Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis play tabloid baron J.J. Hunsecker and grasping press agent Sidney Falco in this jet-black satire on the venality of the newspaper business.

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“What makes the movie famous are those sublime shots of J.J. at his table, glasses for armor, and Tony settling in beside him, glowing at the smart of every insult.” David Thomson, Have You Seen...? 2008

The director of a number of sparkling Ealing comedies – including Whiskey Galore! (1949) and The Ladykillers (1950) – Alexander Mackendrick left for Hollywood in the late 1950s where he delivered this astringent satire on the gutter press. Scripted in collaboration with Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, its tale of corrupt and self-serving newspapermen is one of the most acerbic films of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The dialogue between Lancaster’s unscrupulous Hunsecker and Curtis’ rapacious publicist Falco rivals the films of Billy Wilder for its verbal sparring. Luminous cinematography by James Wong Howe captures the nefarious glitter of nocturnal New York. Mackendrick’s film is often considered part of the cycle of 40s and 50s urban crime dramas called film noir.

Similarly savage in its portrait of a mercenary press, Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951) features a reporter who manipulates a tragedy for journalistic advantage.

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