- Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) to Falco (Tony Curtis)
"Sidney, conjugate me a verb; for instance--to promise. You promised to break up that romance."
- Hunsecker to Falco
"The cat's in the bag, and the bag's in the river."
- Falco to Hunsecker
"What does this mean, integrity'"--Hunsecker to Falco "A pocketful of firecrackers waiting for a match."
"I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic."
- Hunsecker to Falco
"Maybe I left my sense of humor in my other suit."
Chicago Sun-Times - 10/12/1997
"...The film lives on -- sharp-edged, merciless. The performances of Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis have not dated or grown soft..."
Premiere - 12/01/2003
"[T]he movie gave off a new, cynical metropolitan attitude, with more twists than a barrel of pretzels."
A.V. Club - 02/23/2011
"Even now, more than 50 years after the movie was released, it feels like everyone involved with it was getting away with something." -- Grade: A
Director Alexander Mackendrick breaks away from black comedy (THE LADYKILLERS) and goes for full-fledged noir in this spectacular hard-boiled tale of greed, corruption, and brutality. In the flashing neon nighttime of NYC, grasping press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) trawls the city's toniest nightspots--21,the Elysian--searching for the king of celebrity columnists, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Falco is on the outs with Hunsecker because he hasn't successfully broken up the romance between Hunsecker's sister, Susie (Susan Harrison), and straitlaced jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). The all-powerful Hunsecker is punishing Falco's failure by not printing any of the publicist's items. Desperate to make a living, Falco reveals a dirty plan to separate weak-willed Susie from her beau. While disgusted by Falco's slimy trade, the threatening, malicious columnist is determined to keep Susie for himself, so he agrees. In this jazzily scored, seamy nocturnal world, everyone is expendable as Hunsecker pushes for his twisted desires and Falco grasps for success. With their machine-gun dialogue and despicable behavior, Hunsecker and Falco are as dangerous as gangsters. The person who comes out on top when the sun rises, however, is a true surprise.
In SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, an all-powerful columnist and an opportunistic press agent clash in a struggle for power.
Film Noir |
Personal Triumph |
Theatrical Release |
Theatrical release: June 27, 1957.
Filmed on location in New York City.
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1993.
Burt Lancaster was one of the first film actors to become an independent producer; in 1948 he formed the company Hill, Hecht & Lancaster with his agent Harold Hecht and producer James Hill. Lancaster's company produced SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS.
Ernest Lehman based the character J.J. Hunsecker on real-life celebrity gossip columnist Walter Winchell. In 1998, a biopic about the writer, WINCHELL, aired on television.
In 2001, Lehman received the first honorary Academy Award ever presented to a screenwriter. He told the New York Times that upon hearing the news, "I was stunned. What great, exciting news!"
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS was based on Lehman's novella TELL ME ABOUT IT TOMORROW. He got sick while writing the screenplay adaptation, so Clifford Odets was called in to finish it.
For Tony Curtis, the part of Sidney Falco was a breakout dramatic role--in his prior film work, he had been typecast either as juvenile delinquents or swashbuckling heroes.
The character Steve Dallas (Martin Milner) plays with real-life jazz musicians of the Chico Hamilton Quintet, who wrote and performed the film's songs.