Mackendrick's deliciously dark take on the malicious underbelly of Broadway PR, and the grubby columns which fuel the human need for gossip, remains one of the sharpest and corrosively perceptive films to emerge from Hollywood.
The film revolves around fawning press agent on the make Sidney Falco (Curtis) and newspaper columnist JJ Hunsecker, a man with the power to make or break a career. When Hunsecker's sister Susan (Harrison) becomes involved in a relationship with clean-cut jazz musician Steve Dallas (Milner), the over-protective, faintly incestuous Hunsecker makes clear his disapproval. He assigns the compliant Falco the task of ending the affair. Eager to curry favour, Falco complies, rustling up a false drugs charge that has disastrous consequences for all.
For his American debut, Ealing director Mackendrick upped the ante on the palpable darkness that had informed his gently anti-social comedies such as "The Lady Killers". His work dared to expose the rotten core at the heart of Broadway and the American entertainment press industry.
Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets' wonderfully sharp script pulls no punches, while James Wong Howe's stunning film noir cinematography (the streets of New York rarely looked so mean) and Elmer Bernstein and Chico Hamilton's swinging score provides pleasure aplenty.
But the real muscle of the film is the bristling lead performances: Lancaster, cold, cruel, and cynical and Curtis (rarely better), blinded by ambition, and ravenous for the success of the title. A powerful mediation on greed, power, and immorality, "Sweet Smell Of Success" is a magnificent, sobering work with a heart of darkness.