Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

In director Alexander Mackendrick's taut, caustic, little-seen, menacing and dark film noir classic (his debut American film) provided an examination of New York's dark underside. Filmed on location in NYC, it was based on the short story by Ernest Lehman titled Tell Me About It Tomorrow published in Cosmopolitan in 1950, and co-scripted by Clifford Odets and Lehman:

  • in the film's opening, a large poster was viewed adorning the back of a truck: "GO WITH THE GLOBE, READ J.J. HUNSECKER - The Eyes of Broadway"; it was presented with a rectangular logo that displayed the thick, horn-rimmed and spectacled eyes of the famous ruthless, domineering, sadistic, power-mongering NY columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) for the New York Globe newspaper
  • the weasely, opportunistic, aspiring, two-bit, vicious, pandering press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), a well-dressed, slimy, glamorous, manipulative pretty-boy Broadway agent, was forever struggling to place promotional items into Hunsecker's popular syndicated column in the newspaper, titled: "The Eyes of Broadway," in order to create media exposure for his show-biz clients
  • Falco's predicament was that he had already failed dismally on his latest personal assignment ordered by the unscrupulous and overprotective Hunsecker - to disrupt, break up and destroy the romantic relationship between Hunsecker's 19 year-old younger sister Susan Hunsecker (Susan Harrison) and her blonde-haired boyfriend, up-and-coming jazz musician Steve Dallas (Martin Milner)
  • Falco's efforts had backfired, however, and the unyielding Hunsecker had denied any column space to Sidney's pandering attempts at publicity, and had exiled or banished Sidney from his sight
  • the first revealing view of the actual, beetle-browed, thick-spectacled, pallor-faced, power-mongering, crew-cutted NY columnist Hunsecker was in the "21" Restaurant where he regularly held court
  • Hunsecker delivered a brilliant, but vitriolic and foul description of lackey press agent Sidney Falco that ended with the famous line: "Match me, Sidney": "Mr. Falco, let it be said at once, is a man of forty faces, not one. None too pretty and all deceptive. You see that grin? That's the, uh, that's the charming street-urchin face. It's part of his helpless act. He throws himself upon your mercy. He's got a half-dozen faces for the ladies. But the one I like, the really cute one, is the quick, dependable chap - nothing he won't do for you in a pinch. So he says! Mr. Falco, whom I did not invite to sit at this table tonight, is a hungry press agent and fully up to all the tricks of his very slimy trade. (He turned with an unlit cigarette toward Sidney, gestured, and waited) Match me, Sidney"
  • in the restaurant, Hunsecker threatened a put-down of politician-Senator Harvey Walker (William Forrest) for dallying with show-biz hopeful Miss Linda James (Autumn Russell), the Senator's call-girl, and her alleged agent-manager Manny Davis (Jay Adler) who was pimping her to the Senator: "But why furnish your enemies with ammunition? You're a family man, Harvey, and some day, God-willing, you may want to be President. And here you are, out in the open, where any hep person knows that this one (the camera swung over to Manny) is toting that one (the camera moved wildly over to the blonde mistress) around for you (the camera concentrated on the Senator)! Are we kids, or what?"
  • in a short scene outside the restaurant when Hunsecker and Sidney observed a drunk being thrown out of Club Pigalle into the street and kicked, Hunsecker turned and sadistically smiled with an exultant grin: "I love this dirty town"
  • during a memorable night scene, Hunsecker gazed out and towered over the skyline from his high-rise penthouse to survey the prone city below that he loved, possessed, and dominated like an imperious gargoyle
  • the unethical and immoral Falco, who was desperate to please Hunsecker (and knowing that the couple was closer to getting married), developed a new and sinister smear - that the bohemian musician Steve Dallas was a dope-smoking drug addict and a card-carrying Communist (with planted evidence of marijuana cigarettes); but then, the duplicitous Hunsecker promised Susan, to get in her good graces, that he felt compelled to pull some strings to get Steve's job back after he was fired from the jazz club where his combo played - in order to regain the couple's confidence
  • in a famous line of dialogue, Hunsecker insulted Falco for his evil nature: "I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic"
  • Steve blamed Hunsecker for the smear, saw through the ploy, and bravely stood up to Hunsecker's manipulations of his romantic relationship with Susan that forbid them to be together: "My whole interest, if it's not too late, is in Susie. And how to undo what you've done to her...I don't like the way you toy with people. Your contempt and malice?...You think about yourself and about your column. To you, you're some kind of a national glory. But to me and a lot of people like me, your slimy scandal and your phony patriotics. To me, Mr. Hunsecker, you're a national disgrace"
  • Hunsecker's over-reaching protectiveness toward his sister and insistent demands to break up her relationship led him to coerce Falco to hire a fat NYPD cop named Lt. Harry Kello (Emile Meyer) to brutally beat Steve up and falsely arrest him as a pot-smoker
  • it was revealed that Hunsecker maintained a forbidding, secretive life as a repressed, asexual bachelor who exhibited unnatural 'incestuous' possessiveness for his sister Susan
  • Susan blamed Sidney and J.J. as responsible for the subsequent assault and false arrest of her boyfriend, and then threatened to commit suicide by hurling herself from her high-rise balcony, claiming that J.J. would then punish Sidney for allowing her to jump
  • at first, she threatened Falco: "You're gonna be the man who drove his beloved little sister to suicide" - and though Falco rescued her from suicide, a rigid-faced, menacing Hunsecker arrived home at that very moment and misinterpreted the situation, thinking that Sidney had attempted rape
Susan's Attempt at Suicide and Rescue by Falco Was Misinterpreted by Hunsecker
  • the final scene was of Susan's departure to escape from her smothering brother and spineless, fast-talking Falco (both responsible for Steve's hospitalization); before she left, she vilified her brother: "I'd rather be dead than living with you. For all the things you've done, J.J., I know I should hate you. But I don't. I pity you"
  • she strode into the early morning sunlight at film's end, while a raging Hunsecker had Falco beaten up by Kello

First View of J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) in Restaurant

(l to r): Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) and J.J. Hunsecker

At the "21" Restaurant

Hunsecker: "I love this dirty town"

Hunsecker Looking Down at the City From His Penthouse Apartment

Hunsecker to Falco: ""I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic"

Steve Standing Up to Hunsecker's Manipulations

Hunsecker's Unnatural Possessiveness Toward Susan

Susan's Departure in the Early Morning


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