The Essential Movie Library #60: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Driven by career-high performances from Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster, “Success” is distinguished less by story-telling than by its atmosphere.

Film Add a comment

Directed by Scottish expat Alexander Mackendrick with a tabloid eye, like Tony Curtis’s agent on the make in Manhattan, Sweet Smell of Success has lurked in the shadows of movie history before slipping into its classic reputation when no one was looking. Driven by career-high performances from Curtis and Burt Lancaster as an all-powerful gossip columnist—everyone else struggles to share the screen with either of them—Success is distinguished less by its story-telling than by the atmosphere of clubs and curbsides, penthouses where professional character-assassins lust after their baby sisters, and men in rooms pimping out women to other men in other rooms, when they’re not destroying other men. 

We just want to soak in every sordid moment and listen to the toxic gab written by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets. “I would hate to take a bite out of you,” Lancaster snarls at Curtis, “you’re a cookie full of arsenic,” and even if there weren’t Elmer Bernstein’s jazzy score, the fabulous James Wong Howe cinematography, the seemingly endless night that swallows the film from dusk to daybreak, and the fact that the scenes of Lancaster’s apartment were filmed in pop music’s famed Brill Building, this would be the definitive New York City movie for that line alone.

Read them all:
The Essential Movie Library #59: Melancholia
The Essential Movie Library #58: La Dolce Vita
The Essential Movie Library #57: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
The Essential Movie Library #56: Contempt
The Essential Movie Library #55: Sunset Boulevard
The Essential Movie Library #54: Metropolis
The Essential Movie Library #53: In A Lonely Place
The Essential Movie Library #52: Talk to Her

The Essential Movie LIbrary #51: To Be or Not To Be
The Essential Movie Library #50: The Battle of Algiers
The Essential Movie Library #49: Notorious
The Essential Movie Library #48: Wings of Desire
The Essential Movie Library #47: L’Avventura
The Essential Movie Library #46: Malcolm X
The Essential Movie Library #45: In the Mood for Love
The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin’ in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L’Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

Related Content