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Sweet Smell of Success (The Criterion Collection)

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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.

Additional Features

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

Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer
  • New audio commentary by film scholar James Naremore
  • Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, a 1986 documentary featuring interviews with director Alexander Mackendrick, actor Burt Lancaster, producer James Hill, and more
  • James Wong Howe: Cinematographer, a 1973 documentary about the Oscar-winning director of photography, featuring lighting tutorials with Howe
  • New video interview with film critic and historian Neil Gabler (Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity) about legendary columnist Walter Winchell, inspiration for the character J. J. Hunsecker
  • New video interview with filmmaker James Mangold about Mackendrick, his instructor and mentor
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Gary Giddins, two short stories by Ernest Lehman featuring the characters from the film, notes about the film by Lehman, and an excerpt from Mackendrick�s book On Film-making

  • Product Details

    • Actors: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Jeff Donnell
    • Directors: Alexander Mackendrick
    • Format: Black & White, NTSC, Special Edition, Widescreen
    • Language: English
    • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
    • Number of discs: 2
    • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
    • Studio: Criterion Collection
    • DVD Release Date: February 22, 2011
    • Run Time: 96 minutes
    • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
    • ASIN: B004CIIXEQ
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,037 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

    Customer Reviews

    Can anyone make `em like this anymore?
    A. Wolverton
    The look and feel of the film is one of a Noir, but a late 1950s one -- with great views of New York in that era -- Times Square, Nedicks, etc.
    Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis shine and each one is better than the other one.
    Amazon Customer

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    121 of 124 people found the following review helpful By A. Wolverton VINE VOICE on August 12, 2003
    Format: DVD
    There's no profanity. No blood. No guns, knives, or bombs. But the lack of these things doesn't keep `Sweet Smell of Success' from being one of the most wicked, hateful, spiteful, vicious, murderous portrayals of how people can act toward one another.
    Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a two-bit New York press agent trying to reach for the big time. He's such a small time operator that his name is taped to his office door (which is also his apartment door). He makes promises he can't keep and ignores anyone who can't help him in stepping on others on his way to the top.
    J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) is the King of Gossip. His newspaper column is read by 60 million people a day. He is truly the master of all he surveys, making and breaking celebrities with the stroke of his typewriter. He can see right through you and cut you to pieces in the time it takes you to light his cigarette. Yet you light it anyway. That's how powerful he is.
    Falco is little more than a minor annoyance to Hunsecker, until the day that Falco learns that Hunsecker's sister is engaged to a musician that Hunsecker hates. Falco sees his opportunity to get in good with Hunsecker by wrecking the musician's career. That's when the sparks start to fly and they never stop until the end of the film.
    Ernest Lehman's script is sharp, biting, and relentless. Curtis has never been better. And Lancaster, who has had many great roles in his brilliant career, is perfection. `Sweet Smell of Success' is just as powerful today as it was in 1957. Tough, gritty, hard-hitting...without any four-letter words. Can anyone make `em like this anymore? Not hardly.
    1 hour 36 minutes
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    57 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Robert E. Lloyd on December 21, 1998
    Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
    This film, barely distributed upon release (it's a thinly veiled barb directed at the Walter Winchells of the world), features what is arguably the finest screenplay ever written. Ernest Lehman started the task, but Clifford Odetts (the later years, more bitter Odetts) was called in to "punch it up," as Tony Curtis later explained in a lecture at the Smithsonian a couple of years ago (the film was never shown publicly in Washington until the mid-1990's). (According to Curtis, such lines as "The cat's in the bag, the bag's in the river" were by Odetts, whom Curtis observed in a trailer on the set after midnight in Manhattan at a typewriter next to a whiskey bottle.) What other movie features lines like: "My left hand hasn't seen my right hand in 30 years"? This is clearly Tony Curtis' greatest role as a sleazy press agent, yet it is nearly topped by Burt Lancaster's chilling performance as a corrupt columnist. The dialog moves at breakneck speed chock full of such artifice that one is left nearly breathless trying to follow along. For jazz aficionados, check out the cameo appearance by Chico Hamilton's quintet with Paul Horn on flute and Fred Katz on cello, a rare film recording of their trademark "Tuesday at 2" late night jazz riffs. (The soundtrack equals the excellence of the rest of the film.) The photography by James Wong Howe is, as usual, impeccable, making ample use of wide angle lenses. For New Yorkers, this film captures the essence of Manhattan after dark. Although the setting is the world of the airwaves, the print media, and publicity hounds, the script is so true to life that I've found astonishing parallels to my workplace. Yet the words are so laden with methaphor as to defy the imagination. Sit back and let this picture take you away. It's a ride you won't soon forget.
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    28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Type12point on April 12, 2002
    Format: DVD
    April 12, 2002
    If I had to pick one American studio movie that I felt was
    unjustly forgotten in surprising relation to how entertaining and
    timeless it was, there'd be no contest. `The Sweet Smell Of
    Success' nearly always comes out of my mouth first when I'm asked
    about my favorite movies.
    Inevitably, I'm told rather pleasantly, "Never heard of it."
    Try explaining to someone under forty that it stars Burt
    Lancaster and Tony Curtis (two studio stars who don't penetrate
    very far into contemporary consciousness) and that it concerns
    newspaper columnists, and you're liable to receive a puzzled smile
    in return. "That's one of your favorite films?"
    By contemporary standards, on the surface, it just doesn't
    Trying to explain its excellence in five hundred words or so
    isn't easy, but I'll try.
    For starters, we like to think that our present day is as
    wise and hip a period as has ever existed. Why, this is the age
    of irony. We've been there, done that. We're tougher, more jaded,
    more cynical, more smart-alecky that anybody else, right?
    Wrong. The flick is sharper, more adult and more vicious
    than ninety percent of the stuff being made today, fifty years later.
    What's more, watch this movie and you'll quickly realize that
    the smarter-than-smart, hipper-than-hip dialogue of today (like all
    that light weight mush from Kevin Williams and the beating-around-the-bush
    repetitions of Quentin Tarantino) is apple pie easy compared to having
    to do it a) without pop culture references or cursing, b) in double
    time, and c) with a perfectly balanced ear.
    Read more ›
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