Sweet Smell of Success


1h 36m 1957
Sweet Smell of Success

Brief Synopsis

A crooked press agent stoops to new depths to help an egotistical columnist break up his sister's romance.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Film Noir
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 1957
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 24 Jun 1957
Production Company
Hecht-Hill-Lancaster; Norma-Curtleigh Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novelette Tell Me About It Tomorrow! by Ernest Lehman in Cosmopolitan , Apr 1950.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

One night in Manhattan, slick, up-and-coming press agent Sidney Falco scans the column of New York Globe writer J. J. Hunsecker, an immensely popular journalist whose column and radio show have great influence in the entertainment world. Because J. J. has, for the fifth day in a row, neglected to publicize any of Sidney's clients, Sidney's business is rapidly failing, despite his attempts to placate each client. In consternation, he turns cruelly on his sweet secretary, Sally, but then explains that his drive for success forces him to curry favor with J. J., who is snubbing him for failing to break up the relationship between J. J.'s sister Susie and jazz musician Steve Dallas. Later, at the club where Steve performs, Sidney argues with his uncle and Steve's manager, Frank D'Angelo, who had promised him that Steve and Susie had broken up. Upon learning from cigarette girl Rita that Susie is awaiting Steve in back, Sidney interrupts the two as they celebrate their recent engagement, incurring Steve's anger. Steve, who values integrity above all else, accuses Sidney of "scratching for information like a dog." Inside, Rita appeals to Sidney to help her retain her job, which is at risk because she refused to sleep with columnist Leo Bartha, who then ordered her to be fired. Sidney secures a date with Rita, then follows Susie into a cab, where the meek nineteen-year-old questions his relationship with J. J., calling him "a trained poodle." While reassuring Susie that he considers J. J. a close friend, Sidney confirms the information that Susie and Steve are engaged, then races to J. J.'s customary booth at the 21 Club to inform him. J. J. is dining there with Senator Harvey Walker, starlet Linda James and manager Manny Davis, and when Sidney joins them against J. J.'s wishes, the columnist excoriates him, forcing Sidney to accept the abuse with a smile. When Walker tries to help, pointing out that columnists need press agents to furnish the necessary gossip, J. J. turns his lacerating gaze to the senator, humbling him by stating that he should not travel so openly with Linda, his mistress. Sidney follows J. J. outside, where the columnist greets his informer, police lieutenant Harry Kello, who is long indebted to J. J. for petitioning the mayor to save his job after Kello beat a suspect severely. After Sidney reveals Susie's engagement, J. J. allows him one more chance to destroy the relationship, stating that Susie is all he has. Desperate to protect his livelihood, Sidney vows that "the cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river." He goes to Toot Shor's club, where Bartha, J. J.'s main competitor, is dining with his wife Loretta. Sidney threatens to reveal Bartha's dalliance with Rita to Loretta unless the columnist prints an item stating that Steve is a Communist who smokes marijuana, but despite Sidney's machinations, Bartha calls his bluff, telling Loretta the truth and calling J. J. a disgrace. Sidney then petitions columnist Otis Elwell, who agrees to print the item if Sidney will fix him up with an "available" woman. To that end, Sidney brings Otis to his scheduled rendezvous with Rita, who balks at the implications of the introduction, until Sidney wheedles her into accepting, stating that Otis can help save her job as well as help him save face with J. J. After Sidney leaves, Rita, who has just told Sidney she is "not that kind of girl," reminds Otis that they slept together years earlier. The next morning, Sidney visits J. J.'s office, where the secretary, Mary, admonishes him for his sleazy tactics but nonetheless allows him to see J. J.'s column before it is printed. Noting an item promoting comedian Herbie Temple, Sidney then goes to Herbie, hoping to win his business, and pretends to call J. J. and arrange for the publicity. Back at Sidney's office, Frank and Steve are waiting, sure that the "smear" in Otis' column came from Sidney. Sidney allays their suspicion with his customary outraged defensiveness, then, upon hearing that Steve has been fired, secretly calls J. J. and instructs him to order the club owner to rehire the musician, thus winning Susie's trust. When Susie, horrified after seeing the article, enters the Hunsecker home, J. J. imperiously chastises the terrified girl for not coming to him with her problems. Susie, suspicious and chafing under her brother's tight control, finds the strength to ask J. J. to get Steve his job back. J. J. complies but asks Steve to meet him at the radio station. Before the meeting, Sidney advises J. J. to bait Steve into causing a scene, hoping to poison Susie against him. Noting Sidney's delight with his devious plan, J. J. calls him "a cookie full of arsenic." Sidney then joins with J. J. to taunt the upright musician, prompting Steve to ask Susie what she wants. When the overwhelmed girl flees the room, Steve breaks down and rebukes J. J. as a "national disgrace" full of "phony patriotism." He storms out, after which J. J. forbids Susie to see him again. That night, Sidney joins J. J. at 21 and is taken aback to discover that the columnist now plans to destroy Steve's career. Sidney balks at J. J.'s command to plant marijuana on the musician, stating he can accept a dog collar but not a noose, but after J. J. offers to let Sidney write his column for three months while he vacations with Susie, Sidney's greed prevails and he accepts the job. Later, Susie breaks up with Steve, hoping this will save him from further attacks by J. J., but as soon as Steve finishes work that night, Kello arrests him, beating him in the process. Sidney is getting drunk while toasting his "favorite perfume¿success" when he receives a message asking him to meet J. J. at his house. There, Susie, who has learned about Steve's arrest, is planning to commit suicide, hoping J. J. will forever detest Sidney for driving her to desperation. Sidney downplays the threat, berating the girl for "thinking with her hips," an improvement, he says, over her typical incompetence. When Susie tries to throw herself over the balcony, Sidney barely manages to rescue her. Just then, J. J. enters and, upon spotting Sidney holding a negligee-clad Susie, attacks the publicist, who realizes that it was not J. J. but Susie who called him to the house. To save himself, Sidney proclaims that Steve's arrest was J. J.'s idea, after which the columnist calls Kello and orders Sidney's arrest for planting the marijuana. Sidney runs out, vowing to reveal all he knows, as Susie packs her belongings. J. J. begs her to stay, but she coolly informs him she would rather die than live with him. As Kello beats Sidney and J. J. stares into his empty home, Susie strides to the hospital to join Steve.

Photo Collections

Sweet Smell of Success - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters for Sweet Smell of Success (1957), starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

Videos

Movie Clip

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) - Open, Go With The Globe The rousing New York opening credit sequence to Sweet Smell of Success, 1957, introducing Tony Curtis as press agent Sidney Falco, and indirectly, Burt Lancaster as columnist J.J. Hunsecker, directed by Alexander MacKendrick.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957) - Match Me, Sidney Calling from the lobby at 21 Club, press agent Sidney (Tony Curtis) begs monster columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster, his first scene) for an audience at his table, joining a senator, his consort and an agent (William Forrest, Autumn Russel, Jay Adler), in Sweet Smell Of Success, 1957, from Ernest Lehman's novella and screenplay co-written with Clifford Odets.
Sweet Smell Of Success (1957) - You Can Play Marbles With His Eyeballs Press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) rings high-powered columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) with news that he’s arranged for another columnist to run an item that should break up his sheltered sister’s romance with a jazz musician, in Sweet Smell Of Success, 1957.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957) - Cat's In The Bag Famous scene, now outside 21 Club on West 52nd Street, dismissing cop Kello (Emile Meyer), columnist Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) and press agent Sidney (Tony Curtis), cutting a deal in their special argot, in Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell Of Success, 1957.
Sweet Smell of Success (1957) - Your Meaty Sympathetic Arms One of Tony Curtis' best scenes ever, as press agent Sidney Falco with assistant Sally (Jeff Donnell), having failed to get an item published for restauranteur Joe (Joseph Leon), and at the mercy of still not-seen columnist Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), early in Sweet Smell Of Success, 1957,

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Film Noir
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 1957
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 24 Jun 1957
Production Company
Hecht-Hill-Lancaster; Norma-Curtleigh Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novelette Tell Me About It Tomorrow! by Ernest Lehman in Cosmopolitan , Apr 1950.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Articles

Behind the Camera - Behind the Scenes on SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)


Almost from the beginning, Tony Curtis was seen as the ideal choice for Sidney Falco. Lancaster had worked with the younger actor in Trapeze (1956) and enjoyed their give-and-take on the set. But Curtis had to fight hard for the role because his studio, Universal, believed (quite rightly, it turned out) that the role would destroy the matinee idol image they had created for their popular star. Curtis wanted out of the grind of costume adventure epics the studio pushed on him, and he knew he was far better suited to gritty, contemporary urban dramas. He believed in Sweet Smell of Success so strongly, he even co-produced the picture through Curtleigh, the company he had formed with his wife at the time, Janet Leigh.

