Review: Sweet Smell of Success DVD

STUDIO: Criterion Collection | DIRECTOR: Alexander Mackendrick | CAST: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene
RELEASE DATE: 2/22/11 | PRICE: DVD $39.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: commentary, vintage documentaries, new video interviews, more
SPECS: NR | 96 min. | Drama | 1.66:1 fullscreen | Monaural

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Sweet Smell of Success movie scene

Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster take New York in Sweet Smell of Success.

It was made over a half-a-century ago, but 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success never gets old.

Newly re-issued on DVD and Blu-ray by Criterion, Sweet Smell’s strychnine-spiked tale tells of the dirty dealings had between the powerful and ruthless New York City newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster, Rope of Sand) and the shamelessly ambitious press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis, Houdini), and the subsequent damage they leave in their wake. Its story of professional ambition and power and how its effects bleed into one’s personal and private life are as timely today as they were in the film’s mid-1950s Manhattan setting.

Criterion’s handsome new restored high-definition digital transfer inspires even more admiration of the film’s production superlatives: James Wong Howe’s crisp, tabloid-like black-and-white cinematography, Clifford Odets crackling script (based on a novelette by Ernest Lehman), Alexander Mackendrick’s (The Ladykillers) sturdy direction, which is as unobtrusive as it is deliberate, and, of course, the rich presence of leading men Lancaster and Curtis, both at the peak of their performance powers.

Newly produced supplemental features are led by a dryly delivered but well-researched commentary by film scholar James Naremore, who sounds like he had all his notes with him when he sat down to record the track. Next is an extended video interview with Neal Gabler, author of a well-received bio on legendary New York columnist/commenator Walter Winchell, upon whom Hunsecker was broadly based.

Finally, filmmaker James Mangold (Knight and Day) gets in front of the camera and talks about director Mackendrick, who was Mangold’s film professor at the Calfornia Institute of the Arts in the 1980s. Mangold is proud to say that Mackendrick’s reputation at the “very avant-garde” CalArts was of being very “strict, formal and disciplined,” a style that Mangold admired and that helped him greatly as he sought a career in making movies.

Also part of the package are two vintage documentaries: a 20-minute-long piece on cinematographer Howe from 1973, and a 45-minute-long British film examining Mackendrick’s career.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.