Burt and Tony: The Sweet Smell of Success

New York City newspaper writer J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) can make or break a career with his column. He needs the sycophant publicist Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) to dig in the dirt and find him leads. Hunsecker is a power-driven egomaniac who can’t control his younger sister, Susan (Susan Harrison), who has fallen for a jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Marty Milner). Hunsecker orders Falco to smear Dallas’s image and ruin his career.

Falco and Hunsecker. A perfect example of a symbiotic relationship. I read the film was a loose cover for the hated New York gossip columnist Walter Winchell. In the film, J.J. owns the town as he moves from booth to booth in NYC hotspots while Sidney Falco licks the heels of the big dog.

Falco: J.J. Hunsecker is the golden ladder to the place I want to get.

In the ruthless world of journalism, Ben Franklin’s adage holds true. “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”

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My favorite character is the cigarette girl, Rita, played by Barbara Nichols. Manipulated by Falco who traps her into prostituting herself, I cringed with sympathy. First, she is soft with the anticipation of a rendezvous with Falco. Next, she is hurt to discover Falco tricks her. Then, to anger and finally, to the “good sport” that she is, putting on a smile for Falco’s client. It is a quid pro quo exchange at her expense. The scene demonstrates how low Franco will go to get J. J. Hunsecker a story.

Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis have great chemistry. Curtis’s quick movements, his alert eyes, and snappy delivery of lines make a believable Sidney Falco who is morally bankrupt. Lancaster’s performance is cool and confident. He plays the sly king of the night with his tall stature and broad shoulders convincingly. The two were a dynamic duo off the screen, too. In the biography, Against Type by Gary Fishgall, Lancaster and Curtis hit it off when they first met in Criss Cross in 1947. Both were from the mean streets of New York. Both were virile and athletic, both were conceited and difficult, and both loved pranking one another on the set.

The Hunsucker one-liners worked for me. “You’re dead son, go get yourself buried.” Or, “I’d hate to take a bite out of you. You’re like a cookie full of arsenic.” It’s that 1957 lingo in a movie that makes me smile. The storyline of The Sweet Smell of Success is about obtaining news, even if it’s fake, at any cost. Not much has changed, has it? 5/5

31 Comments on “Burt and Tony: The Sweet Smell of Success

  1. Burt, Tony and Marty were all great in this, I thought. They showed their versatility. But Barbara Nichols is usually overlooked, yet she never fails to give her best in every performance!

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  2. this was director alexander mackendricks first and only significant hollywood movie. his english credits include the classics the Man in the White Suit and The Ladykillers. He was very good with actors, especially as regards the interpretaion of the script.

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    • He would need to be with those big egos. There is a lot to like with this one. The subtle touches that show J. J. Owns the town. For example, he never pays to check his coat. People scramble about on the street while the limo follows him around. Mostly, the night shots of him high overlooking the streets of NYC.

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    • Speaking of Ealing comedies songladder, here is a youtube video link of British filmmaker Terence Davies expressing his love of those films below. Great to have you on here again πŸ™‚

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  3. This is such a great film, on so many levels. New York City has never looked so good, the streets filled with life and vibrancy, while another world lurks under its facade. It is stunning to watch Burt Lancaster, who I’ve always seen as a nice guy, play such a nasty character. Tony Curtis is excellent too.They certainly revel in delivering the dialogue, the like of which you just cannot find today.

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  4. I heard that the quote β€œI’d hate to take a bite out of you, you’re a cookie full of arsenic.” came from this movie, and that was enough to intrigue me. Your review has me adding it to my watchlistβ€”thank you!

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  5. Brilliant movie. I love it to pieces. I don’t know if you know this but Martin Scorsese wanted to remake it with Curtis in Lancaster’s role. He chose to remake Cape Fear instead.

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