Ernest Lehman drew upon his experiences as a Broadway press agent to write the devastating a clef short story "Tell Me About Tomorrow." This in turn was adapted by Lehman and Clifford Odets into the sharp-edged, penetrating feature film Sweet Smell of Success. Burt Lancaster stars as J. J. Hunsecker, a Walter Winchell-style columnist who wields his power like a club, steamrolling friends and enemies alike. Tony Curtis co-stars as Sidney Falco, a sycophantic press agent who'd sell his grandmother to get an item into Hunsecker's popular newspaper column. Hunsecker enlists Falco's aid in ruining the reputation of jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), who has had the temerity to court Hunsecker's sister Susan (Susan Harrison). Falco contrives to plant marijuana on Dallas, then summons corrupt, sadistic NYPD officer Harry Kello (Emile Meyer), who owes Hunsecker several favors, to arrest the innocent singer. The real Walter Winchell, no longer as powerful as he'd been in the 1940s but still a man to be reckoned with, went after Ernest Lehman with both barrels upon the release of Sweet Smell of Success. Winchell was not so much offended by the unflattering portrait of himself as by the dredging up of an unpleasant domestic incident from his past. While Success was not a success at the box office, it is now regarded as a model of street-smart cinematic cynicism. The electric performances of the stars are matched by the taut direction of Alex MacKendrick, the driving jazz score of Elmer Bernstein, and the evocative nocturnal camerawork of James Wong Howe.
by Hal Erickson synopsis