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Sweet Smell of Success

(1957 b 96')

En: 7 Ed: 7

Written by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, a struggling press agent uses various devices to try to get help from an influential gossip columnist who does not want his sister to leave him to marry a musician.

            Press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) buys a newspaper, looks at Hunsecker’s column and throws away the paper. He goes home where he tells his secretary Sally that his item was not in the column again. He talks on the phone to his client Joe who accuses him of being a liar and hangs up on him. Sidney says Hunsecker is punishing him because he wants his sister to break up with a musician. Sally feels bad.

            Sidney goes out without an overcoat so that he won’t have to tip hat-checkers. In a restaurant Rita (Barbara Nichols) tries to tell him she is in trouble. He talks with Frank D’Angelo (Same Levene) about the musician Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Sidney tells him that Hunsecker is pressuring him. Steve takes a break and goes outside where he asks Susan Hunsecker (Susan Harrison) her answer. She says she will try to be a good wife. She is going to tell her brother J. J. in the morning. He kisses her as she has her arms around his neck. Sidney comes and apologizes to Steve with mockery. Steve calls him a “snoop,” and they quarrel. Frank asks them to break it up. Sidney offers Susan a ride and goes back in, followed by Frank. Susan tells Steve she is going home early, and he kisses her goodnight.

            Inside Rita tells Sidney that she was interviewed in Hunsecker’s apartment in the morning. She rejected his advances. She asks Sidney to help her, and he tells her to be at his place at 2:30.

            Sidney offers Susan something to eat, but she says no. They leave in a cab. She asks if J. J. likes Steve, and Sidney lies that he does. She says she is going to talk with J. J. in the morning about getting married. Sidney indicates that J. J. is powerful. He tells the cab to wait and asks Susan to talk it over with her brother. She asks Sidney to tell J. J. that Steve is the first real man she has been in love with.

            Sidney takes the cab  and runs into his client Jimmy who complains that he has been taking ten percent from him without doing much and fires him. Sidney goes in and asks to see J. J. Hunsecker. He calls him, and Hunsecker tells him he is dead and should be buried. Sidney finds J. J. drinking coffee at a table with people. J. J. says he does not want him there, and Sidney says he has a message from his sister. J. J. continues his interview with Senator Harvey Walker and is introduced to Linda James, and he knows her manager Manny Davis. Linda says she is studying singing. She and the Senator ask Sidney if he is an actor because he is good-looking. J. J. says Sidney has many faces and that he is a hungry press agent. Sidney refuses to light J. J.’s cigarette. The Senator asks Sidney how a press agent works, and he admits that they furnish columnists with items. Hunsecker says his column is read around the world, and the press agent is not doing him a favor. The Senator feels that Hunsecker is threatening, and J. J. invites him to be on his TV show.

            J. J. gets up to leave, and Sidney follows him out. Lt. Harry Kello (Emile Meyer) in plain clothes gets out of a police car, and J. J. asks him for news. J. J. introduces Sidney whom he says called the cop J. J.’s “fat friend.” Harry considers J. J. a friend and says goodbye. J. J. asks Sidney why he did not break up Susan’s romance. J. J. says he does not want to antagonize her. Sidney reminds J. J. of a favor  he did for him, and he asks why he has been frozen out of his column. He says Susan is growing up, and they have a slippery problem. Sidney says he will do it, and J. J. warns him it is late. Sidney says she will talk to him at breakfast. J. J. asks if he has a plan, and Sidney says he will do something that night.

            Sidney goes into a bar and talks to Leo Bartha about Rita and says he would like to meet his wife. Leo asks if it is blackmail, and he introduces his wife to Sidney. She is looking at the racing form, and Leo asks her not to bet. She says Leo has an item for Sidney who tells him about Steve Dallas and mentions cigarette girl. Leo says he does not print blind items. Sidney suggests using real names, and Leo complains that he refuses to be blackmailed. She asks what secret Sidney has, and Leo says a cigarette girl took seriously his kidding around. Leo asks Sidney to tell Hunsecker that he is a disgrace to his profession because he has the morals of a gangster. The wife says Sidney laid an egg, and she compliments her husband for being honest.

            Otis Elwell talks with Sidney who asks him to print at item for him. Elwell asks if he is washed up with Hunsecker, and Sidney hands him a slip of paper. Sidney explains that Dallas is going with Hunsecker’s sister. Elwell says he has no reason to print it for him. Sidney offers him a lovely reason, and she is available.