Casting Hunsecker was a bigger problem. The description of the character in Lehman's story suggests someone with the physical characteristics of Charles Laughton. For a time, Orson Welles was considered. If United Artists hadn't pressed for a big name in the role of Hunsecker, Lehman would have preferred character actor Hume Cronyn, a small man who would have captured Hunsecker's dominating presence through a sheer force of malice. (To get an idea of Cronyn's ability to play a complex villain, see him in Brute Force (1947), Jules Dassin's bleak prison melodrama). That intriguing possibility was discarded though once Lancaster decided he would have more boxoffice clout in the role and cast himself as Hunsecker; HHL was his production company, after all.

Lancaster made a wise choice in hiring legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe, who had lensed two of the actor's earlier films, Come Back, Little Sheba (1952) and The Rose Tattoo (1955). While Howe and Mackendrick were in New York to scout locations, they formulated the idea of starting scenes in exteriors then following the characters indoors. They also took multiple still shots from various fixed points so Mackendrick could learn "the image of New York." Back in Hollywood, the director taped the shots as panoramas on his office wall. After living with the stills for a time, Mackendrick hit upon the idea of conveying the claustrophobic atmosphere of the city's canyoned streets by shooting low, with the buildings looming over the characters. This technique also gave the threatening, unsettling effect of showing the characters knifing upward into the air. Later filmmakers, such as Sydney Pollack, were heavily influenced by this unconventional use of lenses and their framing. "They reversed the normal shooting concept. They shot almost every master shot with long-focus lenses, from very far away, in order to pack the buildings in tightly behind the people," Pollack explained. "Then they shot their close-ups with wide-angle lenses, to keep the background in focus and, again, an awareness of the buildings. These techniques create an overall effect, in which lay moviegoers feel oppressed by the city, without necessarily understanding why."

With temperatures well below freezing, the exteriors were shot at night from late December 1956 into January 1957. The interiors were shot, with a couple of exceptions, in February and March at the Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood. Art Director Edward Carrere, who later won an Oscar for his work on Camelot (1968), re-created in great detail the "21" Club and Toots Shor's nightspot. He and Howe seized on the idea of building the sets a couple feet off the floor to make room for spewing smoke pots that gave the clubs their cigarette-heavy feel. They also had the walls and ceilings smeared with oil to give the sets a slimy sheen and carry the look of the dirty, rain-soaked streets indoors. Howe also decided to fit Lancaster with thick glasses, often smudged with oil, that when lit closely from a high angle, would deepen his eye sockets and produce a strange mask-like effect.

The careful preparation of the film's look gave the actors an evocative space in which to build their performances, and heightened the sense of betrayal, danger and sleaziness that permeates Odets's script. Curtis immediately threw himself into the role of Falco, acting so keyed up on the first take, Mackendrick had to devise obstacles and moves to slow him down. Lancaster and Curtis meshed well together, and drew inspiration - at Mackendrick's suggestion - from the predatory dance in Ben Jonson's play Volpone. But Lancaster was a demanding actor, not always easy to work with, and his tendency to try to wrest the directing reins from Mackendrick, combined with difficult location shooting on a film without a completed script, caused a lot of tension on the set. Mackendrick didn't ease the situation with his own fears and suspicions, based on what he knew of HHL's cutthroat methods and Lehman's parting warning: "They chew directors alive." Tipped off by the movie╒s editor, Alan Crosland, that HHL would fire him after principal photography and recut the movie to their liking, Mackendrick shot the much disputed final scene in a manner which would be difficult to edit (It was a moving camera shot). He wanted to favor a female character's point of view over Lancaster's insistence that he and Curtis be given the final shot. The ploy worked because after he was fired, Lancaster delivered a final cut of the film and soon realized his mistake, eventually calling MacKendrick back in to fix the ending. But even armed with his own tricks, the director admitted to being "scared stiff" during the entire production. During a heated, alcohol-fueled argument over the disputed scene, Mackendrick said Lancaster began shouting, then "came at me across the room with that coiled-spring animal energy, like a panther, and vaulted over a sofa in one of the most graceful movements I've ever seen."

Lancaster began directing the other actors, particularly relative newcomer Martin Milner (who said he "never quite connected" with Mackendrick), and constantly challenged Mackendrick's interpretation of how the film should look and feel. For Curtis, Lancaster's behavior was an inevitable bleed-over between actor and character, both powerful, confident men who got to their positions by manipulating and controlling others. But despite the tremendous problems during production and the initial failure of the film at the box office, Mackendrick looked back on it years later as a valuable experience. "The moments of your greatest fear are also the moments you look back on as your greatest thrill," he said. "The danger is an aphrodisiac. It must be."

by Rob Nixon
Behind The Camera  - Behind The Scenes On Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)

Behind the Camera - Behind the Scenes on SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)

Almost from the beginning, Tony Curtis was seen as the ideal choice for Sidney Falco. Lancaster had worked with the younger actor in Trapeze (1956) and enjoyed their give-and-take on the set. But Curtis had to fight hard for the role because his studio, Universal, believed (quite rightly, it turned out) that the role would destroy the matinee idol image they had created for their popular star. Curtis wanted out of the grind of costume adventure epics the studio pushed on him, and he knew he was far better suited to gritty, contemporary urban dramas. He believed in Sweet Smell of Success so strongly, he even co-produced the picture through Curtleigh, the company he had formed with his wife at the time, Janet Leigh. Casting Hunsecker was a bigger problem. The description of the character in Lehman's story suggests someone with the physical characteristics of Charles Laughton. For a time, Orson Welles was considered. If United Artists hadn't pressed for a big name in the role of Hunsecker, Lehman would have preferred character actor Hume Cronyn, a small man who would have captured Hunsecker's dominating presence through a sheer force of malice. (To get an idea of Cronyn's ability to play a complex villain, see him in Brute Force (1947), Jules Dassin's bleak prison melodrama). That intriguing possibility was discarded though once Lancaster decided he would have more boxoffice clout in the role and cast himself as Hunsecker; HHL was his production company, after all. Lancaster made a wise choice in hiring legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe, who had lensed two of the actor's earlier films, Come Back, Little Sheba (1952) and The Rose Tattoo (1955). While Howe and Mackendrick were in New York to scout locations, they formulated the idea of starting scenes in exteriors then following the characters indoors. They also took multiple still shots from various fixed points so Mackendrick could learn "the image of New York." Back in Hollywood, the director taped the shots as panoramas on his office wall. After living with the stills for a time, Mackendrick hit upon the idea of conveying the claustrophobic atmosphere of the city's canyoned streets by shooting low, with the buildings looming over the characters. This technique also gave the threatening, unsettling effect of showing the characters knifing upward into the air. Later filmmakers, such as Sydney Pollack, were heavily influenced by this unconventional use of lenses and their framing. "They reversed the normal shooting concept. They shot almost every master shot with long-focus lenses, from very far away, in order to pack the buildings in tightly behind the people," Pollack explained. "Then they shot their close-ups with wide-angle lenses, to keep the background in focus and, again, an awareness of the buildings. These techniques create an overall effect, in which lay moviegoers feel oppressed by the city, without necessarily understanding why." With temperatures well below freezing, the exteriors were shot at night from late December 1956 into January 1957. The interiors were shot, with a couple of exceptions, in February and March at the Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood. Art Director Edward Carrere, who later won an Oscar for his work on Camelot (1968), re-created in great detail the "21" Club and Toots Shor's nightspot. He and Howe seized on the idea of building the sets a couple feet off the floor to make room for spewing smoke pots that gave the clubs their cigarette-heavy feel. They also had the walls and ceilings smeared with oil to give the sets a slimy sheen and carry the look of the dirty, rain-soaked streets indoors. Howe also decided to fit Lancaster with thick glasses, often smudged with oil, that when lit closely from a high angle, would deepen his eye sockets and produce a strange mask-like effect. The careful preparation of the film's look gave the actors an evocative space in which to build their performances, and heightened the sense of betrayal, danger and sleaziness that permeates Odets's script. Curtis immediately threw himself into the role of Falco, acting so keyed up on the first take, Mackendrick had to devise obstacles and moves to slow him down. Lancaster and Curtis meshed well together, and drew inspiration - at Mackendrick's suggestion - from the predatory dance in Ben Jonson's play Volpone. But Lancaster was a demanding actor, not always easy to work with, and his tendency to try to wrest the directing reins from Mackendrick, combined with difficult location shooting on a film without a completed script, caused a lot of tension on the set. Mackendrick didn't ease the situation with his own fears and suspicions, based on what he knew of HHL's cutthroat methods and Lehman's parting warning: "They chew directors alive." Tipped off by the movie╒s editor, Alan Crosland, that HHL would fire him after principal photography and recut the movie to their liking, Mackendrick shot the much disputed final scene in a manner which would be difficult to edit (It was a moving camera shot). He wanted to favor a female character's point of view over Lancaster's insistence that he and Curtis be given the final shot. The ploy worked because after he was fired, Lancaster delivered a final cut of the film and soon realized his mistake, eventually calling MacKendrick back in to fix the ending. But even armed with his own tricks, the director admitted to being "scared stiff" during the entire production. During a heated, alcohol-fueled argument over the disputed scene, Mackendrick said Lancaster began shouting, then "came at me across the room with that coiled-spring animal energy, like a panther, and vaulted over a sofa in one of the most graceful movements I've ever seen." Lancaster began directing the other actors, particularly relative newcomer Martin Milner (who said he "never quite connected" with Mackendrick), and constantly challenged Mackendrick's interpretation of how the film should look and feel. For Curtis, Lancaster's behavior was an inevitable bleed-over between actor and character, both powerful, confident men who got to their positions by manipulating and controlling others. But despite the tremendous problems during production and the initial failure of the film at the box office, Mackendrick looked back on it years later as a valuable experience. "The moments of your greatest fear are also the moments you look back on as your greatest thrill," he said. "The danger is an aphrodisiac. It must be." by Rob Nixon

