Sweet Smell of Success is a 1957 American film noir made by Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions and released by United Artists. It was directed by Alexander Mackendrick and stars Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison and Martin Milner. The screenplay was written by Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman and Alexander Mackendrick from the novelette by Lehman. The film tells the story of a powerful newspaper columnist named J.J. Hunsecker who uses his connections to ruin his sister's relationship with a man he deems inappropriate. Despite a poorly received preview screening, Sweet Smell of Success earned a positive critical response that has only improved over the years. In 1993, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Sweet Smell of Success: The Musical was created by Marvin Hamlisch, Craig Carnelia and John Guare in 2002. In 2003, the AFI named J.J. Hunsecker, based on famed New York columnist Walter Winchell, number 35 of the top 50 movie villains of all time.
Press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) has been unable to get his clients mentioned in J.J. Hunsecker's (Burt Lancaster) influential newspaper column because he has been unable to make good on his promise to break up the romance between Hunsecker's younger sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and Steve Dallas (Martin Milner), an up-and-coming jazz guitarist. Falco decides to spread false rumors that Dallas is a dope-smoking Communist in a rival column, then to encourage Hunsecker to rescue Dallas's reputation and make Dallas choose between his integrity and owing something to Hunsecker, for whom he has no respect. The plan works, in a way; Dallas insults Hunsecker, and Susan breaks up with Dallas in order to protect him from her brother. Hunsecker, however, deciding to leave nothing to chance, and against Falco's advice, orders Falco to plant reefers on the musician and have him arrested and roughed up by Harry Kello (Emile Meyer), a corrupt police officer. Falco is summoned to Hunsecker's penthouse apartment by a message apparently from Hunsecker, only to find Susan about to attempt suicide. He saves her just as her brother walks in; Hunsecker, encouraged by Susan's silence, accuses him of trying to rape Susan. In a climactic confrontation with Hunsecker, Falco reveals in front of Susan that her brother had told him to destroy Dallas' reputation. Hunsecker tells Kello to arrest Falco for planting the reefer on Dallas. Susan admits she attempted to commit suicide and walks out on her brother in order to join Steve; she tells Hunsecker that she does not hate him but just pities him. Falco is arrested by Kello and Hunsecker loses Susan.