Sweet Smell of Success: The Short Fiction by Ernest LehmanLehman scathingly depicts the dark side of success through the twisted relationship of Sid Wallace, an ambitious publicist, and Harvey Hunsucker, a powerful and vindictive gossip columnist, fashioned after Walter Winchell. As scandals are manufactured and reputations ruined for sport, the story spirals downward toward one last, savage act of revenge. As brutally honest as Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, Sweet Smell of Success is one of the most enduring and provocative stories in the literature of show business.
Sweet Smell of Success Review
A delivery van drives down gleaming, neon-lit Broadway and dumps a bundle of newspapers on the sidewalk in Times Square. This authoritative opening of Sweet Smell of Success , first released to little acclaim and bad box-office in , announces a film noir about hard-hitting journalism and the alluring world of Manhattan at night. But the hitting is all below the belt and the cowardly pugilists are J. Hunsecker Burt Lancaster , a syndicated right-wing gossip columnist who can make or break reputations with a couple of barbed sentences, and Sidney Falco Tony Curtis , the unprincipled press agent, who supplies him and his rivals with the dirt they dish up daily. Sweet Smell of Success turns the whimsical Broadway of Damon Runyon on its head, looking at it from the angle of Runyon's close friend, the ruthless, fast-talking super-patriot Walter Winchell, on whom the odious Hunsecker is based. Probably only Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole has presented such an atrabilious view of unethical journalists at work, and it, too, was the work of a European and a box-office disaster.
THE frenetic and often sordid machinations of a power-mad Broadway columnist, the unprincipled press agent who is his hatchet man and the avid coterie that surrounds them are savagely dissected in "Sweet Smell of Success," which came to Loew's State yesterday. It is not a towering, universal theme the producers have developed in their indictment of this small, special segment of society operating in a tiny domain known intimately only to the cognoscenti. But pulsating dialogue, brisk direction, good performances and photography that captures the sights and sounds of Manhattan's Bistro Belt make the meanness of this singular "success" story fascinating a good part of the way. The adaptation by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman of the latter's fiction has caught the mannerisms and the language of the hustling guys and dolls in search of power, fame and a fast buck. But the basic motivation of J.
Drag a lung-full of Alexander Mackendrick's hymn to Manhattan sleaze and you can almost taste the city. Hunsecker, gossip columnist and proto-shock jock remarks: "I love this dirty town". And if Mackendrick's classic, The Ladykillers, had served notice that the director was capable of twisted satire, nothing could quite prepare the audience for this shock to the senses. One of the darkest films ever to emerge from Hollywood, no modern mainstream movie could dare boast an ending as bleak or a subtext as sexually, socially and politically provocative as the one on display here. And this is a movie starring two reliable studio players: all-American Burt Lancaster and pretty boy Tony Curtis.
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We see his picture in the papers, and plastered on the side of big trucks rumbling through the city. We also hear how he makes life miserable for desperate press agent Curtis. As everyone around Lancaster bends to his will—lest they lose their livelihoods— Sweet Smell Of Success shows how media bullies like Winchell wield power capriciously. Even now, more than 50 years after the movie was released, it feels like everyone involved with it was getting away with something. It was shot by veteran cinematographer James Wong Howe, who turns a seething New York City into a suitable-for-framing piece of realist art. Manny Davis.
The two men in "The Sweet Smell of Success" relate to each other like junkyard dogs. One is dominant, and the other is a whipped cur, circling hungrily, his tail between his legs, hoping for a scrap after the big dog has dined. The dynamic between a powerful gossip columnist and a hungry press agent, is seen starkly and without pity. The rest of the plot simply supplies events to illustrate the love-hate relationship. When "The Sweet Smell of Success" was released in , it was seen as a thinly-veiled attack on Walter Winchell, who for decades had been the most famous and reviled gossip columnist in America. Forty years later Winchell is mostly forgotten he died in , but the film lives on--sharp-edged, merciless.