for the advantage of powerful groups and/or circles. That is why this film was called in some Latin American countries "A Damn Lie". The excellent plot shows how someone arrogant, selfish, good writing and talking as J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) was able to use various factors in the society he did his work in order to destroy any enemy, any adversary or any person whom he did not like at all. An example was the boy friend of his sister Susan, a working young man, devoted to music and strongly in love with Susan, completely discredited by JJ. Certainly JJ was a kind of a sick man, unable to accept any reason from any other person. He was born to have adversaries and not friends. To do all his work JJ needed snakes (not persons) as Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), who behaved worse than a reptile, always praising JJ although he in fact hated him and creating the intrigues whenever there were necessary. Very good film and probably a lesson, the acting was also excellent, particularly of Lancaster as a tough columnist JJ and Tony Curtis as a low ethic man.
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Gripping and powerful, amazing cast and dialog
nkaronis130 March 2002
This film really brings an air of nostalgia when you compare it to current productions. There are no special effects or noisy music, but nevertheless you are riveted to your chair form beginning to end thanks to a wonderful cast, dialogue, direction and very nice Jazz music. Burt Lancaster gives again an unbelievable performance and Tony Curtis is perfect in the role of the ambitious small time thug that cannot get rid of his own contradictions. I only wish the studios would stop focusing on the teen market today and get inspired by films like this one.
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One of the best films Hollywood has ever produced.
mattspringett763 August 2007
From the opening credits to the climatic ending, the scintillating dialogue and the magnetic performances from both Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis this is Hollywood at its cerebral best. The king of the thinking mans cinema. Has better dialogue ever been written, the meetings between all the different characters that inhabit this world of shadows and intrigue, constantly draw the viewers attention to this masterpiece. When the so called film buffs compile there lists of the "best" films and so on, this should always be talked of in the top five and yet though recognised more as the years go by this is still a highly overlooked film. That Marlon Brando, De niro, Nicholson and the like should be recognised so often in said lists when Burt Lancaster in this film and in so many others has equalled or surpassed there best performances is a real scandal. Perhaps because this film strikes at the very heart of the establishment and shows the media and press up for the unscrupulous scum they are that this is one those fellows would like to forget. It is always difficult to look the truth of oneself in the mirror and this is one mirror the media should look very closely at. A masterpiece from Lancaster, who's courage never failed when making films and was always ready to tackle the kind of film making that lesser men would not have dared to, not to mention casting himself in a "bad guy" role that defied his heroic, handsome leading man status. Let us not forget that this is the same man who through out his life was never afraid to speak out on subjects that were important to him, a life long liberal and contemptuous of anyone who excepted limitation. I love this film and both Lancaster and the picture were far ahead of their time.
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Nifty black and white drama
rmax3048237 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers

What a bunch of skuzzbags. There is hardly a non-greedy guy in the movie, although the three women are all okay.

But here we have Burt Lancaster as the all-powerful columnist J. J. Hunsacker (read "Walter Winchell") and Tony Curtis as the slimy press agent Sidney Falco and Emil Meyer as the brutal and corrupt cop, supported by one columnist who cheats on his wife with a cigarette girl and another columnist who simply does the cigarette girl without cheating on any wife because he has none to cheat on. These are people who treat virtue with scant reverence.

There's a loud jazzy score to back up this energetic night-time flick. (There is no such thing as daylight here.) And Clifford Odets has lent his usual stamp to the script. Nobody says anything as simple as, "I don't believe you." They are made to say, "That fish is four days old. I won't buy it." And the sweating laugh-a-minute cop is given to misusing big words -- "Rectify me something, Sidney, did J. J. really say I was fat?" Even when the cop uses the word correctly it still SOUNDS wrong -- "Ha ha! Come back, Sidney, I want to CHASTISE you." The dialog is also studded with everyday phrases that are repeated as if part of a litany -- "credit where credit is due." And, "indulge me on this," and, "correct me if I'm wrong." The best of this dialog is given to the evildoers, meaning every guy except Curtis's uncle (Sam Levene, underused in my opinion) and Martin Milner as an innocent young jazz guitarist afloat in this sea of sharks. "You twist words around," he says, addressing another actor, not Odets. This movie is, by the way, some considerable distance from the director's (Alexander MacKendrick) usual stomping ground. (Cf., "Tight Little Island.")

