A late New York City noir skillfully helmed by a director renowned for his British comedies, Sweet Smell of Success is a tasty cinematic cookie full of arsenic. With James Wong Howe's peerlessly sleek location monochrome photography setting the nocturnal mood of New York's lost theaters and nightclubs, Alexander Mackendrick guides his stars to career performances as the dregs of celebrity culture. Eschewing his trademark box-office grin, producer/star Burt Lancaster cunningly plays dirty as sublimely malevolent right-wing columnist J.J. Hunsecker, biting off Clifford Odets-Ernest Lehman bon mots in his distinctively clipped manner. Co-star Tony Curtis is excellent as weaselly, grasping press agent Sidney Falco, painfully revealing how low a 1950s climber would go for the titular odor. Though a de facto N.Y.C. companion to Billy Wilder's equally superb and mordant West Coast showbiz exposé Sunset Boulevard (1950), Sweet Smell suffered an ignominious contemporary fate more akin to Wilder's acid press satire Ace in the Hole (1951). Since then, Sweet Smell of Success has aged gracefully into a masterwork; it was adapted not so gracefully as a Broadway musical in 2002.
by Lucia Bozzola review