Sweet Smell of Success


Alexander Mackendrick was best known as a director of British comedies (The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Ladykillers, 1955) when he was chosen to replace Ernest Lehman as director on Sweet Smell of Success (1957). The result was a visually stunning and hard-edged film noir melodrama which was actually a little too strong for mass audience acceptance in its time. It told the story of J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), a powerful and dangerous national columnist, and his obsequious assistant, Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). Hunsecker, who has the power to make and break reputations in his daily newspaper column, was said to be modeled on Walter Winchell who had made his share of enemies during his peak years.

The screenplay was inspired by an original story from Ernest Lehman who worked for celebrity press agent Irving Hoffman in Manhattan in the late 1930s. Lehman had ample opportunity to observe the treacherous world of celebrity gossip he was working in and he even supplied Walter Winchell with column "items" on occasion.

Due to heath reasons, Lehman, who was serving as director and screenwriter, had to abandon the film production of Sweet Smell of Success in the early stages and MacKendrick took over direction. Clifford Odets was brought in to give the dialogue more punch with street slang and New Yorker vernacular.

Lancaster, whose production company had optioned Sweet Smell of Success, was considering Orson Welles for the role of Hunsecker when he decided to play the character himself. Compromising himself further, he also began to challenge Alexander MacKendrick's directorial decisions once filming began, a possible result of identitying too closely with the overly manipulative Hunsecker character. Although Lancaster delivered a final cut of the film without Mackendrick's involvement, he soon realized his mistake and called the director back in to fix the ending. The result is without a doubt MacKendrick's most accomplished film and a testiment to his careful rehearsal and elaborate storyboard preparation for the film.

What's most surprising is the fact that Sweet Smell of Success was totally ignored during the 1957 Oscar race. Not only was Tony Curtis's breakthrough performance as the self-loathing Sidney Falco ignored but even Elmer Bernstein's dynamic, jazz-influenced score failed to garner an Academy Award nomination. The latter featured notable contributions from Chico Hamilton's Quintet and such fine musicians as Frank Rosolino, Curtis Counce, Paul Horn, and Buddy Clark.

Director: Alexander MacKendrick
Producer: James Hill
Screenplay: Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Editing: Alan Crosland Jr.
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Cast: Burt Lancaster (J. J. Hunsecker), Tony Curtis (Sidney Falco), Susan Harrison (Susan Hunsecker), Martin Milner (Steve), Sam Levene (Frank D'Angelo), Barbara Nichols (Rita).
BW-97m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

Sweet Smell of Success

Alexander Mackendrick was best known as a director of British comedies (The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Ladykillers, 1955) when he was chosen to replace Ernest Lehman as director on Sweet Smell of Success (1957). The result was a visually stunning and hard-edged film noir melodrama which was actually a little too strong for mass audience acceptance in its time. It told the story of J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), a powerful and dangerous national columnist, and his obsequious assistant, Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). Hunsecker, who has the power to make and break reputations in his daily newspaper column, was said to be modeled on Walter Winchell who had made his share of enemies during his peak years. The screenplay was inspired by an original story from Ernest Lehman who worked for celebrity press agent Irving Hoffman in Manhattan in the late 1930s. Lehman had ample opportunity to observe the treacherous world of celebrity gossip he was working in and he even supplied Walter Winchell with column "items" on occasion. Due to heath reasons, Lehman, who was serving as director and screenwriter, had to abandon the film production of Sweet Smell of Success in the early stages and MacKendrick took over direction. Clifford Odets was brought in to give the dialogue more punch with street slang and New Yorker vernacular. Lancaster, whose production company had optioned Sweet Smell of Success, was considering Orson Welles for the role of Hunsecker when he decided to play the character himself. Compromising himself further, he also began to challenge Alexander MacKendrick's directorial decisions once filming began, a possible result of identitying too closely with the overly manipulative Hunsecker character. Although Lancaster delivered a final cut of the film without Mackendrick's involvement, he soon realized his mistake and called the director back in to fix the ending. The result is without a doubt MacKendrick's most accomplished film and a testiment to his careful rehearsal and elaborate storyboard preparation for the film. What's most surprising is the fact that Sweet Smell of Success was totally ignored during the 1957 Oscar race. Not only was Tony Curtis's breakthrough performance as the self-loathing Sidney Falco ignored but even Elmer Bernstein's dynamic, jazz-influenced score failed to garner an Academy Award nomination. The latter featured notable contributions from Chico Hamilton's Quintet and such fine musicians as Frank Rosolino, Curtis Counce, Paul Horn, and Buddy Clark. Director: Alexander MacKendrick Producer: James Hill Screenplay: Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman Cinematography: James Wong Howe Music: Elmer Bernstein Editing: Alan Crosland Jr. Art Direction: Edward Carrere Cast: Burt Lancaster (J. J. Hunsecker), Tony Curtis (Sidney Falco), Susan Harrison (Susan Hunsecker), Martin Milner (Steve), Sam Levene (Frank D'Angelo), Barbara Nichols (Rita). BW-97m. Letterboxed. by Jeff Stafford

The Sweet Smell of Success


Burt Lancaster was certainly a bonafide super star of the highest order; he scaled the highest of heights possible in the Hollywood of his day. But what truly distinguished him from all of the other superstars of his generation was the body of work he left behind as an independent producer, including groundbreaking films he either appeared in or simply produced. He, in fact, was among the very first mainstream artists to utilize his well earned leverage to promote what turns out to be the very first smaller art-house films this nation had ever experienced.

But of all the films that got made under the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster banner the most emblematic of Burt's unique and highly evolved aesthetic is The Sweet Smell of Success, a film that was daring, to say the least, when it first appeared in 1957, but has grown in stature in the eye of the true film devotee over the course of time. It currently appears on more best film lists than can be expressed. It boasts what this viewer considers the greatest dialog ever to be filmed, emanating from a stunning collaboration of Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, making one of his rare forays into screenwriting. Then there are the performances, led by the mind blowing characterizations of Tony Curtis as the smarmy public relations agent Sidney Falco, and Burt himself as the inimitable columnist JJ Hunsecker, a characterization consisting of biting cruelty, turning a phrase as if turning a knife, and without resembling in any way any other character that Burt ever played. Under the watchful eye of director Alexander Mackendrick and with stunning black and white photography provided by the brilliant James Wong Howe, The Sweet Smell of Success represents everything that is mind-blowing about cinema.

While I was working on post production on The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), I noticed John Frankenheimer, rather than presiding over the session, had his head buried in what appeared to be rather compelling book. When I questioned him about it he said that his obsession with reading was something he learned from Burt Lancaster, with whom he made five films. Burt, he told me, liked to read almost a book a day. That's when the light bulb went on for me; it explained Burt's keenly evolved love of smart literature. Not bad for a self educated kid that grew up on the mean streets of New York.

by Ron Perlman

The Sweet Smell of Success

Burt Lancaster was certainly a bonafide super star of the highest order; he scaled the highest of heights possible in the Hollywood of his day. But what truly distinguished him from all of the other superstars of his generation was the body of work he left behind as an independent producer, including groundbreaking films he either appeared in or simply produced. He, in fact, was among the very first mainstream artists to utilize his well earned leverage to promote what turns out to be the very first smaller art-house films this nation had ever experienced. But of all the films that got made under the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster banner the most emblematic of Burt's unique and highly evolved aesthetic is The Sweet Smell of Success, a film that was daring, to say the least, when it first appeared in 1957, but has grown in stature in the eye of the true film devotee over the course of time. It currently appears on more best film lists than can be expressed. It boasts what this viewer considers the greatest dialog ever to be filmed, emanating from a stunning collaboration of Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, making one of his rare forays into screenwriting. Then there are the performances, led by the mind blowing characterizations of Tony Curtis as the smarmy public relations agent Sidney Falco, and Burt himself as the inimitable columnist JJ Hunsecker, a characterization consisting of biting cruelty, turning a phrase as if turning a knife, and without resembling in any way any other character that Burt ever played. Under the watchful eye of director Alexander Mackendrick and with stunning black and white photography provided by the brilliant James Wong Howe, The Sweet Smell of Success represents everything that is mind-blowing about cinema. While I was working on post production on The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), I noticed John Frankenheimer, rather than presiding over the session, had his head buried in what appeared to be rather compelling book. When I questioned him about it he said that his obsession with reading was something he learned from Burt Lancaster, with whom he made five films. Burt, he told me, liked to read almost a book a day. That's when the light bulb went on for me; it explained Burt's keenly evolved love of smart literature. Not bad for a self educated kid that grew up on the mean streets of New York. by Ron Perlman

Sweet Smell of Success - Burt Lancaster & Tony Curtis in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS - The Criterion Collection Edition on DVD


This stunning Criterion special edition brings new insights to an accepted American classic. Alexander Mackendrick's 1958 Sweet Smell of Successis a late entry in the classic era of film noir, sharing that post with Touch of Evil and possibly Vertigo.. To some film fans, it's the show with the acid-tongued dialogue quoted interminably in Barry Levinson's Diner. The video and text extras on Criterion's new Blu-ray align Sweet Smell with real people and events that impacted New York life in the 1950s, showing the relationship of powerful newspaper columnists to police corruption, political smears and personal vendettas borne of inflated egos and overweening ambition.

