Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, the opportunistic press agent desperate to get his clients placed in the gossip columns of the all-powerful JJ Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). The latter, however, wants a favour in return: Sidney has to break up the relationship between JJ's kid sister Susie (Susan Harrison) and a jazz musician (Marty Milner) through a vicious smear...
Scripted by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, Sweet Smell Of Success is a scintillating study of greed, corruption and malevolent ambition. James Wong Howe's prowling black-and-white camerawork, accompanied by Elmer Bernstein's tense jazz score, captures the neurotic energy of New York City, and the dialogue crackles with caustic exchanges ("The cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river," crows Sidney at one point).
Curtis' fast-talking performance helped him shake off the pretty-boy image, while Lancaster's Hunsecker, shot from low-angles to accentuate his looming bulk and with heavy spectacles concealing his mask-like features, is genuinely chilling in his desire for control.