            In her apartment Rita answers the door. Sidney comes in and introduces Otis Elwell. Sidney pours drinks for Otis and her. Otis asks where he met her and mentions some places. Otis takes off his overcoat, and Sidney tells him to make himself at home. Sidney says he will come back later, and Rita says he can drop her off. Sidney goes into her bedroom and closes the door. She says Otis is a stranger to her and asks if he wants Lady Godiva. She asks if he realizes she has feelings. He hands her shoes and her coat and tries to push her to go with Otis. She says she does not do that sort of thing, and he reminds her she has a kid in military school. She starts to cry and calls Sidney a louse. He says he will help her and leaves the bedroom. Otis says they met in Havana, and she drinks a toast to his column. Sidney goes out. Otis gives Rita a cigarette, and she says it was Palm Springs two years ago.

            Sidney from a pay phone calls Hunsecker who says Sidney sounds happy. Sidney asks him to mention that Robard’s jazz joint is having its twentieth anniversary. J. J. says he has a nervous sister and hangs up. J. J. looks at Susan sleeping.

            In the morning Sidney buys a newspaper, looks inside briefly, and throws it away. Sidney goes in Mary’s office and makes a call to his secretary Sally. Mary reads something from a column, and Sidney offers to take her to dinner. She says he is bribing her again. She does not mind looking at Hunsecker’s column in advance sometimes, but he should not act like a thief. He asks her favorite chocolate and goes out.

            Sidney goes backstage at a theater, and Al introduces him to Herby Temple. Sidney praises Herby’s act and implies he could provide publicity. Sidney says he can get him space in Hunsecker’s column and walks away. Sidney goes to call J. J., and Al follows him. Sidney calls Sally and pretends he is talking with J. J. about how funny Herby is at the Palace. Herby asks Al to talk with Sidney, who says Herby could be real big in TV and movies.

            Sidney goes back to his office and finds Steve Dallas and Frank there. Steve asks Sidney where the smearing item originated. Sidney says he does not like Steve and defends J. J. Sidney is angry at Steve, and Frank says the quintet has been fired. Steve calls Susan about the smear in Elwell’s column and says he will call her later. Steve goes out with Frank, who tells Sidney he will not tell Steve what he really thinks about Sidney because he cares about Steve’s future.

            Sidney calls Hunsecker and tells him Van Cleve is firing the quintet. J. J. asks why he should get him back his job and tells him to come over there. J. J. hangs up and sits at his desk. Susan comes in, and J. J. tells her he has been thinking about her. She asks if Sidney told him about the column. J. J. asks her if the charges are true. He says she is trembling and that they are drifting apart. He does not like that and says he wants to help her. He asks what she would like him to do. She asks him to get Steve’s job back. She says she reads his column every day. He says Steve may be good for her and asks her to bring him around. J. J. makes a call to help Steve.

            Sidney goes in a stage entrance and finds J. J. reading his draft as Mary takes notes. J. J. tells Sidney the boy is coming over tonight, and he got his job back. Sidney asks J. J. to do it his way but that Steve will not accept his favor. J. J. asks why Susan likes him, and Sidney says he has integrity. Sidney is pleased he is taking advantage of someone’s integrity.

            Frank advises Steve as they enter the building. Susan goes to Steve, and Sidney says J. J. just finished his rehearsal. They go in the auditorium, and J. J. meets Steve. J. J. gives credit to Susan and asks for Steve’s assurance. Steve says the smear is not true. J. J. says Susan fancies him, and he tells Steve his concern. J. J. says he likes Steve’s seriousness; but he would never let Sidney near Susan, and Sidney lights his cigarette. J. J. says Sidney said that Steve would refuse the favor and asks Steve what he will do. Steve asks J. J. if Sidney has to be there. J. J. asks Steve why he is angry. Steve says he loves his sister, and J. J. tells him to be careful with her. Steve shows contempt for Sidney, who says that Steve blamed J. J. for the Elwell smear. J. J. asks Steve what he meant, and Steve says he is the injured party. J. J. asks Susan about the accusation, and she says no. J. J. warns Steve, who calls him twisted. Steve says he and Susan are in love and want to get married. They both turn to her, and J. J. asks her to speak. Steve tries to protect  her from J. J. She gets upset and runs away. J. J. says they have to call the game on account of darkness. Steve asks J. J. what he did to Susan and complains how J. J. treats people. He calls Hunsecker a national disgrace. J. J. tells him to leave before he gets hurt. Sidney tells J. J. he did well. J. J. warns Susan not to see that boy again, and she promises that she won’t. J. J. kisses her on the forehead. Sidney leaves, and J. J. tells Mary to call Van Cleve and tell him that he was right and that the quintet does not deserve the job.