Ex- press agent Ernest Lehman limited his exposés of the Broadway columnist racket to short stories, until such time as the feared columnist Walter Winchell's power had dimmed enough to allow the independent production companies formed around Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis to gamble on a film adaptation. Sweet Smell of Success is almost too complex and labyrinthine to be grasped in a single viewing; when new it must have sailed over the heads of the general public. With many scenes filmed on the streets of New York by the famed cinematographer James Wong Howe, the movie paints a sordid, guilty, neon Broadway portrait of the abuse of power. Audiences clearly weren't prepared for tainted protagonists that laid bare their inner selves, only to reveal yet more layers of rot.

To curry favor with the all-powerful and unpredictably vindictive Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), ultra-obsequious press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) has abandoned all pride and ethics. Hunsecker makes and breaks careers of small-time entertainers and major politicians according to his personal whims. He's also domineering in his personal life. Fearing that his younger sister Susan (Susan Harrison) will leave him to marry jazz musician Steve Dallas (Marty Milner), J.J. entreats Sidney to actively break up Susan and Steve's romance. Sidney has little choice but to comply: not only can the spiteful Hunsecker freeze Falco out of his column, but he can sic the brutal Police Lt. Harry Kello (Emile Meyer) on him. Using cigarette girl Rita (Barbara Nichols) as sexual bait, Falco convinces columnist Otis Elwell (David White) to run a "blind item" smear claiming that the arrow-straight Dallas is a dope-smoking Communist. Dallas falls into Falco's trap and tells J.J. off in no uncertain terms, in public. The romance seems to be finished, but Hunsecker isn't satisfied: he wants Dallas destroyed, and promises Falco a major career advance when the job is done. But that's when Susan springs a reckless trap of her own.

The searing film noir Sweet Smell of Success is also a disturbing cautionary drama decrying the disproportionate power wielded by media demagogues like J.J. Hunsecker. Ernest Lehman based his tale directly on real-life personalities; his J.J. character is an undisguised Walter Winchell. The story plays as far less "fictional" than earlier noir hustlers trying to game the system: Kirk Douglas's reporter in Ace in the Hole, and Richard Widmark's promoter in Night and the City. Sidney Falco is an exemplar of a type we've all met, the hungry, ethically challenged guy seemingly eager to compromise himself in the race to get ahead. Sidney knows that he's completely dependent on his master's good will: he's always there ready to light Hunsecker's cigarette. When J.J. calls Sidney "a cookie full of arsenic", it's really a compliment from an unholy monster. To others Sidney is a "trained poodle" or "the boy with the ice cream face". A senator's mistress thinks Falco is so pretty that he ought to be an actor. That of course fits Tony Curtis to a T: it's the role he was born to play.

Sweet Smell's unending barrage of smart, caustic talk blends Broadway-showbiz argot with co-screenwriter Clifford Odets' own brand of baroque dialogue. The stylization in Odets' earlier noir Deadline at Dawn gets so extreme that the characters almost seem to be talking in a foreign language. Odets' crisp additions to Lehman's text are for the most part keyed to the characters. Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis speak perfectly measured barbs that feel like fist punches and knife stabs. The patter only goes out of control when Odets (or Lehman?) gives the less Machiavellian Steve Dallas some real whoppers, including one of the most purple quotes in film history: "That's fish four days old. I won't buy it!" One can't even imagine a jazz musician saying that one.

Classic-era New York noirs dote on atmospheric street scenes and car chases on Manhattan's streets, but none of them equal the you-are-there feeling imparted to Sweet Smell of Success. J..J. Hunsecker watches a drunk being ejected from a club and shouts, "I love this dirty town!" We feel the ambience of Broadway at two and three a.m., with Sidney shivering because he can't afford to check a coat in the ritzy haunt that serves as Hunsecker's late night office. We've heard stories about the power wielded by Walter Winchell and his rival Ed Sullivan, especially when a fast slur in one of their columns could land a disfavored entertainer on the blacklist. Both columnists kept enemies lists; Winchell was a supporter of Joseph McCarthy.

The Falco and Hunsecker characters are so wrapped up in their personal schemes that it's easy to miss the fleeting moments where they reveal traces of inner morality. Although Sidney tries to save face by claiming that his corruptibility has limits, he jumps whenever J.J. offers a new carrot. When faced with personal disaster, both men turn up hollow. At the finish, the terrible Hunsecker seems to have lost all traces of human feeling, and stands staring at his domain like a dead man. We don't even know if Sidney will survive -- he knows too many of his master's dirty secrets.

The supporting cast of Sweet Smell of Success sees several actors giving especially strong performances. Barbara Nichols is both heartbreaking and hilarious as a woman callously used by Falco as a good-time girl. The worried-looking Jeff Donnell serves as Falco's ignored and pathetic conscience. Sam Levene's New York credentials make him an appealing agent for Steve Dallas, while Lawrence Dobkin and Lurene Tuttle gain points by showing integrity in the face of Falco's cheap blackmail attempt. Finally, there's Emile Meyer's glowering, syntax-mangling cop, who packs more violence into one dialogue line than any number of on-screen beatings: "Ha! Ha! Ha! Come back Sidney! I want to chastize you!"

Criterion's Blu-ray of Sweet Smell of Success gives us a stunning HD transfer of this beautifully shot B&W film. No matter how low-key the lighting, the transfer has less distracting grain than most "on location" B&W films. With so many scenes playing in interesting nighttime locales, James Wong Howe's images are both naturalistic and stylishly expressive. Key exteriors give us sweeping vistas of Times Square, with a Cinerama marquee on one side and a giant poster for Baby Doll further up the block. The baleful J.J. Hunsecker always towers above the venal Sidney Falco, who orbits him like a remora following a shark. A midpoint character portrait of Hunsecker staring down from his town house at the city lights gives us an image of a stern lord contemplating his domain. The scene is helped immeasurably by Elmer Bernstein's lurid, jazzy score and its suggestions of pent-up malice. Although we only hear a few snippets, The Chico Hamilton Quintet "plays" Steve Dallas's band and provides a persuasive jazz club atmosphere.

Disc producer Curtis Tsui's extras score with prime source materials. The Man Who Walked Away is an excellent Scottish TV documentary on the career of the revered director Alexander Mackendrick, and James Wong Howe, Cinematographer is a 1973 interview piece in which the Chinese-American cameraman discusses creative techniques he's honed since the silent days with Mary Miles Minter. Author and historian Neal Gabler appears in a new interview delineating the life and times of Walter Winchell. He contrasts Winchell's personality with the fictional J.J. Hunsecker, who Gabler feels is too malevolent and contemptuous to function as a Broadway columnist. Other extras include an interview piece with James Mangold, a Mackendrick pupil and disciple; and a full feature audio commentary by film scholar James Naremore.

The fat (56-page) insert booklet opens with Gary Giddens' absorbing essay, part of which delves into the real-life underpinnings and background lore referenced in Sweet Smell. Angered by his daughter's romance, Winchell reportedly had her institutionalized and her boyfriend railroaded into prison by the F.B.I.. Giddens also brings up a scandalous 1920s incident in which Al Jolson punched out Winchell for selling a screen story based on Jolson's relationship with Ruby Keeler, and her status as the under-aged girlfriend of a gangster. The essay makes a persuasive argument that elements in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby refer to Winchell as well. Ernest Lehman had good reason to feel insecure when writing his short stories, as he was criticizing a man who could call in favors from the underworld as well as J. Edgar Hoover.

Giddens' essay is followed by two Ernest Lehman short stories featuring the Hunsecker and Falco characters, Hunsecker Fights the World and It's the Little Things that Count, along with an introduction by the author.

