Sweet Smell of Success [DVD] [1957]

One of the best movies of the 1950s, Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success has gotten to DVD a lot faster than it got to laserdisc, as part of MGM's Vintage Classics series. That means a low list price but not much in the way of packaging -- artwork, a synopsis, a box, and that's it -- not even an insert listing the chapters. The film-to-video transfer is as crisp as the movie itself is piercing and disquieting in its action and its depiction of the vicious, petty underside of American popular culture of the 1950s. Every shot looks as sharp as a fine black-and-white still, and considering that the movie was shot on location in New York City, that makes this DVD almost as valuable as a travelogue of the city as it is as a drama. And the score, a mix of Elmer Bernstein jazz-based background music and material by the Chico Hamilton Quintet, fairly leaps out of the speakers on this digital remastering, which adds immeasurably to the experience; this was a deliberately aggressive score by Bernstein and company, and was meant to be perceived by the viewer. The chapter breakdown is adequate, and the menu is easy to maneuver around -- the only extra material included is the original trailer.
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Special Features

  • Original theatrical trailer
  • English: mono
  • French: mono
  • French and Spanish subtitles


Sweet Smell of Success
Ernest Lehman drew upon his experiences as a Broadway press agent to write the devastating a clef short story "Tell Me About Tomorrow." This in turn was adapted by Lehman and Clifford Odets into the sharp-edged, penetrating feature film Sweet Smell of Success. Burt Lancaster stars as J. J. Hunsecker, a Walter Winchell-style columnist who wields his power like a club, steamrolling friends and enemies alike. Tony Curtis co-stars as Sidney Falco, a sycophantic press agent who'd sell his grandmother to get an item into Hunsecker's popular newspaper column. Hunsecker enlists Falco's aid in ruining the reputation of jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), who has had the temerity to court Hunsecker's sister Susan (Susan Harrison). Falco contrives to plant marijuana on Dallas, then summons corrupt, sadistic NYPD officer Harry Kello (Emile Meyer), who owes Hunsecker several favors, to arrest the innocent singer. The real Walter Winchell, no longer as powerful as he'd been in the 1940s but still a man to be reckoned with, went after Ernest Lehman with both barrels upon the release of Sweet Smell of Success. Winchell was not so much offended by the unflattering portrait of himself as by the dredging up of an unpleasant domestic incident from his past. While Success was not a success at the box office, it is now regarded as a model of street-smart cinematic cynicism. The electric performances of the stars are matched by the taut direction of Alex MacKendrick, the driving jazz score of Elmer Bernstein, and the evocative nocturnal camerawork of James Wong Howe. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Burt Lancaster
    Burt Lancaster - J.J. Hunsecker
  • Tony Curtis
    Tony Curtis - Sidney Falco
  • Susan Harrison
    Susan Harrison - Susan Hunsecker
  • Martin Milner
    Martin Milner - Steve Dallas
  • Sam Levene
    Sam Levene - Frank D'Angelo

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