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Sweet Smell of Success: The Short Fiction

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Lehman scathingly depicts the dark side of success through the twisted relationship of Sid Wallace, an ambitious publicist, and Harvey Hunsucker, a powerful and vindictive gossip columnist, fashioned after Walter Winchell. As scandals are manufactured and reputations ruined for sport, the story spirals downward toward one last, savage act of revenge. As brutally honest as Lehman scathingly depicts the dark side of success through the twisted relationship of Sid Wallace, an ambitious publicist, and Harvey Hunsucker, a powerful and vindictive gossip columnist, fashioned after Walter Winchell. As scandals are manufactured and reputations ruined for sport, the story spirals downward toward one last, savage act of revenge. As brutally honest as Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, Sweet Smell of Success is one of the most enduring and provocative stories in the literature of show business.


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Lehman scathingly depicts the dark side of success through the twisted relationship of Sid Wallace, an ambitious publicist, and Harvey Hunsucker, a powerful and vindictive gossip columnist, fashioned after Walter Winchell. As scandals are manufactured and reputations ruined for sport, the story spirals downward toward one last, savage act of revenge. As brutally honest as Lehman scathingly depicts the dark side of success through the twisted relationship of Sid Wallace, an ambitious publicist, and Harvey Hunsucker, a powerful and vindictive gossip columnist, fashioned after Walter Winchell. As scandals are manufactured and reputations ruined for sport, the story spirals downward toward one last, savage act of revenge. As brutally honest as Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, Sweet Smell of Success is one of the most enduring and provocative stories in the literature of show business.

30 review for Sweet Smell of Success: The Short Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Koen

    Full of wit and wisdom - - "It was so difficult not to love the weak, so hard not to hate the arrogant." - "I headed for the lounge car, because that wasn't where I wanted to go, and when I saw that it was crowded, I turned around and walked back through several cars and stood in front of her compartment for at least a minute before I decided to knock. (...) I started to examine everything else in the compartment because I wanted to look only at her." - "He looked away without answering, for he Full of wit and wisdom - - "It was so difficult not to love the weak, so hard not to hate the arrogant." - "I headed for the lounge car, because that wasn't where I wanted to go, and when I saw that it was crowded, I turned around and walked back through several cars and stood in front of her compartment for at least a minute before I decided to knock. (...) I started to examine everything else in the compartment because I wanted to look only at her." - "He looked away without answering, for he knew then that she had brought him artfully to the edge of a useless quarrel, and he did not intend to be drawn over the precipice." Of the fifteen stories in this book I liked the short ones better than the two long (50+ p.) ones (The Sweet Smell of Success and The Comedian) - would term the majority of them love stories for grown-ups - reminded me of the best of the love stories in John D. Macdonald's End Of The Tiger (highly recommended) - my favorite: "The Small Sound of Applause" - heart-warming.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Still

    Thoroughly enjoyable collection of 13 short stories and 2 " novelettes" by the brilliant Ernest Lehman. Probably more famous for writing and adapting his novelette "Sweet Smell Of Success" for the film of the same name, Lehman was also a screenwriter known for such films as NORTH BY NORTHWEST, SABRINA, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and numerous others. Most of the stories contained in this anthology are set in the world of show business - Broadway and Hollywood. Most have an almost suffocating a Thoroughly enjoyable collection of 13 short stories and 2 " novelettes" by the brilliant Ernest Lehman. Probably more famous for writing and adapting his novelette "Sweet Smell Of Success" for the film of the same name, Lehman was also a screenwriter known for such films as NORTH BY NORTHWEST, SABRINA, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and numerous others. Most of the stories contained in this anthology are set in the world of show business - Broadway and Hollywood. Most have an almost suffocating atmosphere of panic amid pending deadlines or ultimatums. "Do this or your comfortable career is over!" A couple of the stories concern domesticity set adrift in the dangerous waters of infidelity. Almost every story has a main character teetering on the edge of an emotional abyss. The stand-outs are the two novelettes - "Sweet Smell Of Success" and "The Comedian" -both masterpieces. Both novelettes are brutal and as hardboiled as anything to be found in a collection of stories originally published in Black Mask. "Sweet Smell Of Success" contains scenes of violence I never expected to read based on having seen the movie a half dozen times. As soon as I'd finished reading it, I immediately put on my DVD of the movie with Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. Whole sections of dialogue were lifted directly from the novelette yet the movie -which is a perfect film noir- drops the physical brutality contained in the original tale. "The Comedian" is unforgettable. It is every bit as brilliant as "Sweet Smell Of Success" and just as compelling. A sense of dread permeates the narrative. "This can't end well", you'll keep thinking. I purchased this for a dollar at a library sale. It's ARC copy. I don't know if this is even still in print. If so, buy it. I loved every story. Lehman's writing is tough, terse, and a joy to read. Highest Recommendation!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tosh