For more information about Sweet Smell of Success, visit Criterion Collection. To order Sweet Smell of Success, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Sweet Smell of Success - Burt Lancaster & Tony Curtis in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS - The Criterion Collection Edition on DVD

This stunning Criterion special edition brings new insights to an accepted American classic. Alexander Mackendrick's 1958 Sweet Smell of Successis a late entry in the classic era of film noir, sharing that post with Touch of Evil and possibly Vertigo.. To some film fans, it's the show with the acid-tongued dialogue quoted interminably in Barry Levinson's Diner. The video and text extras on Criterion's new Blu-ray align Sweet Smell with real people and events that impacted New York life in the 1950s, showing the relationship of powerful newspaper columnists to police corruption, political smears and personal vendettas borne of inflated egos and overweening ambition. Ex- press agent Ernest Lehman limited his exposés of the Broadway columnist racket to short stories, until such time as the feared columnist Walter Winchell's power had dimmed enough to allow the independent production companies formed around Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis to gamble on a film adaptation. Sweet Smell of Success is almost too complex and labyrinthine to be grasped in a single viewing; when new it must have sailed over the heads of the general public. With many scenes filmed on the streets of New York by the famed cinematographer James Wong Howe, the movie paints a sordid, guilty, neon Broadway portrait of the abuse of power. Audiences clearly weren't prepared for tainted protagonists that laid bare their inner selves, only to reveal yet more layers of rot. To curry favor with the all-powerful and unpredictably vindictive Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), ultra-obsequious press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) has abandoned all pride and ethics. Hunsecker makes and breaks careers of small-time entertainers and major politicians according to his personal whims. He's also domineering in his personal life. Fearing that his younger sister Susan (Susan Harrison) will leave him to marry jazz musician Steve Dallas (Marty Milner), J.J. entreats Sidney to actively break up Susan and Steve's romance. Sidney has little choice but to comply: not only can the spiteful Hunsecker freeze Falco out of his column, but he can sic the brutal Police Lt. Harry Kello (Emile Meyer) on him. Using cigarette girl Rita (Barbara Nichols) as sexual bait, Falco convinces columnist Otis Elwell (David White) to run a "blind item" smear claiming that the arrow-straight Dallas is a dope-smoking Communist. Dallas falls into Falco's trap and tells J.J. off in no uncertain terms, in public. The romance seems to be finished, but Hunsecker isn't satisfied: he wants Dallas destroyed, and promises Falco a major career advance when the job is done. But that's when Susan springs a reckless trap of her own. The searing film noir Sweet Smell of Success is also a disturbing cautionary drama decrying the disproportionate power wielded by media demagogues like J.J. Hunsecker. Ernest Lehman based his tale directly on real-life personalities; his J.J. character is an undisguised Walter Winchell. The story plays as far less "fictional" than earlier noir hustlers trying to game the system: Kirk Douglas's reporter in Ace in the Hole, and Richard Widmark's promoter in Night and the City. Sidney Falco is an exemplar of a type we've all met, the hungry, ethically challenged guy seemingly eager to compromise himself in the race to get ahead. Sidney knows that he's completely dependent on his master's good will: he's always there ready to light Hunsecker's cigarette. When J.J. calls Sidney "a cookie full of arsenic", it's really a compliment from an unholy monster. To others Sidney is a "trained poodle" or "the boy with the ice cream face". A senator's mistress thinks Falco is so pretty that he ought to be an actor. That of course fits Tony Curtis to a T: it's the role he was born to play. Sweet Smell's unending barrage of smart, caustic talk blends Broadway-showbiz argot with co-screenwriter Clifford Odets' own brand of baroque dialogue. The stylization in Odets' earlier noir Deadline at Dawn gets so extreme that the characters almost seem to be talking in a foreign language. Odets' crisp additions to Lehman's text are for the most part keyed to the characters. Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis speak perfectly measured barbs that feel like fist punches and knife stabs. The patter only goes out of control when Odets (or Lehman?) gives the less Machiavellian Steve Dallas some real whoppers, including one of the most purple quotes in film history: "That's fish four days old. I won't buy it!" One can't even imagine a jazz musician saying that one. Classic-era New York noirs dote on atmospheric street scenes and car chases on Manhattan's streets, but none of them equal the you-are-there feeling imparted to Sweet Smell of Success. J..J. Hunsecker watches a drunk being ejected from a club and shouts, "I love this dirty town!" We feel the ambience of Broadway at two and three a.m., with Sidney shivering because he can't afford to check a coat in the ritzy haunt that serves as Hunsecker's late night office. We've heard stories about the power wielded by Walter Winchell and his rival Ed Sullivan, especially when a fast slur in one of their columns could land a disfavored entertainer on the blacklist. Both columnists kept enemies lists; Winchell was a supporter of Joseph McCarthy. The Falco and Hunsecker characters are so wrapped up in their personal schemes that it's easy to miss the fleeting moments where they reveal traces of inner morality. Although Sidney tries to save face by claiming that his corruptibility has limits, he jumps whenever J.J. offers a new carrot. When faced with personal disaster, both men turn up hollow. At the finish, the terrible Hunsecker seems to have lost all traces of human feeling, and stands staring at his domain like a dead man. We don't even know if Sidney will survive -- he knows too many of his master's dirty secrets. The supporting cast of Sweet Smell of Success sees several actors giving especially strong performances. Barbara Nichols is both heartbreaking and hilarious as a woman callously used by Falco as a good-time girl. The worried-looking Jeff Donnell serves as Falco's ignored and pathetic conscience. Sam Levene's New York credentials make him an appealing agent for Steve Dallas, while Lawrence Dobkin and Lurene Tuttle gain points by showing integrity in the face of Falco's cheap blackmail attempt. Finally, there's Emile Meyer's glowering, syntax-mangling cop, who packs more violence into one dialogue line than any number of on-screen beatings: "Ha! Ha! Ha! Come back Sidney! I want to chastize you!" Criterion's Blu-ray of Sweet Smell of Success gives us a stunning HD transfer of this beautifully shot B&W film. No matter how low-key the lighting, the transfer has less distracting grain than most "on location" B&W films. With so many scenes playing in interesting nighttime locales, James Wong Howe's images are both naturalistic and stylishly expressive. Key exteriors give us sweeping vistas of Times Square, with a Cinerama marquee on one side and a giant poster for Baby Doll further up the block. The baleful J.J. Hunsecker always towers above the venal Sidney Falco, who orbits him like a remora following a shark. A midpoint character portrait of Hunsecker staring down from his town house at the city lights gives us an image of a stern lord contemplating his domain. The scene is helped immeasurably by Elmer Bernstein's lurid, jazzy score and its suggestions of pent-up malice. Although we only hear a few snippets, The Chico Hamilton Quintet "plays" Steve Dallas's band and provides a persuasive jazz club atmosphere. Disc producer Curtis Tsui's extras score with prime source materials. The Man Who Walked Away is an excellent Scottish TV documentary on the career of the revered director Alexander Mackendrick, and James Wong Howe, Cinematographer is a 1973 interview piece in which the Chinese-American cameraman discusses creative techniques he's honed since the silent days with Mary Miles Minter. Author and historian Neal Gabler appears in a new interview delineating the life and times of Walter Winchell. He contrasts Winchell's personality with the fictional J.J. Hunsecker, who Gabler feels is too malevolent and contemptuous to function as a Broadway columnist. Other extras include an interview piece with James Mangold, a Mackendrick pupil and disciple; and a full feature audio commentary by film scholar James Naremore. The fat (56-page) insert booklet opens with Gary Giddens' absorbing essay, part of which delves into the real-life underpinnings and background lore referenced in Sweet Smell. Angered by his daughter's romance, Winchell reportedly had her institutionalized and her boyfriend railroaded into prison by the F.B.I.. Giddens also brings up a scandalous 1920s incident in which Al Jolson punched out Winchell for selling a screen story based on Jolson's relationship with Ruby Keeler, and her status as the under-aged girlfriend of a gangster. The essay makes a persuasive argument that elements in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby refer to Winchell as well. Ernest Lehman had good reason to feel insecure when writing his short stories, as he was criticizing a man who could call in favors from the underworld as well as J. Edgar Hoover. Giddens' essay is followed by two Ernest Lehman short stories featuring the Hunsecker and Falco characters, Hunsecker Fights the World and It's the Little Things that Count, along with an introduction by the author. For more information about Sweet Smell of Success, visit Criterion Collection. To order Sweet Smell of Success, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Ernest Lehman (1915-2005)


Ernest Lehman, the acclaimed screenwriter who did everything from stranding Cary Grant in a cornfield (North by Northwest) to seeing Julie Andrews help the Von Trap family escape the Nazis in (The Sound of Music) died on July 2 in Los Angeles following an undisclosed illness. He was 89.

