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