Manhattan publicist Sidney Falco (played with sleazy aplomb by Tony Curtis) has been failing at his job. He can’t get his clients a single mention in J.J. Hunsucker’s column. (Hunsucker is played by Burt Lancaster in a manner as snidely and high-handed as the character’s name.)
The problem is that Hunsucker has it in for Falco, because he broke a promise to bust up the romance between Hunsucker’s little sister Susan (played by Susan Harrison) and a jazz musician, Steve Dallas (played by Martin Milner).
In an effort to come at the problem somewhat sideways, Falco tries to convince a rival columnist to print false rumors that Dallas is a dope-smoking pinko. Falco then encourages Hunsucker to save Dallas’ reputation. By that logic, Falco hopes the headstrong Dallas will reject Hunsucker’s favor and lose the girl.
This … bizarre little semi-plan does not come off. Dallas reads Hunsucker the riot act, and Hunsucker, not being a happy camper, arranges to plant weed/grass/herb (aka, marijuana) on Dallas and get him arrested by the toughest, roughest corrupt cop in town, Lt. Harry Kello (played by Emile Meyer).
And though Falco wants no part of this sleazy plan, he succumbs to temptation and plays along.
The part of Hudsucker is based on the real-life Walter Winchell, who must have been a real son of a bitch, judging by the portrayal.
The movie is particularly note-worthy for its breathtaking, urban noir cinematography and the rapid-fire dialogue.
Sidney Falco: “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.”
J.J. Hunsucker: “You’re dead, son. Get yourself buried.”
J.J. Hunsucker: “I’d hate to take a bit outta you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.”
Sidney Falco: “Maybe I left my sense of humor in my other suit.”
J.J. Hunsucker: “Here’s your head; what’s your hurry?”
Sidney Falco: “If you’re funny, Walter, I’m a pretzel! Drop dead!”
J.J. Hunsucker: [holding an unlit cigarette] “Match me, Sidney.”
And is generally the case in film noir, no one gets what they want.
However, the film ends on an unusual note of redemption for Falco. Unfortunately, while Falco’s redemption frees Susan from her brother’s domination, it has a hazardous effect on Falco’s health.
I’d give this three thumbs up, but I only have two thumbs! 🙂