Sweet Smell of Success (1957)


Critic Consensus: Sweet Smell of Success boasts a top-notch cast, sharp direction, atmospheric cinematography, and an appropriately jazzy score, making it one of the best noir crime thrillers ever made.


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Movie Info

J.J. Hunsecker, a powerful New York newspaper columnist, is dead set against his sister's marrying a jazz musician. Sidney Falco, a sleazy PR man, will do anything to get publicity for his clients, and he sees Hunsecker's situation as an opportunity to win the writer's favor. So, he sets out to break up the affair anyway he can.

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Burt Lancaster
as J.J. Hunsecker
Tony Curtis
as Sidney Falco
Susan Harrison
as Susan Hunsecker
Martin Milner
as Steve Dallas
Sam Levene
as D'Angelo
Emile G. Meyer
as Harry Kello
Joe Frisco
as Herbie Temple
Lawrence Dobkin
as Leo Bartha
Lurene Tuttle
as Mrs. Bartha
Queenie Smith
as Mildred Tam
Jay Adler
as Manny Davis
Lewis Charles
as Al Evans
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News & Interviews for Sweet Smell of Success

Critic Reviews for Sweet Smell of Success

All Critics (48) | Top Critics (9)

Sweet Smell, which could have been offal, is raised to considerable dramatic heights by intense acting, taut direction (by Alexander Mackendrick), [and] superb camera work (by James Wong Howe).

Apr 21, 2009 | Full Review…
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Mackendrick's nighthawk landscape is compellingly, poetically bleak.

Apr 21, 2009 | Full Review…

James Hill's production, locationed in Manhattan, captures the feel of Broadway and environs after dark.

Jul 22, 2008 | Full Review…
Top Critic

The screen was rarely so dark or cruel.

Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

A lean, mean amorality tale that still goes down like a cookie laced with arsenic.

May 16, 2002 | Rating: A | Full Review…

The main incentive to see this movie is its witty, pungent and idiomatic dialogue, such as you never hear on the screen anymore in this age of special-effects illiteracy.

Apr 18, 2002 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Sweet Smell of Success

A double-barrelled shotgun in the face of celebrity press and American societal values itself, the film snaps, crackles, and pops with its depiction of a Broadway publicist's crawl to the top and what he does to get there. Curtis and Lancaster make Darth Vader and Hannibal Lector seem like Disney friends.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

The word tense doesn't even begin to describe Alexander Mackendrick's psychologically unsettling masterpiece Sweet Smell of Success. Carrying perhaps the best performances of both Burt Lancaster's and Tony Curtis' careers, the film is a brilliant take on the real life persona of Walter Winchell, but also, a personal journey for its two leads. At the end of the film, Lancaster's character loses his only living thread to humanity and Sidney Falco, as played by Curtis, loses in his fight to get ahead and pays for all of his wrongdoings. It's such a fantastic work from beginning to end. You can cut the tension in the story with a knife. I sat with a sick feeling in my stomach the entire time and was relieved at the end. Few films have ever done that to me.

Tim Salmons
Tim Salmons

Super Reviewer

About as hard edged as a movie can be. As a look at a group of venal people it can't be beat but this is a very loathsome group so spending any time with them could never be described as a pleasant experience. Burt and Tony both give outstanding performances, the whole cast is very fine, but the wonderful Barbara Nichols stands out in her brief scenes as a sad sweet girl who has been treated badly by life, one of the few people in the picture who engenders any sympathy.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer

This pitch black hearted noir was something of a flop on its release, and it's not difficult to see why. Not through lack of quality, but rather the fact that its unrelenting cynicism and bleak outlook is certainly not for the faint hearted. Tony Curtis turns in easily his best performance as Sidney Falco, an obsequious press agent who is perfectly willing to sell his soul to get on top, and Burt Lancaster is similarly superb, brilliantly cast against type as a cold-hearted tyrant (even describing an attack on his character as an attack on his country, the cry of despots throughout the ages) who controls all around him through contemptible manipulation. The core of the film is the creepily ambiguous relationship between he and his sister; at one point he refers to her "apron strings", an allusion to motherhood, but he also keeps a portrait on his desk as one would a spouse or lover... It is unusual in that instead of fists and bullets, all the damage is done through words and insinuations; the razor sharp dialogue is amongst the best ever written for the screen, and the magnificent photography represents the city streets as blackly as the protagonists' hearts. The package is completed by a soundtrack of fantastic contemporary jazz and the overall result is one of the pinnacles of film noir.

xGary Xx
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

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