Born on December 8, 1915 in New York City, Lehman graduated from New York's City College with a degree in English. After graduation he found work as a writer for many mediums: radio, theater, and popular magazines of the day like Collier's before landing his first story in Hollywood for the comedy, The Inside Story (1948). The success of that film didn't lead immediately to screenwriting some of Hollywood's biggest hits, but his persistancy to break into the silver screen paid off by the mid-'50s: the delicious Audrey Hepburn comedy Sabrina (1954, his first Oscar® nomination and first Golden Globe award); Paul Newman's first hit based on the life of Rocky Graziano Somebody Up There Likes Me; and his razor sharp expose of the publicity world based on his own experiences as an assistant for a theatre publicist The Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

Lehman's verasitily and gift for playful dialogue came to the fore for Alfred Hitchcock's memorable North by Northwes (1959, his second Oscar® nomination); and he showed a knack for moving potentially stiff Broadway fodder into swift cinematic fare with West Side Story (1961, a third Oscar® nomination); The Sound of Music (1965); Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); and Hello, Dolly! (1969, the last two being his final Oscar® nominations for screenwriting).

Lehman took his turn as a director when he adapted Philip Roth's comic novel Portnoy's Complaint (1972) for film, and despite some good reviews, it wasn't a commercial hit. He wrote just two more screenplays before retiring: an underrated comic mystery gem for Hitchcock Family Plot (1976); and the big budget Robert Shaw espionage drama Black Sunday (1977). Lehman served as president of the Writers Guild of America from 1983-85. After going zero for five with his Oscar® nominations, the Academy made it up to him in 2001, by presenting him with an honorary Academy Award for his "body of varied and enduring work." Lehman is survived by his wife Laurie and three children.

by Michael T. Toole

Ernest Lehman (1915-2005)

Ernest Lehman, the acclaimed screenwriter who did everything from stranding Cary Grant in a cornfield (North by Northwest) to seeing Julie Andrews help the Von Trap family escape the Nazis in (The Sound of Music) died on July 2 in Los Angeles following an undisclosed illness. He was 89. Born on December 8, 1915 in New York City, Lehman graduated from New York's City College with a degree in English. After graduation he found work as a writer for many mediums: radio, theater, and popular magazines of the day like Collier's before landing his first story in Hollywood for the comedy, The Inside Story (1948). The success of that film didn't lead immediately to screenwriting some of Hollywood's biggest hits, but his persistancy to break into the silver screen paid off by the mid-'50s: the delicious Audrey Hepburn comedy Sabrina (1954, his first Oscar® nomination and first Golden Globe award); Paul Newman's first hit based on the life of Rocky Graziano Somebody Up There Likes Me; and his razor sharp expose of the publicity world based on his own experiences as an assistant for a theatre publicist The Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Lehman's verasitily and gift for playful dialogue came to the fore for Alfred Hitchcock's memorable North by Northwes (1959, his second Oscar® nomination); and he showed a knack for moving potentially stiff Broadway fodder into swift cinematic fare with West Side Story (1961, a third Oscar® nomination); The Sound of Music (1965); Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); and Hello, Dolly! (1969, the last two being his final Oscar® nominations for screenwriting). Lehman took his turn as a director when he adapted Philip Roth's comic novel Portnoy's Complaint (1972) for film, and despite some good reviews, it wasn't a commercial hit. He wrote just two more screenplays before retiring: an underrated comic mystery gem for Hitchcock Family Plot (1976); and the big budget Robert Shaw espionage drama Black Sunday (1977). Lehman served as president of the Writers Guild of America from 1983-85. After going zero for five with his Oscar® nominations, the Academy made it up to him in 2001, by presenting him with an honorary Academy Award for his "body of varied and enduring work." Lehman is survived by his wife Laurie and three children. by Michael T. Toole

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)


Elmer Bernstein, the film composer who created unforgettable music for such classics as The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, and won his only Academy Award for Thoroughly Modern Millie, died of natural causes at his Ojai, California home on August 17. He was 82.

Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer.

Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954).

Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music.

After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969).

His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)

Elmer Bernstein, the film composer who created unforgettable music for such classics as The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, and won his only Academy Award for Thoroughly Modern Millie, died of natural causes at his Ojai, California home on August 17. He was 82. Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer. Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954). Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music. After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969). His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Restorations - Sweet Smell of Success


A SHARK TANK KNOWN AS THE GREAT WHITE WAY

Of all the films about the entertainment media and those who weld the greatest power within it, Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is certainly one of the best - not only for its sharp, street smart dialogue but for its unflinching depiction of the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes in creating celebrities. New York City has never looked more beautiful in black and white - or more poisonous. Perhaps it was inevitable that someone would attempt to remake the film but who could have expected a Broadway musical version, much less a collaboration between composer Marvin Hamlisch and playwright John Guare? Yet, despite the talent involved, Sweet Smell of Success, with John Lithgow starring in the central role of J.J. Hunsecker, is getting murdered by the critics. It's rather ironic considering that the film version of Sweet Smell of Success was not well liked by mainstream critics or general audiences during its original release either. According to reporter Jack Mathews: "When the New York premiere of director Alexander Mackendrick's caustically brilliant film "Sweet Smell of Success" ended in the early summer of 1957, the world's most powerful columnist, Walter Winchell, is said to have been watching from the other side of the street while his minions worked the crowd coming out of the theater."Irving Hoffman patrolled the lobby ...collecting intelligence to pass on to Walter and telling everyone who asked that the film was a bore," Neal Gabler wrote in "Winchell." "Other press agents scurried across to Walter to tell him how awful the film was."

Like the current musical version of Sweet Smell of Success, the 1957 film was viewed as a rather unusual collaboration for the time - Burt Lancaster was one of the producers and the star, Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay with extensive dialogue contributions from Clifford Odets, and Alexander Mackendrick served as the director. Mackendrick was best known as a director of British comedies (The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Ladykillers, 1955) when he was chosen to replace Ernest Lehman as the director on the film. The result was a visually stunning and hard-edged film noir melodrama which was actually a little too strong for mass audience acceptance in its time. It told the story of J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), a powerful and dangerous national columnist, and his obsequious assistant, Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). Hunsecker, who has the power to make and break reputations in his daily newspaper column, was said to be modeled on Walter Winchell who had made his share of enemies during his peak years.

The screenplay was inspired by an original story from Ernest Lehman who worked for celebrity press agent Irving Hoffman in Manhattan in the late 1930s. Lehman had ample opportunity to observe the treacherous world of celebrity gossip he was working in and he even supplied Walter Winchell with column "items" on occasion.

Due to heath reasons, Lehman, who was serving as director and screenwriter, had to abandon the film production of Sweet Smell of Success in the early stages and MacKendrick took over direction. Clifford Odets was brought in to give the dialogue more punch with street slang and New Yorker vernacular.

Lancaster, whose production company had optioned Sweet Smell of Success, was considering Orson Welles for the role of Hunsecker when he decided to play the character himself. Compromising himself further, he also began to challenge Alexander MacKendrick's directorial decisions once filming began, a possible result of identitying too closely with the overly manipulative Hunsecker character. Although Lancaster delivered a final cut of the film without Mackendrick's involvement, he soon realized his mistake and called the director back in to fix the ending. The result is without a doubt MacKendrick's most accomplished film and a testiment to his careful rehearsal and elaborate storyboard preparation for the film.

What's most surprising is the fact that Sweet Smell of Success was totally ignored during the 1957 Oscar race. Not only was Tony Curtis's breakthrough performance as the self-loathing Sidney Falco ignored but even Elmer Bernstein's dynamic, jazz-influenced score failed to garner an Academy Award nomination. The latter featured notable contributions from Chico Hamilton's Quintet and such fine musicians as Frank Rosolino, Curtis Counce, Paul Horn, and Buddy Clark.

Currently, Sweet Smell of Success is enjoying a two week revival at the Film Forum in New York City in a gorgeous new 35mm print and will be available for bookings in other major cities where there is a repertory cinema house. New York Times critic A.O. Scott recently wrote that "the movie has proved prophetic: the innuendo-mongering, double-dealing and insider information-trading practiced by its press agents and tabloid columnists is no longer confined to a Midtown subculture. Thanks to cable television, the glossies and the Internet, we can all fancy ourselves denizens of what [critic A. H.] Weiler called the "bistro belt" without having to spend a dime on coat room tips." For more information on the film version of Sweet Smell of Success, visit the Film Forum..

By Jeff Stafford

PEPE LE MOKO

After a successful theatrical run of Umberto D. at the Film Forum in New York City, the enterprising programmers have booked another beautifully restored film classic - Pepe Le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier. A precursor to the film noir melodramas Hollywood would begin churning out in just a few more years, Pepe Le Moko (1937) is a landmark of French poetic realism. The story follows Pepe (Jean Gabin), a wanted gangster, as he holes up with his gang in a hideaway in the Parisian neighborhood of Algiers. Meanwhile, the local police inspector watches and waits for Pepe to make a false move, which inevitably occurs once he meets femme fatale Mireille Balin.

