In the swift, cynical SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, directed by Alexander Mackendrick (The Ladykillers), Burt Lancaster (Brute Force, The Leopard) stars as barbaric Broadway gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker, and Tony Curtis (Some Like It Hot, Spartacus) as Sidney Falco, the unprincipled press agent he ropes into smearing the up-and-coming jazz musician romancing his beloved sister. Featuring deliciously unsavory dialogue in an acid, brilliantly structured script by Clifford Odets (Notorious, Bigger Than Life) and Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, The Sound of Music) and noirish neon cityscapes from Oscar-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe (The Thin Man, Yankee Doodle Dandy), SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is a cracklingly cruel dispatch from the kill-or-be-killed wilds of 1950s Manhattan.
Criterion's two-disc treatment of Sweet Smell of Success
is the kind of tasteful assembly befitting a classic--even if this particular classic was a little slow in being acknowledged as one. A definitive digital restoration of the film is accompanied by James Naremore's informative commentary track and Gary Giddins's affectionate essay, the latter in a smart little booklet designed to evoke the tabloid spirit of the kind of newspaper J.J. Hunsecker might write for. This also contains two stories, by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, that introduced gossip columnist Hunsecker and press agent Sidney Falco to the world, plus an excerpt from On Filmmaking
, by Alexander Mackendrick, in which the director recalls the impact of Clifford Odets's rewrite of the script.
The second disc offers new half-hour video interviews with biographer Neal Gabler (speaking with authority and insight about Walter Winchell, the lightly disguised model for Hunsecker) and director James Mangold, who remembers the lessons he learned studying film at CalArts with Mackendrick as teacher. A 44-minute TV portrait of Mackendrick from 1986, The Man Who Walked Away, provides a close look at his films, his flinty personality, and his decision to leave filmmaking for teaching. James Coburn and Burt Lancaster are among those paying tribute, and Lancaster calmly recalls firing Mackendrick from the director's chair on The Devil's Disciple, the film they were to make after Sweet Smell. A 21-minute featurette from 1973, James Wong Howe--Cinematographer, gives a glimpse of the great director of photography as he explains a few basics about his craft. For more on that, just watch Sweet Smell of Success. --Robert Horton