    I don't have this book anymore and it is one that I miss while looking at my library. For the past three or four years I have been obsessed with the film and its history. There is a good critique out by James Naremore, but also recommended is the fantastic Criterion edition of "Sweet Smell of Success." The DVD comes with a small book that has two short stories by Ernest Lehman that are the first appearance of the main characters in Sweet Smell of Success, that is really fascinating. Get it! I don't have this book anymore and it is one that I miss while looking at my library. For the past three or four years I have been obsessed with the film and its history. There is a good critique out by James Naremore, but also recommended is the fantastic Criterion edition of "Sweet Smell of Success." The DVD comes with a small book that has two short stories by Ernest Lehman that are the first appearance of the main characters in Sweet Smell of Success, that is really fascinating. Get it!

  4. 4 out of 5

    emily c.

    This is a very interesting book that gives its readers a glimpse of the lives and minds of people working in the entertainment industry. The characters appear so real and ordinary, acting in ways that are expected of them because of the dirty world they are in. And yet when they are in action, doing their manipulations and tricking others to advance their interests and careers, the feelings of amusement, shock and compassion are still surprisingly evoked. Lehman's storytelling effectively creates This is a very interesting book that gives its readers a glimpse of the lives and minds of people working in the entertainment industry. The characters appear so real and ordinary, acting in ways that are expected of them because of the dirty world they are in. And yet when they are in action, doing their manipulations and tricking others to advance their interests and careers, the feelings of amusement, shock and compassion are still surprisingly evoked. Lehman's storytelling effectively creates a feel for simulteneity and lets the reader become the observer and, at the same time, a participant in the many introspective and self-revealing stories in this book. "The Comedian" and "Unguarded Moment" are personal favorites of this reviewer. The first story allows the reader to bear witness to the despicable life of a star and how he affects other people, including the narrator, whose first person accounts make him the object of reader identification. Unguarded Moment, on the other hand, offers a feel of the mind of a therapist, who must always remain in control because of his profession. This self-control, however, inevitably brought problems to his personal relationships. A very amusing read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Although Lehman writes dark, depressing noir about the evils of the entertainment industry well, that is pretty much all he does in this collection of short stories. Oddly, three of them are about the same characters--Sidney Falco and J. J. Hunsecker. It's a bit odd that he never chose to write a novella about them or even perhaps a book. While the writing is enjoyable enough for one short story, it quickly dulls and becomes predictable when reading more than one. Check out my full review. Although Lehman writes dark, depressing noir about the evils of the entertainment industry well, that is pretty much all he does in this collection of short stories. Oddly, three of them are about the same characters--Sidney Falco and J. J. Hunsecker. It's a bit odd that he never chose to write a novella about them or even perhaps a book. While the writing is enjoyable enough for one short story, it quickly dulls and becomes predictable when reading more than one. Check out my full review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Greg Harrison

    4-star story in a 3-star collection that spawned a 5-star movie.