The program notes for Pepe Le Moko on the Film Forum web site state that the film was "completely suppressed here following Hollywood's nearly shot-by-shot 1938 remake Algiers, with Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr" and that "Pepe" has been seen for the past 60 years only in unwatchable 16mm prints and pirated videos. This new 35mm print restores both the sound and image to their original clarity, as well as footage never before seen in the U.S., with brand new subtitles by Lenny Borger capturing for the first time the argot of the casbah underworld. Pepe's influence was enormous, iconicizing Gabin as the doomed outsider (his followup: Renoir's Grand Illusion) and spawning two remakes (the aforementioned Algiers and the musicalized Casbah) -- not to mention an Italian parody (Toto le Moko) and the Warner Bros. cartoon character Pepe Le Pew!

Here are just a few comments on Pepe Le Moko from some of the most respected film critics of all time.

Graham Greene: "One of the most exciting and moving films I can remember seeing. It is rarely, very rarely, that a picture is produced so unhampered as this by plotmaking, where theme dominates incident in so masterly a manner. In this film we do not forget the real subject in a mass of detail: the freedom-loving human spirit trapped and pulling at the chain. A simple subject, but fiction does not demand complex themes, and the story of a man at liberty to move only in one shabby, alien quarter where his heart is in another place widens out to touch the experience of exile common to everyone." - The Spectator (London), 23 April 1937.

Pauline Kael: "Superb entertainment. A classic romantic melodrama of the 30s, and one of the most compelling of all the fatalistic French screen romances, yet seen by few Americans because it was remade in Hollywood two years later as Algiers, starring Charles Boyer and "introducing" Hedy Lamarr. Algiers was so closely copied from Pepe Le Moko that look-alikes were cast in many of the roles, and some sequences were followed shot by shot. But Algiers is glamorous pop that doesn't compare to the original, directed by Julien Duvivier and starring Jean Gabin as the gangster who finds love but can't find his freedom. No one who saw Pepe is likely to forget the scene in which the homesick-for-Paris Gabin looks at a M¿o ticket1 and recites the names of the stations. Ironically, Duvivier had hoped to make an American-style gangster film and had drawn some of his characters from Scarface." -- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (1984, Henry Holt & Co.).

George Sadoul: "When Pepe le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier and scripted by the popular novelist and scandal-columnist Henri Jeanson, was released, it was credited with this new theme, greatly to the surprise of its makers. The film was much more than a French version of a Hollywood Scarface or Underworld. It was a very clever study of gangsterdom set in the colorful and infamous Casbah of Algiers. - from French Film (1953, The Falcon Press, London).

For more information about Pepe Le Moko, go to the Film Forum web site. To find out if the film will be playing at a cinema in your city, check out the web site at the Film Forum web site. To find out if the film will be playing at a cinema in your city, check out the web site at RIALTO PICTURES.

Restorations - Sweet Smell of Success

A SHARK TANK KNOWN AS THE GREAT WHITE WAY Of all the films about the entertainment media and those who weld the greatest power within it, Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is certainly one of the best - not only for its sharp, street smart dialogue but for its unflinching depiction of the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes in creating celebrities. New York City has never looked more beautiful in black and white - or more poisonous. Perhaps it was inevitable that someone would attempt to remake the film but who could have expected a Broadway musical version, much less a collaboration between composer Marvin Hamlisch and playwright John Guare? Yet, despite the talent involved, Sweet Smell of Success, with John Lithgow starring in the central role of J.J. Hunsecker, is getting murdered by the critics. It's rather ironic considering that the film version of Sweet Smell of Success was not well liked by mainstream critics or general audiences during its original release either. According to reporter Jack Mathews: "When the New York premiere of director Alexander Mackendrick's caustically brilliant film "Sweet Smell of Success" ended in the early summer of 1957, the world's most powerful columnist, Walter Winchell, is said to have been watching from the other side of the street while his minions worked the crowd coming out of the theater."Irving Hoffman patrolled the lobby ...collecting intelligence to pass on to Walter and telling everyone who asked that the film was a bore," Neal Gabler wrote in "Winchell." "Other press agents scurried across to Walter to tell him how awful the film was." Like the current musical version of Sweet Smell of Success, the 1957 film was viewed as a rather unusual collaboration for the time - Burt Lancaster was one of the producers and the star, Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay with extensive dialogue contributions from Clifford Odets, and Alexander Mackendrick served as the director. Mackendrick was best known as a director of British comedies (The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Ladykillers, 1955) when he was chosen to replace Ernest Lehman as the director on the film. The result was a visually stunning and hard-edged film noir melodrama which was actually a little too strong for mass audience acceptance in its time. It told the story of J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), a powerful and dangerous national columnist, and his obsequious assistant, Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). Hunsecker, who has the power to make and break reputations in his daily newspaper column, was said to be modeled on Walter Winchell who had made his share of enemies during his peak years. The screenplay was inspired by an original story from Ernest Lehman who worked for celebrity press agent Irving Hoffman in Manhattan in the late 1930s. Lehman had ample opportunity to observe the treacherous world of celebrity gossip he was working in and he even supplied Walter Winchell with column "items" on occasion. Due to heath reasons, Lehman, who was serving as director and screenwriter, had to abandon the film production of Sweet Smell of Success in the early stages and MacKendrick took over direction. Clifford Odets was brought in to give the dialogue more punch with street slang and New Yorker vernacular. Lancaster, whose production company had optioned Sweet Smell of Success, was considering Orson Welles for the role of Hunsecker when he decided to play the character himself. Compromising himself further, he also began to challenge Alexander MacKendrick's directorial decisions once filming began, a possible result of identitying too closely with the overly manipulative Hunsecker character. Although Lancaster delivered a final cut of the film without Mackendrick's involvement, he soon realized his mistake and called the director back in to fix the ending. The result is without a doubt MacKendrick's most accomplished film and a testiment to his careful rehearsal and elaborate storyboard preparation for the film. What's most surprising is the fact that Sweet Smell of Success was totally ignored during the 1957 Oscar race. Not only was Tony Curtis's breakthrough performance as the self-loathing Sidney Falco ignored but even Elmer Bernstein's dynamic, jazz-influenced score failed to garner an Academy Award nomination. The latter featured notable contributions from Chico Hamilton's Quintet and such fine musicians as Frank Rosolino, Curtis Counce, Paul Horn, and Buddy Clark. Currently, Sweet Smell of Success is enjoying a two week revival at the Film Forum in New York City in a gorgeous new 35mm print and will be available for bookings in other major cities where there is a repertory cinema house. New York Times critic A.O. Scott recently wrote that "the movie has proved prophetic: the innuendo-mongering, double-dealing and insider information-trading practiced by its press agents and tabloid columnists is no longer confined to a Midtown subculture. Thanks to cable television, the glossies and the Internet, we can all fancy ourselves denizens of what [critic A. H.] Weiler called the "bistro belt" without having to spend a dime on coat room tips." For more information on the film version of Sweet Smell of Success, visit the Film Forum.. By Jeff Stafford PEPE LE MOKO After a successful theatrical run of Umberto D. at the Film Forum in New York City, the enterprising programmers have booked another beautifully restored film classic - Pepe Le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier. A precursor to the film noir melodramas Hollywood would begin churning out in just a few more years, Pepe Le Moko (1937) is a landmark of French poetic realism. The story follows Pepe (Jean Gabin), a wanted gangster, as he holes up with his gang in a hideaway in the Parisian neighborhood of Algiers. Meanwhile, the local police inspector watches and waits for Pepe to make a false move, which inevitably occurs once he meets femme fatale Mireille Balin. The program notes for Pepe Le Moko on the Film Forum web site state that the film was "completely suppressed here following Hollywood's nearly shot-by-shot 1938 remake Algiers, with Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr" and that "Pepe" has been seen for the past 60 years only in unwatchable 16mm prints and pirated videos. This new 35mm print restores both the sound and image to their original clarity, as well as footage never before seen in the U.S., with brand new subtitles by Lenny Borger capturing for the first time the argot of the casbah underworld. Pepe's influence was enormous, iconicizing Gabin as the doomed outsider (his followup: Renoir's Grand Illusion) and spawning two remakes (the aforementioned Algiers and the musicalized Casbah) -- not to mention an Italian parody (Toto le Moko) and the Warner Bros. cartoon character Pepe Le Pew! Here are just a few comments on Pepe Le Moko from some of the most respected film critics of all time. Graham Greene: "One of the most exciting and moving films I can remember seeing. It is rarely, very rarely, that a picture is produced so unhampered as this by plotmaking, where theme dominates incident in so masterly a manner. In this film we do not forget the real subject in a mass of detail: the freedom-loving human spirit trapped and pulling at the chain. A simple subject, but fiction does not demand complex themes, and the story of a man at liberty to move only in one shabby, alien quarter where his heart is in another place widens out to touch the experience of exile common to everyone." - The Spectator (London), 23 April 1937. Pauline Kael: "Superb entertainment. A classic romantic melodrama of the 30s, and one of the most compelling of all the fatalistic French screen romances, yet seen by few Americans because it was remade in Hollywood two years later as Algiers, starring Charles Boyer and "introducing" Hedy Lamarr. Algiers was so closely copied from Pepe Le Moko that look-alikes were cast in many of the roles, and some sequences were followed shot by shot. But Algiers is glamorous pop that doesn't compare to the original, directed by Julien Duvivier and starring Jean Gabin as the gangster who finds love but can't find his freedom. No one who saw Pepe is likely to forget the scene in which the homesick-for-Paris Gabin looks at a M¿o ticket1 and recites the names of the stations. Ironically, Duvivier had hoped to make an American-style gangster film and had drawn some of his characters from Scarface." -- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (1984, Henry Holt & Co.). George Sadoul: "When Pepe le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier and scripted by the popular novelist and scandal-columnist Henri Jeanson, was released, it was credited with this new theme, greatly to the surprise of its makers. The film was much more than a French version of a Hollywood Scarface or Underworld. It was a very clever study of gangsterdom set in the colorful and infamous Casbah of Algiers. - from French Film (1953, The Falcon Press, London). For more information about Pepe Le Moko, go to the Film Forum web site. To find out if the film will be playing at a cinema in your city, check out the web site at the Film Forum web site. To find out if the film will be playing at a cinema in your city, check out the web site at RIALTO PICTURES.

