“I love this dirty town.” Possibly the meanest movie ever made, and definitely one of my personal favorites. Burt Lancaster plays J. J. Hunsecker, a powerful, soulless Walter Winchell-esque columnist who can make or break anybody in the public eye in ten words or less. Pretty boy Tony Curtis is his bitch as Sydney Falco, a hungry young press agent who makes a meager living getting his clients mentioned in Hunsecker’s column. The plot revolves around Hunsecker’s little sister and her affair with a jazz musician. Big brother wants the musician out of the picture and Falco sees the situation as a way to weasel his way back into alpha dog Hunsecker’s good graces. The bitter, pitch black, razor sharp dialog is infinitely quotable. The gritty and gorgeous exteriors on the teeming midtown Manhattan streets make me homesick. This is another one on my personal top ten, not just of best Film Noir, but best films period.The special guest this time was Susan Harrison, who played the little sister. She was sweet and very diplomatic in her comments about working in what had to be a vortex of massive egos between Lancaster and Curtis. I imagine there were lots of behind the scenes incidents that she didn’t talk about. One thing that was particularly interesting to me was the fact that screenwriter Odets was on the set the whole time, basically writing as they went along, but according to Harrison, the studio was pretty much OK with that. Very surprising considering the fact that they were obviously lampooning a very powerful man (Winchell) with that script. You’d think the studio would want more control over a film with such inflammatory potential.
This film has got to be the juiciest, scenery-chewing, over-acting smackdown of all time as Jack Palance and Rod Steiger go head to head in this melodramatic indictment of the Hollywood system. Palance plays a hunky actor with a dark secret who wants out of the business and Steiger is the studio head trying to blackmail Palance into signing a seven year contract. The supporting cast is excellent, including lovely Ida Lupino as Palance’s long-suffering wife and Shelly Winters as the ambitious bimbo who knows Palance’s secret. I also love cold-eyed Wendell Cory as the unsmiling Smiley Coy, a ruthless studio lawyer who is not above murder if it keeps the studio’s image clean.