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Sweet Smell of Success (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-Ray]

Burt Lancaster , Tony Curtis , Alexander Mackendrick    Unrated   Blu-ray
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
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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.

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition • 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


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

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars "You're a cookie filled with arsenic." Jan. 13 2004
By Cubist
Sweet Smell of Success is not only an example of a quintessential film noir, it is also a quintessential movie about New York City. As J.J. Hunsecker puts it so well, "I love this dirty town." This is a tough, gritty, uncompromising film with dialogue that crackles and pops (in some respects, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross is a homage to this movie) with intensity as the various characters trade barbs with each other.
The film belongs to Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. Both were huge stars at the time and cast themselves against type in this movie. Naturally, the film tanked when it was released but it has since become a much admired and imitated film (Oliver Stone has said that a lot of his movie, Wall Street, was inspired by Sweet Smell). Curtis is note perfect as a slimy agent who'll do anything to get his clients promoted and climb the social ladder. This puts him at odds with the most powerful columnist in the city--J.J. Hunsecker, played by Lancaster. J.J. can kill careers with a few words and it is this power that makes him such a dangerous person.
The film also features stunning black and white cinematography that is moody and atmospheric. New York City has never looked so dark and foreboding. The camerawork is rich and textured and it is fascinating to see a New York City that just doesn't exist anymore. Watching this film is like stepping into a time machine.
The DVD is a bit of letdown. The transfer could be better. I noticed scratches and dirt on the print. And the lack of extras is unexcusable. C'mon, a retrospective documentary with film historians and Tony Curtis (who is still alive) would've been nice. The studio really dropped the ball in that respect. A classic like this one deserves more respect.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The pen is deadlier than the sword Nov. 28 2003
By Eva25at
J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) writes a newspaper column that 42 million people read. He deals mainly with two kinds of persons: those who would give anything to be mentioned in his column (would-be stars and washed-up vaudevillians) and those who would give anything not to be mentioned in his column (politicians with secrets). He is absolutely merciless, but he has a weak spot: His nineteen years old sister Susie (Susan Harrison). He has her sexy Photo on his desk, when he invites her to embrace him he sounds like the spider talking to the fly, and when he sees her asleep in her bed he tears himself away from her and gasps for breath out of fear he might be doing what he knows he is capable to do...
Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is J.J's press agent and his little dog. He considers J.J. as his ladder for success. He has even a conscience, but at the end he always obeys his master's orders.
Susie has a boy-friend: Steve (Martin Milner), a talented young jazz musician that any mother in law would welcome. But not J.J. He orders Sidney to separate them. Sidney's plan is very simple: he brings another newspaper columnist to write a slanderous article about Steve. First he tries blackmail, then pimping: he drives his own girlfried, a young mother, to prostitution. The article is published. Steve is denounced as marijuana-smoker and communist, and he is fired. But he and Susie understand very well who is behind this article. Sidney suggests that J.J. should use his influence to help Steve get his job back - what better way to look good in the eyes of his sister? But Steve has committed a deadly sin: He confronted J.J. In Public. J.J. wants his revenge. And this time he goes too far...
Atmospheric and brilliantly acted. Burt Lancaster reminds me of a giant snake: one does not argue with him.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Two Great Shows of Ruthlessness Nov. 10 2003
Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is a ruthlessly ambitious publicist in New York City of 1957. He relies upon the city's most powerful gossip columnist, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) to print items that publicize his clients. But it's a game of give and take. Hunsecker expects something in return for his contributions to Falco's livelihood. As it happens, Hunsecker's younger sister Susie (Susan Harrison) has fallen in love with an up-and-coming jazz musician named Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), much to her brother's displeasure. Falco accepts the task of breaking up the relationship in exchange for Hunsecker's publicity,but even Sidney Falco doesn't imagine how far he might be willing to go to satisfy his ambitions.
"Sweet Smell of Success" is based on the novella of the same name by Ernest Lehman and was adapted for the screen by Lehman and Clifford Odets. I can't say if this window into the dog-eat-dog world of tabloid journalism and media hype shocked audiences in 1957 when the film was first released. I don't think that a bleak urban landscape populated by sociopathic careerists is likely to surprise anyone now, though. And I didn't find the film's famously biting dialogue to be especially hard-hitting. But the story is still a good one. Burt Lancaster's chilling performance handily stands the test of time. J.J. Hunsecker is a vile, hateful human being utterly devoid of any redeeming characteristic. He never exchanges words with anyone without making a threat. His character didn't impress me as realistic, because he is completely lacking in tact and discretion. His threats are never veiled. My feeling is that such a person would have long ago perished at the hands of those he tries to manipulate if he had not learned to occasionally be coy in his machinations.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Popularity In A Line of Work For A Certain Cost
In “The Sweet Smell Of Success” movie,Burt Lancaster and Sidney Falco star as two men (characters of Sidney Falco and J.J. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Stella Carrier
5.0 out of 5 stars Puissant effet
Un grand film de Mackendrick, avec des Curtis et et Lancaster très confrontants qui nous offrent de grandes performances d acteurs dans une cite qui semble ne pas laisser... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Luigi
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent Blu-Ray of an excellent film.
Sweet Smell of Success is one of my personal favorites, and in my opinion, this is one of the best Blu-Rays I have purchased. Read more
Published on April 25 2011 by Rinjin
5.0 out of 5 stars "Sweet Smell of Success (1957) ... Alexander Mackendrick ... Criterion...
The Criterion Collection presents "SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS" (27 June 1957) (96 min/B&W) (Fully Restored/Dolby Digitally Remastered) -- Burt Lancaster stars as J. J. Read more
Published on Dec 16 2010 by J. Lovins
5.0 out of 5 stars "AN APPLE MADE OF ARSENIC."
One of the problems with studying in film school, being a movie buff and getting older is that at some point in ones' life a man ventures into the video store, peruses the shelves... Read more
Published on July 16 2004 by Steven Travers
2.0 out of 5 stars HARD TO TELL WHAT'S GOING ON.
The dialogue moves along so fast, and the plot is so sketchy, that I had a difficult time understanding it. Read more
Published on June 22 2004 by R. A POKATILOFF
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
I was stunned when I watched this film, and it's been a while since that's happened. The script, the acting, the cinematography are all dazzling. Read more
Published on May 24 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolute power corrupts absolutely
Since I really despise long-winded, puffed up pseudo-intellectual reviews, I'll keep this simple. This flick is INTENSE! Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2004 by The Raven
2.0 out of 5 stars a grossly overpraised dud
I'd heard a lot of positive things about this picture for a long time from people whose opinions I value, and as a consequence I looked forward to finally seeing "Sweet Smell of... Read more
Published on Nov. 1 2003 by Hugo 77
5.0 out of 5 stars Chomp chomp chew chew spit
Chewing up and spitting out the reputations of those he doesn't favour, the columnist extraordinaire JJ Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) is one of the greatest portraits of the use and... Read more
Published on Oct. 31 2003 by Ian Muldoon
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