Quotes

Match me, Sidney.
- J.J. Hunsecker
Watch me run a 50-yard dash with my legs cut off!
- Sidney Falco
In brief, the best of everything is good enough for me.
- Sidney Falco
The next time you want information, don't scratch for it like a dog, ask for it like a man!
- Steve
Someday I'd like to look into your clever little mind and see what you're really thinking.
- Susan Hunsecker

Trivia

The character of J. J. Hunsecker is based on larger-than-life columnist Walter Winchell.

Hunsecker's apartment building is actually the show-business office tower at 1619 Broadway, also known as the Brill Bldg., a famous part of Tin Pan Alley.

One of the musical refrains that is continually repeated throughout the film was taken and used nearly note for note in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights.

Notes

Although the jazz band in the film is referred to in the opening credits only as "Chico Hamilton's Quintet," individual band members Chico Hamilton, Paul Horn, Carson Smith and Fred Katz are introduced by name during the scene in which the band first plays. The novelette on which Sweet Smell of Success was based was first published in Cosmopolitan in 1950 under the title Tell Me About It Tomorrow! According to memos found in the MPAA/PCA file on the film in the AMPAS Library, the story ended with "Susie Hunsecker" accusing "Sidney Falco" of rape, after which he is murdered by columnist "Harvey Hunsecker," whose name was changed to "J. J." for the film. Before the story's publication, Lehman's agent attempted to sell it, and in 1949 several different producers asked the PCA office for an official ruling on the story. In PCA file memos dated May 1949, PCA director Joseph Breen declared the story unacceptable because of its elements of incest and marijuana. Although as late as July 1956, PCA durector Geoffrey Shurlock stated that the story remained unacceptable, and a January 1957 memo suggested the inclusion of an honorable policeman to offset the negative portrayal of police lieutenant "Harry Kello," the producers received a PCA seal for the film without making substantial changes to the original story.
       In addition to PCA objections, the story was also burdened with its connection to influential columnist Walter Winchell. Writer Ernest Lehman had fictionalized his own experiences as a press agent, and the story's portrait of the beloved but ruthless columnist was recognizable to many as being based on Winchell. As noted in an April 2000 Vanity Fair article, even the incident in which J. J. tries to break up Susie's relationship came from Winchell's own life, in which he maneuvered the breakup of his daughter, Walda, and producer William Cahn. Winchell's tremendous power in the entertainment industry, as Lehman stated in modern interviews, frightened off many studios from attempting to adapt the story into a film. Winchell (1897-1972) began his career in the 1920s as a Broadway theater columnist whose slangy, vibrant writing set the tone for a new, less formal journalistic style. His popularity expanded with the launching of his nationwide radio program. In addition, he originated the gossip column, breaking the previous prohibition against publicizing negative facts about public personalities. Although he based his career on appealing to 1930s populism, in the 1950s, Winchell joined McCarthy-era Communist hunters. This, along with his highly publicized psychological cruelty, is skewered in the character of J. J. Hunsecker. As noted in modern sources, Sweet Smell of Success solidified the columnist's reputation as a megalomaniac and began the destruction of his popularity and reputation, which were shattered by the time of his death.
       The following information, unless otherwise noted, was provided by modern sources. When Hecht-Hill-Lancaster (H-H-L) bought the property in 1955, Lehman was attached as writer-director, and a August 10, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the producers were considering Frank Sinatra. After Lehman scouted locations in spring 1956, the producers fired him, stating that United Artists had refused to support an untried director. In the April 2000 Vanity Fair article, however, Hill asserted that he never planned to allow Lehman to direct. At that time, according to a December 2000 Los Angeles Times article, the producers considered Orson Welles to play J. J., until Lancaster suggested himself for the role. Tony Curtis recounted in his autobiography that he petitioned relentlessly for the role of Sidney, eager to leave behind his swashbuckling image for more dramatic challenges. Norma-Curtleigh Productions, a combination of H-H-L subsidiary Norma Productions and Curtis' independent production company, co-financed the picture.
       The production suffered several difficulties. In modern sources, Lehman stated that he considered the three producers to be unethical, and as a result of their maneuverings, he developed a spastic colon that caused him to leave the production. H-H-L hired playwright Clifford Odets for rewrites, many of which were demanded at the last possible moment. Several Hollywood Reporter production charts indicate production delays, including the February 22, 1957 chart, which states "shooting postponed 10 days, script revision." Alexander Mackendrick, making his American film directing debut with Sweet Smell of Success, fought with Lancaster about many elements of the story, including the ending and the interpretation of the character "Steve Dallas." As noted in the Vanity Fair article, after the film was completed, Lancaster fired Mackendrick from his previously scheduled directing duties on the 1959 H-H-L picture The Devil's Disciple. In addition, Susan Harrison, who made her acting debut in the film, felt overwhelmed by the strong personalities of the star, director and producers. Despite universally positive reviews for her portrayal of Susie, she worked in only one more film, 1960's Key Witness. Sweet Smell of Success also marked the feature film debut of character actor John Fiedler (1925-2005), although his first speaking role was in Twelve Angry Men (see below), which was also shot in New York, a few months later. Fiedler's many television and film roles include the voice of "Piglet" in the Walt Disney ^Winnie the Pooh cartoons.
       According to an October 1956 "Rambling Reporter" item in Hollywood Reporter, Fay Spain was considered for a lead role in the film. When the film began production in November 1956, Hollywood Reporter production charts included Ernest Borgnine in the cast. Press materials found in the film's copyright record note that most of the scenes were shot on location in New York City, including in Times Square, the Brill Building, the 21 Club and Schraft's. The publicity materials also state that cinematographer James Wong Howe dabbed Vaseline on Lancaster's glasses to create a shine and cause his stare to appear more menacing. Hollywood Reporter noted on January 18, 1957 that the director and producers planned to sit in the audience of Hollywood's Jazz City while Chico Hamilton's Quintet auditioned some of the film's songs, in order to gauge popular reception. Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: H. M. Wynant, Joe Di Reda, Artie Lewis, Nicky Blair, Kirby Smith, Joseph Gray, William Kendis, Arthur Tovey, Gayl Gleason, George Paris, Susuma "Mike" Imai, Paul Bryar and Ralph Montgomery. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources also add Bess Flowers and Jane Ross.
       Upon its release, Sweet Smell of Success was rejected by critics and audiences, who disliked seeing the popular actors in such unsympathetic roles. A January 6, 1958 New York Herald Tribune article stated that the film's cost of $1.3 million would not be recovered. The picture, however, was included in both Time and the NYHerald-Tribune lists of the Ten Best Films of 1957, and it later gained the reputation among film historians as one of the decade's finest films. Many reviewers consider it to be the first film to acknowledge openly the House Committee on Un-American Activities' Hollywood blacklist. (For more information on HUAC, see the entry for the 1947 RKO film Crossfire in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50.)
       In May 1959, New York Times reported that the U.S. Information Agency had blocked eighty-two films, including Sweet Smell of Success, from being shown in twelve overseas countries, for fear that the pictures were "painting a false picture abroad of the United States." In November 1996, Daily Variety announced that Lehman was planning to produce a Broadway musical version of Sweet Smell of Success along with producer David Brown, a former Cosmopolitan editor who originally bought the story. The play ran from 14 March-June 15, 2002, starring John Lithgow and Brian d'Arcy James, with book by John Guare, lyrics by Craig Carnelia and music by Marvin Hamlisch.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1979

Released in United States 1998

Released in United States on Video November 15, 1988

Released in United States Summer June 1957

Re-released in United States March 15, 2002

Selected in 1993 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

The 2002 re-release is a newly restored 35mm print.

Released in USA on laserdisc February 1989.

Re-released in Paris February 26, 1992.

Released in United States 1979 (FilmEssay: Misappreciated American Films)

Released in United States 1998 (Retrospective Program)

Re-released in United States March 15, 2002 (Film Forum; New York City)

Released in United States Summer June 1957

Released in United States on Video November 15, 1988