Burt Lancaster gives a quiet, barely restrained performance as the gossip columnist and TV personality who tells presidents what to do. He's so tense with ego, power, anger, and an incestuous jealousy of any attention paid to his sister that he gives the impression of a boil about to burst. But he rarely loses it. Instead, if he shows any semblance of emotion at all, it's usually pleasure in the exercise of power accompanied by a reptilian, almost alligator-like smile of beneficence. It's a good performance, and so is Tony Curtis's. Nattily dressed in black suits, his hair flawlessly groomed, his expression alternating between a phony bonhomie and greasy anxiety, he seems always to be in motion, darting rather than walking, and talking almost always, usually lying. Barbara Nichols as the careless and exploited cigarette girl plays Barbara Nichols. I have no idea what she was like in person but on screen she's never been anyone else. And as someone once remarked about the adolescent AnnMargaret -- "Everything she does comes across as dirty." Martin Milner looks right but mumbles his way through the part without much conviction. Burt's sister is a washout.

What a splendid photographer James Wong Howe was. His blacks are really black, his highlights seem to glisten, and when Lancaster's mogul stands on his balcony staring down at his domain from on high, the streets of New York look like rivulets of glittering silver poured from a beaker. Compare this with the subtle, crisp grays of his Texas ranch in "Hud."

The movie gives us a glimpse of the sizzling New York City night life of the 1950s. It may have looked corrupt at the time but from our present perspective it was an age of innocence. Well-dressed people walk alone down deserted streets at night. You want to try that in today's New York? Maybe the greatest change since then is suggested by the puissance in the hands of a newspaper columnist -- a guy who writes words that people must then read. Read? Who gets their news from newspapers nowadays? Who would be shocked by the revelations Lancaster and his colleagues in gossip come up with -- an unknown musician who is said to have smoked marijuana and is fired because of the slur? Today it would lead to hemorrhage-inducing mirth.

So it might have been rotten then, true, but there are times when it seems to me that it would be nice to listen to the hoof beats of yesteryear and travel back in time to a period when people still read and when one of the worst lies you might run into in the news was that a musician did some grass.
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Stylish film about the corruption of the press
AlsExGal11 August 2018
Burt Lancaster is a ruthless newspaper columnist, J.J. Hunsecker, and Tony Curtis is press agent Sidney Falco who needs his clients featured in Hunsecker's column. The film starts with Falco trying to get in touch with Hunsecker who has refused to feature any news about Falco's clients for the past month. As a result, Falco's clients are upsetting and firing him left and right. He needs to get back in Hunsecker's good graces. It turns out that Hunsecker wanted Falco to break up the romance between his sister, Susan Hunsecker, and Steve Dallas, a local jazz musician. Falco failed in his first attempt to break them up, thus Hunsecker is punishing him. Hunsecker gives Falco one more chance to break up Susan and Dallas. Falco decides to plant a false rumor in a competing column as a means to hurt Dallas' reputation. Then Hunsecker will defend Dallas in his column, in which Dallas will dismiss Hunsecker's attempts to smooth things over and in effect, he will look bad to girlfriend, Susan. That's the plan anyway...

First thing. I loved the music in this movie. It was great rowdy, raunchy jazz music that I love and it fit the aesthetic and the mood of the film perfectly. I also loved the cinematography in this film. I thought the black and white looked great. I also liked how some characters would be presented in an extreme close-up, but also at an angle. There's a shot like this of Falco in the beginning. I think it is supposed to symbolize this character's corruption and uneasiness. Extreme closeups can be somewhat uncomfortable for the audience (at least for me anyway, it almost seems a bit claustrophobic, if that makes sense). I also loved the New York settings.

In addition to the music and camera work, I thought Curtis and Lancaster were excellent in their roles. While I didn't dig Lancaster's crew cut, I thought it worked well for his character who seems like he's pretty much all business all the time. He kind of had a Hank Hill thing going on in this movie--but of course, he's smarter and more shrewd than Hank Hill could ever be. I also really liked Curtis in this movie. Before I kind of dismissed him as a big of a lightweight actor (though I do really like him in Some Like it Hot), but this film demonstrated that he was adept at drama. I thought he was great as Falco, the agent who would stop at nothing to be successful. I didn't care much for the actress who played Susan. She wasn't bad, but I didn't like how she talked. She ov-er e-nun-ci-ate-d her words. I thought this was a great film.
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Not your Grandpa's 1950's movie........
Panamint16 February 2007
Some of the most vivid portrayals ever put on film. This is an adult movie made way back in the 1950's. The performances and screen writing will transcend any reservations you may have about this movie's age or black-and-white filming. I am not kidding: watch this one and you won't be disappointed.

It may be a thinly disguised look at some old reporter from long ago that you or I may not have ever heard of, but that won't matter. This film stands alone as an accomplishment.

Not your grinning athletic Burt. Not your lightweight Tony. They are the mean and the smarmy in this movie. The acting is very good by the entire cast and the directing is top-notch.
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All Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely! And then there're Schmucks like this Mr. J.J. Hudsecker!
redryan646 January 2008
This film hits the ground and doesn't stop or ever look back. We are transported to a dark, shadowy marginal world, living on the outskirts of polite society. We see the creatures that populate this dark aberration of society, polite or otherwise.

