One of cinema’s great newspaper films, Sweet Smell of Success thrives on cynicism and dirty wit. With a script containing more memorable one-liners than an entire year’s worth of today’s films (“I’d hate to take a bite out of you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic”), Success — a New York City–set film about a Walter Winchell–like press columnist (a cutting Burt Lancaster) and the toadying press agent who follows in his wake (Tony Curtis) — seemed like a great idea in the right Broadway hands. Yet despite the presence of playwright John Guare (Six Degrees of Separation) and star John Lithgow, it fell flat. Part of it was, as TIME’s Richard Zoglin put it, “For all its cynicism, the movie managed to convey the racy excitement of its tawdry milieu … The musical just makes us see the dirt.” But the biggest knock against the stage production was the fact that Success works best as a movie, containing some of the most beautiful cinematography ever seen in film noir (thanks to the camerawork of James Wong Howe). Whether in color or black and white, New York City has rarely looked more dangerously alluring.
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