  7. 5 out of 5

    K

    Occasionally, I read a "period piece" to see how it holds up. Some works hold up great: Dickens, Thomas Hardy, "Catcher in the Rye." And then there's "Sweet Smell of Success." This is just awful. This collection has got to be an embarrassment to the heirs of Ernest Lehman, a man who apparently had an illustrious screenwriting career. In these stories, I guess thought he was doing art by documenting with sensitivity and bitterness the seamy underside of Hollywood, TV and Broadway. But these stori Occasionally, I read a "period piece" to see how it holds up. Some works hold up great: Dickens, Thomas Hardy, "Catcher in the Rye." And then there's "Sweet Smell of Success." This is just awful. This collection has got to be an embarrassment to the heirs of Ernest Lehman, a man who apparently had an illustrious screenwriting career. In these stories, I guess thought he was doing art by documenting with sensitivity and bitterness the seamy underside of Hollywood, TV and Broadway. But these stories are written in such a stilted and fake argot that it's hard to imagine that they were published. They read like a college freshman being given an assignment to copy Raymond Chandler ... and doing a B- minus job. In every story, every woman is Babe, Baby and Honey. The big problem is the sexism of the atmosphere in which the characters move. I was prepared to overlook this because a) it's a particular time and place when this was rampant, b) the author is trying to show how sad and pathetic that scene was, and c) the author was having his protagonist fight against the system in some of the stories. But I couldn't overlook it, and here's why. In every story, the women were preyed upon by the men, but they only way they were saved was by another man. The women are all beautiful -- models who are lusted over in great detail in each story -- or homely secretaries who are sleeping with the first man who gives them attention. Over and over again, it's a powerful man (film producer, comedian, etc.) who preys on young women who want to get into the movies, and sometimes he gets the women (and sometimes beats them up). And, occasionally, another man, the protagonist who is a press agent or screenwriter, feels ultra-guilty and saves the woman, who is drunk, crying, and ready to try to sleep her way into a job. That's it in story after story. Dumb, and it just doesn't play right now. It could play write if it was done well, but these stories fail because there is no sensitivity, stilted language and repetitive plot lines. Find something else to read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Hoyer

    I read this collection mainly for Sweet Smell of Success. All of the stories feel very cinematic, with plenty of action and lots of dialogue. They almost feel like exploratory premises for screenplays, tiny morsels of characters and dynamics that could be easily expanded upon in another medium. There is a formulaic sameness to several of the stories; ambitious protagonist in the entertainment industry has his morality tested. Sometimes he triumphs, sometimes he succumbs. But the stories are all I read this collection mainly for Sweet Smell of Success. All of the stories feel very cinematic, with plenty of action and lots of dialogue. They almost feel like exploratory premises for screenplays, tiny morsels of characters and dynamics that could be easily expanded upon in another medium. There is a formulaic sameness to several of the stories; ambitious protagonist in the entertainment industry has his morality tested. Sometimes he triumphs, sometimes he succumbs. But the stories are all very readable, with a clear authoritative voice, and very delicious dialogue. The treatment of women is at best dated and at worst offensive. They are almost always secondary characters, and they’re either damsels in distress, admirable sex objects, or in one case a caricature-ish nag. The collection as a whole is more intriguing than satisfying, but it clearly showcases plenty of talent and was never a boring read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    M.R. Dowsing

    This begins with the 50-page novella on which the film 'Sweet Smell of Success' was based and includes another two stories featuring the characters of JJ Hunsecker and Sidney Falco along with a bunch of others set in the world of press agents and showbiz hustlers in which Lehman worked before becoming a successful writer. If you liked the film, you'll probably enjoy this, although I think the additional talents of Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Alexander McKendrick, Clifford Odets, James Wong Howe This begins with the 50-page novella on which the film 'Sweet Smell of Success' was based and includes another two stories featuring the characters of JJ Hunsecker and Sidney Falco along with a bunch of others set in the world of press agents and showbiz hustlers in which Lehman worked before becoming a successful writer. If you liked the film, you'll probably enjoy this, although I think the additional talents of Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Alexander McKendrick, Clifford Odets, James Wong Howe, et al, raised the film to the level of outstanding, which I don't think can be said for the book. However, it's an enjoyably cynical read written in a sub-Raymond Chandler style and the portraits of both those who'll do anything to succeed in the world of entertainment and those who exploit them economically and sexually have extra resonance post-Weinstein. The book would have benefitted from an introduction to place them in their proper context.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Austin Zook