One of the creatures inhabiting this Eco system is Press Agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). Immediately we see him as a manic personality, living in the bars and clubs all around the Broadway Theatrical District. He is ever running, telephoning or kibitzing with clients and potential clients. His small, sort of shabby office has a bedroom set up in order for him to crash, or whatever else requires the use of a bed.

As it seems obvious, he apparently also lives there. Sidney needs to stay in the good graces of the big, newspaper columnists, like the top guy, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancester). It is columnists like him who "use" the little items in their columns, which they receive from the Press Agents. The more items from Sidney, the greater is his asking price from clients.

Mr. Hunsecker has acquired more power over those in the entertainment field than one could believe. He holds figurative powers of life and death over the various numbers of actors, singers, dancers, musicians and comedians. A good word from his column is viewed as a blessing by any producer as a panning o the very same show would hurt it grievously.

However as we soon see, his megalomania is not limited to his show biz reporting and gossip in the printed page. He has a young sister, Susan (Susan Hucksetter) of whom he maintains an iron grip on her life; having a compulsion to "protect" her from any outside influences, be the business or social.

When Susan falls for musician, Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), J.J. pulls out all stops in attempting to break up the young couple. He has a direct meeting, where he insinuates that it would not be good his career if he didn't break off the relationship. Things didn't work out with that little chat, so J.J. gave the job of discrediting Steve to Sidney Falco, once again.

The finale features the use of a crooked and brutal Police Lieutenant and the use of planting false evidence. Much like MOBY DICK, the story ends with a lot still going on, a sure indication that the author believes there to be no relief from such situations.

The story is woven in such a manner as to never seem to be to long or to be dragging. The Director and cinematographer, Alexander Mackendrick and James Wong Howe respectively, gave the film a real up-close and personal feel to it. They make the viewer surrender himself and accept all sorts of bizarre behaviour.

There has been many a claim that the Story and Character of J.J. Hudsecker, while fictional and emphatically so stated, is really based on Walter Winchell, who was top-dog in the Broadway & Show Biz Columnist business. Others have pointed to Alexander Woollcott. Our guess is that the author used bits and pieces of many real life folks; as well as blending in a heaping portion of embellishment, for good measure.

Our Recommendation: Definitely see it. Just make sure you're in the proper frame of mind as the overall mood of the film is a definitely a downer.
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Burt Lancaster takes a walk on the Dark Side
DarthBill2 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Burt Lancaster plays the evil newspaper man J.J. Hunsecker, Tony Curtis plays the ambitious upstart who caters to Hunsecker's favor, even going so far as to wreck the romance Hunsecker's sister is having with a young man who dared to defy Hunsecker's word. But as Hunsecker becomes more demanding, taking more than giving, Tony Curtis's loyalty to him begins to fade ever so slightly more. And in the end, Hunsecker's unhealthy grip on his sister, which smacks of incestuous undertones, could prove to be his undoing.

Lancaster proves impressively evil as the twisted Hunsecker, dominating every scene he's in with both his physical stature and wicked personality. Curtis is a good match to him as the henchman who ultimately turns against him.

Great jazzy score.
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A Cookie Full of Arsenic
evanston_dad5 September 2006
Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster play against type in this unapologetically but delightfully nasty film about the desire to be "known" in the New York social scene, and the lengths to which people will go, or the depths to which they will sink, to achieve fame.

It's rare to come across such a blisteringly pessimistic film as this one, even today. Lancaster gives one of the best performances of his career as J.J. Hunsecker, gossip columnist to NY's social elite, who lurks in dark corners of exclusive restaurants like a bird of prey waiting to pounce on those weaker than him. He can make or break a career with a few words put to paper, and he doesn't insist that the words be true. Tony Curtis plays slimy loser Sidney Falco, who desperately wants to be somebody, and jumps to J.J.'s commands like a circus animal. Together, these two prowl the grimy, shadowy streets of a nightmare version of the Big Apple, creating a vision more steeped in film noir than the most noirish detective movie. Accusations of Communist sympathies are made, while Hunsecker reveals an unnatural fondness for his sister. All of this is set to a discordant and jazzy score that's like the aural version of neon signs.

You could fill a book with the quotable lines from this film. My favorite....."That fish is four days old, and I ain't buyin' it." Or the ever classic "I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic." Indeed, the movie is a cookie full of arsenic -- bitter at its center, but so damn sweet and enjoyable.

Grade: A+
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If you are successful at shoveling dirt, there's always a bad smell that sticks.
RJBurke194229 October 2007
I missed this film when it first came out (when I was in my late teens) – and I kept missing it whenever it appeared on TV, which was a rare occasion. So, I was very pleased to finally get a DVD and relish in one of the definitive stories about...power and how it corrupts.

