Sweet Smell of Success

Screening on Film
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick.
With Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison.
US, 1957, 35mm, black & white, 96 min.

With story and dialogue by Ernst Lehman and Clifford Odets, crisp cinematography by James Wong Howe, and direction by Ealing comedy director Alexander Mackendrick, this sharp-edged, gritty story of Manhattan newspaper men explores the underbelly of the tabloid trade, full of double-dealing, slander, and blackmail. Lancaster plays the powerful J.J. Hunsecker (based on the gossip columnist Walter Winchell), a man with an iron grip on the fate of those he writes about (or ignores) in his daily column. Sidney Falco (Curtis), a desperate press agent, will do anything to get his clients an appearance in the paper. When his kid sister gets involved with a jazz musician, Hunsecker forces Falco to discredit the suitor and break up the romance. Shot on location in Manhattan, the film travels from the city’s swankiest clubs to its dirtiest back alleys, as lives are made and broken over thirty-six hours in “this dirty town.”

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Treasures from the Harvard Film Archive: A–Z

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A Burt Lancaster Centennial Tribute