    Taken individually, these are mostly solid, hard-boiled pieces of writing. Unfortunately, reading them in succession in this collection just turns into a slog. “Sweet Smell of Success” was the highlight for me and I’m looking forward to catching the film. The other stories tend to focus on show business, with a heavy emphasis on how women are taken advantage of if they wanted to achieve stardom in Hollywood. This is primarily a collection focused on morally compromised men behaving accordingly. Taken individually, these are mostly solid, hard-boiled pieces of writing. Unfortunately, reading them in succession in this collection just turns into a slog. “Sweet Smell of Success” was the highlight for me and I’m looking forward to catching the film. The other stories tend to focus on show business, with a heavy emphasis on how women are taken advantage of if they wanted to achieve stardom in Hollywood. This is primarily a collection focused on morally compromised men behaving accordingly. It gets very old very quickly, and while I give the book a pass for being of its time, the subject matter has aged unevenly and it’s not nearly as compelling in 2019 as it may have been several decades ago. I’d recommend checking out the title story, but don’t feel obligated to dive into the rest. This is definitely one you can pick up from your local library instead of getting a copy for your shelf.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Leonda Massey

    A nice collection. I feel the writing style, while very good, might not appeal to the current generation. I liked almost all of the stories because they reminded me of so many of the dramas from the late 1950's and early 60's such as Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, etc. A nice collection. I feel the writing style, while very good, might not appeal to the current generation. I liked almost all of the stories because they reminded me of so many of the dramas from the late 1950's and early 60's such as Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, etc.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Erik Jay Weber

    Extends the life of the characters from Sweet Smell of Success (while including the original novelette) plus a number of their contemporaries. Very enjoyable.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maxie Froelicher

    This did not age well I can say that right off the bat. I had to look at other reviews to realise these stories were supposed to be a critique of the way Hollywood and Broadway worked in the 50’s, but not all of the stories dealt with those industries. It was chock full of men who straight up hated women, who constantly cheated on their wives and girlfriends, and who whined and complained when their wives got upset at them. The one story that was from the point of view of a woman (about 3 pages This did not age well I can say that right off the bat. I had to look at other reviews to realise these stories were supposed to be a critique of the way Hollywood and Broadway worked in the 50’s, but not all of the stories dealt with those industries. It was chock full of men who straight up hated women, who constantly cheated on their wives and girlfriends, and who whined and complained when their wives got upset at them. The one story that was from the point of view of a woman (about 3 pages long) was literally like “well I guess he’ll keep cheating and it won’t change so I’ll just deal with it.” Not a good look. I will say I loved Don’t You Like It Out Here because at least the guy finally like, realised how bad he and his coworkers/bosses were being and like bailed out at the end, and I loved the stories with Sidney Falco, mostly because I watched the film first. I would recommend the title story, The Comedian, the other Falco stories, and DYLIOH, but you can honestly skip the rest. They all play the same, they’re all about the exact same character with the exact same view of women and their ‘place in the world’. It got boring and tedious. Read for the POPSUGAR challenge prompt - An anthology and Around the Year in 52 Books 2020 prompt #6 - A book with a mode of transportation on the cover

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Entertaining book about reprehensible characters I read this book of short stories because I love the film The Sweet Smell of Success and I was not disappointed. In fact, I couldn't put it down. Entertaining book about reprehensible characters I read this book of short stories because I love the film The Sweet Smell of Success and I was not disappointed. In fact, I couldn't put it down.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    Just finished this book this morning. Twas EXCELLENT. I can't believe this dude hasn't been on my radar, I mean he only wrote "North By Northwest". Read this now. Just finished this book this morning. Twas EXCELLENT. I can't believe this dude hasn't been on my radar, I mean he only wrote "North By Northwest". Read this now.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tim Duggan

    One of the best dialogue writers there has been. Really knows how to capture a concept and moment. This is the best series of short stories I can remember reading

  17. 5 out of 5

    amanda

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Luebbe

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robbie Smith

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sal Mondello

  21. 5 out of 5

    Isaac

  22. 4 out of 5

    Emilymcmc

  23. 4 out of 5

    Olivier H. Gamas

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shibbie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Clint

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott Miller

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lilithanne

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rice

  29. 5 out of 5

    Yourfiendmrjones

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sydney

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