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directed by Alexander Mackendrick
USA 1957

In the swift, cynical Sweet Smell of Success, directed by Alexander Mackendrick, Burt Lancaster stars as the vicious Broadway gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker, and Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco, the unprincipled press agent Hunsecker ropes into smearing the up-and-coming jazz musician romancing his beloved sister. Featuring deliciously unsavory dialogue, in an acid, brilliantly structured script by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, and noirish neon cityscapes from Oscar-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe, Sweet Smell of Success is a cracklingly cruel dispatch from the kill-or-be-killed wilds of 1950s Manhattan.

***

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.

Excerpt from Jason Wood's review at located BBC HERE.

Posters

Theatrical Release: June 27th, 1957

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Comparison:

MGM - Region 1 - NTSC vs. MGM - Region 2 - PAL vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

Big thanks to Gregory Meshman and Ole Kofoed for the DVD Screen Caps!

1) MGM - Region 1 - NTSC - LEFT

2) MGM - Region 2 - PAL - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - RIGHT

 

Box Covers

Distribution

MGM

Region 1 - NTSC

MGM
Region 2 - PAL
Criterion Collection - Spine # 555 - Region 'A' Blu-ray
Runtime 1:36:15 1:32:30 (4% PAL speedup) 1:36:40.211
Video

1.62:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.48 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

1.63:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.33 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

Disc Size: 47,497,980,814 bytes

Feature Size: 28,536,926,208 bytes

Average Bitrate: 35.00 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video 1080P

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

 

MGM - NTSC

 

Bitrate:

 

MGM- PAL

 

Bitrate:

 

Blu-ray

 

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0, French Dolby Digital 2.0 (Dub)

English Dolby Digital 2.0. Dubs: French/Italian/German/Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
Subtitles French, Spanish, None English, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish or None English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: MGM

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen letterboxed - 1.62:1

Edition Details:
• Theatrical Trailer (3:06)

DVD Release Date: June 19, 2001
Keepcase

Chapters 16

Release Information:
Studio: MGM

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen letterboxed - 1.63:1

Edition Details:
• Theatrical Trailer (2:59)

 

DVD Release Date: April 15, 2002
Keepcase

Chapters 16

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

 

Disc Size: 47,497,980,814 bytes

Feature Size: 28,536,926,208 bytes

Average Bitrate: 35.00 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video 1080P

 

Edition Details:
• New audio commentary featuring film scholar James Naremore
• Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, a 1986 documentary featuring interviews with director Alexander Mackendrick, actor Burt Lancaster, producer James Hill, and others (44:40 in 1080i)
• James Wong Howe: Cinematographer, a 1973 documentary about the Oscar-winning director of photography, featuring lighting tutorials with Howe (21:50 in 1080i)
• New video interview with film critic and historian Neal Gabler (Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity) about legendary columnist Walter Winchell, inspiration for the character J. J. Hunsecker (28:57 in 1080P)
• New video interview with filmmaker James Mangold about Mackendrick, his instructor and mentor (24:52 in 1080P)
• Original theatrical trailer (3:06 in 1080_)
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Gary Giddins, notes about the film and two short stories introducing its characters by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, and an excerpt about Clifford Odets from Mackendrick’s book On Film-making, introduced by the book’s editor, Paul Cronin

 

Blu-ray Release Date: February 22nd, 2011
Transparent Blu-ray case

Chapters 23

 

Comments

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Criterion Region 'A' Blu-ray: January 2011: It took almost 10 years to improve upon the first DVD edition - a non-anamorphic, single-layered, bare-bones release. The Criterion 1080P edition with a soaring bitrate, predictably, offers superiority in every area. The image quality is significantly smoother - removing the distracting artifacts of both SD editions - and has greatly minimized the prevalent scratches (see captures 4 + 5). The presentation has some minor depth, vastly improved contrast and a smattering of texture. There is also quite a bit more information in the frame on all 4 edges. Sweet Smell of Success looks highly remarkable - a magnificent transfer.

Audio gets a lossless linear PCM treatment in the original flat mono but dialogue sounds very clean and clear - it has a 'perceived' depth and there are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified the disc as being a region 'A'-locked. 

The wonderful commentary is by film scholar James Naremore, author of the BFI Classic series "Sweet Smell of Success". He knows his stuff and it is typically professional, insightful and informative - one of the best I have heard in this early year. Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, is a 1986 documentary running almost 45-minutes and featuring interviews with director Alexander Mackendrick, actor Burt Lancaster, producer James Hill, and others. James Wong Howe: Cinematographer, is a 21-minute, 1973 documentary about the Oscar-winning director of photography, featuring lighting tutorials with Howe, There is a new video interview with film critic and historian Neal Gabler (Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity) about legendary columnist Walter Winchell, inspiration for the character J. J. Hunsecker. This runs just shy of 1/2 an hour. We also get another new video interview with filmmaker James Mangold about Mackendrick, his instructor and mentor - lasting 25-minutes. There is an original theatrical trailer and a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Gary Giddins, notes about the film and two short stories introducing its characters by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, and an excerpt about Clifford Odets from Mackendrick’s book On Film-making, introduced by the book’s editor, Paul Cronin.

Criterion made an excellent choice of film to bring to Blu-ray. Lancaster's presence has never been more powerfully felt and the Odets/Lehman dialogue is scintillating-ly cynical and biting. This is a masterpiece and the previous digital editions are less than a shadow of this magnificent package. It probably will be strongly considered as one of the best Blu-rays of the 2011 year. Our highest recommendation!

***

ON THE DVDs: The only discernable difference I can see is that the NTSC is minutely sharper. Both have decent shadow detail and the same trailer as an extra. The PAL edition has more subtitle and DUB options, which, if they are important to you. Otherwise go for the NTSC with no PAL speedup or consider the least expensive edition for where you live.

 - Gary Tooze

 


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Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

 


 

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Screen Captures

 

1) MGM - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region 2 - PAL - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

Subtitle sample (not exact frames)

 


1) MGM - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region 2 - PAL - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 


1) MGM - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region 2 - PAL - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 


1) MGM - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region 2 - PAL - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 


1) MGM - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region 2 - PAL - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 


1) MGM - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region 2 - PAL - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 


1) MGM - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) MGM - Region 2 - PAL - MIDDLE

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

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Extras: Blu-ray

 
Box Covers

Distribution

MGM

Region 1 - NTSC

MGM
Region 2 - PAL
Criterion Collection - Spine # 555 - Region 'A' Blu-ray


 




 

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