            Susan runs out and slams the cab door on Sidney’s hands.

            J. J. goes into a restaurant with Sidney who says this is a farce. Sidney says Steve will give her up. J. J. does not like how Steve talked to him. J. J. hands him an envelope with steamship tickets for Susan. J. J. says he wants Steve taken apart, but Sidney warns that might drive him back into Susan’s arms. Sidney says he is going home and that J. J. is making it personal. J. J. explains he is offended because Steve offended his readers. J. J. says Sidney is a prisoner, but he disagrees. Sidney says he will not do it for J. J., not even for a column. J. J. asks who will write his column while Susan and he are away for three months. He asks Sidney for a piece of paper back with Lt. Kello’s name on it.

            Susan and Steve are talking at a coffee shop. She says she can’t change, and he realizes she is saying goodbye. He wants to hang around and won’t give her up. She puts her hands over her ears and asks him to go. He says her fur coat is her brother, and he always hated it. Susan says goodbye to Frank and asks him to take care of Steve who kisses her and walks away with Frank. Steve asks Frank if she is still standing there, and Franks says she is.

            Sidney sees a police car and orders a coke in the club where Steve is playing. Franks tells Joe that Steve does not feel well and wants to leave. The boss says that is okay. Frank tells Sidney that Steve broke it off for good and to tell Hunsecker. Sidney goes outside and talks to Lt. Kello. Sidney says Steve is leaving early and has them on him. Kello thanks him for the tip. Sidney is irritated and reports that J. J. says he sweats. Sidney calls him a “fat slob” and walks away.

            Steve finishes playing and leaves while the group plays on. Outside the police close in on Steve. In the bar Sidney says he is not taking any calls. Herby speaks to Sidney who is drinking. Sidney says he will only take a call from Hunsecker who has asked him to come over to his house. Sidney leaves.

            Sidney rings the bell and walks into J. J.’s apartment calling his name. He looks around and finds Susan on the balcony in her nightgown and fur coat. He asks why she is out there late at night. She says Frank phoned about Steve. She says she went to the hospital, but they would not let her in. Sidney says the news about him is all over. She blames him and J. J. Sidney asks how she could say that. She is sorry about Steve, her brother, and Sidney. She says he is going down with her brother’s ship. She suggests he will be blamed for her suicide. He asks her not to think with her hips. He tells her she is falling apart at age 19. She is giving up before the fight starts. He asks her to come around when he is not writing his brother’s column. She closes the door, and he advises her to go to bed and not do something stupid. He knocks and finds the door is locked. He stops her from jumping off in her nightgown and wrestles with her. She falls on the bed and tells him to go away. J. J. comes in her room and says it is all right because he is there. Sidney says he got J. J.’s message and came as quickly as he could. J. J. asks what message. Sidney says she tried to kill herself, and it is good he got there to stop her. She got the news about Steve, and J. J. asks what news. Sidney says they picked him up on a marijuana charge. J. J. accuses him of putting his hands on Susan. Sidney tries to explain, and J. J. slaps him around. Susan makes  her brother stop. Sidney asks if J. J. asked him to get Kello. J. J. tells Susan he is lying just as he lied about her attempted suicide. J. J. goes out of the room, and Sidney says she is growing up. J. J. calls Kello and says that Sidney planted the stuff on Steve. He says Sidney is leaving right now and hangs up. J. J. asks Susan where she is going. He asks if she tried to kill herself, and she says yes because she would rather be dead than live with him. She says she should hate him for all he has done, but she only pities him. She goes out.

            On the street Kello and another man arrest Sidney who has fallen on the ground. J. J. sees Susan walking away with a small suitcase.

            This realistic drama explores the competitive careers in the entertainment society in New York City. A powerful writer by trying to control his sister sets in motion manipulative behavior that causes many conflicts because of the ambition of a ruthless press agent. The story is considered a reflection on the famous columnist Walter Winchell who was also on radio and television and sided with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations and tried to keep a man from marrying his daughter Walda.

Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

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