Quick, brash, and crooked best describes the cast of characters and the turn of events in the 1957 classic Sweet Smell of Success. The film occurs over the course of 1 day and night, following Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), a ruthless press agent, who will do anything to have his clients featured in J.J. Hunsecker’s (Burt Lancaster) influential column. With an implicit threat to blacklist Falco’s clients from his column, Hunsecker enlists Falco to break up his sister’s relationship with a musician. The deceit and treachery that ensues makes for an excellent movie with despicable characters that are impossible to ignore.
This film progresses like rapid-fire from start to finish. Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis serve up some of the finest performances I’ve ever seen. The screenplay is well-written, with biting dialogue that is found in almost every scene. Lancaster delivers JJ’s caustic remarks effortlessly. Between JJ and Sidney, who often had his own nasty comments, I often struggled to keep up with the breakneck speed of the dialogue; that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy every minute of it. Even as insults fly around the room, no one bats an eyelash.
I surprisingly was very entertained by this film even though all of the characters, save for Susan, JJ’s sister, and her fiancée, are reprehensible. Sidney is such a slimeball and just as you think he’ll finally draw the line, he goes to the next level of baseness due to his greed; I couldn’t wait to see his demise. JJ is the mastermind behind it all and revels in his power, even in his relationship with his sister. His obsession with his sister seems almost incestuous. I love that Susan manages to outsmart them both, but the ending was anticlimactic. Sweet Smell of Success is proof that films with a wicked protagonist are just as enjoyable.