Arguably, this narrative is a true classic and ranks as one of the best dramas ever put to film. First, the two main actors – Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster – both give truly outstanding performances. Curtis went on to other projects like The Defiant Ones (1958), Some like it hot (1959) and most notably The Boston Strangler (1968); but, as Sidney Falco, he's the quintessential slime ball, the guy whom you really never want to meet because he's the one you know you can never trust. He makes Paul Newman's Hud (1963) look like Mr Goody Two Shoes, and that's no criticism of Paul Newman. Curtis's acting is so good, he should have won an Oscar.

Lancaster is also excellent in the role of a power-corrupted syndicated columnist, J.J. Hunsecker, who'll use whatever and whomever to protect his interests – and in this slice of slimy life, it's his sister who forms the central interest. That by itself makes for a gripping tug of war between him and a very effective and young Martin Milner as Steve Dallas, the guitarist who wants to marry Susan Hunsecker, played by Susan Harrison (an actor who faded away very quickly, it seems). What's more interesting, however, is the interaction between J.J. and Susan, with distinctive allusions to a brother-sister relationship that seems to go a bit beyond normality; with a longer narrative that could have been explored more, and to great effect, I think.

What's even more interesting is the unspoken undercurrent between J.J and Sidney, both handsome guys, one dominant, one submissive, both dependent upon each other, both repulsed by each other – and probably themselves, deep down. And both always on the make for the next conquest, including sexual.

However, in 1957, to extend both of those aspects into this story probably would have ensured an even faster death at the box office...

In addition to the acting, the other big strength is the dialog that contains some of the best one-liners in movie history. Check out the Quotes section to gain an appreciation of the quality of this script. For sheer use of word power and word play, you have to look at Sleuth (1972) for comparison, a lesser film, sure, but still entertaining.

The production was top-notch as was the cinematography from James Wong Howe, an operator who started out in the silent era, in 1920. And, it shows. Looking over his credits, I spotted a half dozen movies that I rate among my favorites, particularly Pursued (1947), the very best black and white photography I've ever seen. And of course, the mise-en-scene: New York, as few have seen it, and which is gone forever. Like On the Waterfront (1952), The Naked City (1948) and a few others, that gritty city is The Metaphor for the tough grittiness that seems to permeate the citizens of that great place – good and bad alike.

It's not surprising that the critics and the public, at that time, shunned this masterpiece: nobody likes to look inside their soul to shrink back from the truth. None of us like to think what we might do or not do in the same situation; it's too much for most to even acknowledge that old saying: there but for the grace of God, go I.

Unquestionably, one of the best movies I've ever seen.
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One of those great films - both for its content and as a nostalgic piece of work
caa82128 August 2006
This movie apparently had only moderate success when it was released 50 years ago - presumably due to its film noir character, with the iconic Lancaster and the rising young matinée idol, Curtis, both very unctuous, and one seeming smarmier than the other at every turn. Lancaster is so selfish, ego-maniacal and unfeeling - except for his obsession with his sister (and even that unhealthy and self-serving, having turned her into a basket case). Curtis is just as bad in terms of his character; he just doesn't have the power or influence of Lancaster's "J. J.," but is trying hard to acquire it.

Viewed now, this film is not only superb drama with two of the greatest stars in Hollywood history. It is also a relic in the sense of conveying the influence of gossip columnists in that period and the preceding decades - Winchell, Earl Wilson, Ed Sullivan, Sheila Graham, Hopper and Parsons in Hollwood, and usually a comparable columnist for more local tidbits in almost every American newspaper. These have for many years been supplanted by the plethora of "gossip" programs on the wide spectrum of cable/satellite channels today.

There are some details in this film which can be criticized, but these only make its "10 stars" just a little dimmer. Even with his hand-to-mouth status in the film, Curtis' Sidney would at least have a better sign on his "office" door, and something a tad more office-like. Martin Milner looks as though he's consumed about a triple dosage of tranquilizers, and for most of the picture, so does Susan Harrison; if J. J. were to have a legitimate beef about Marty's attentions to his sister, it should have been his apparent furnishing her with "downers." If you have seen "The Caine Mutiny," released three years prior, you'll recall the young lovers in that film, Robert Francis and May Wynn. It would be a a dead-heat tie with the pair in this film for the title of the most insipid young couple in filmdom history.

However, this fact works in this film, to point even more emphasis towards Lancaster/J. J. and Curtis/Sidney. Likewise for the rather one-dimensional character to all the supporting parts and cast. The fore-mentioned "noir" quality and the rather over-the-top acting of the two leads is a nostalgic look at the acting styles from "The Jazz Singer" through the '50's {nobody - but nobody - was more "over-the-top" in style (or greater) than the pioneering Al Jolson}.

This movie, like so many classics of its period, is great to view, in its own right - but doubly so as an historic, nostalgic view of a time past.
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