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Harvey, I often wish I were deaf and wore a hearing aid. With a simple flick of a switch, I could shut out the greedy murmur of little men.—J.J. Hunsecker
Sweet Smell of Success is a very dark 1957 Film Noir. It recieved poor audience reactions when it was first screened, but it is critically acclaimed as a great film today. J.J. Hunsecker is number 35 of the AFI's list of the top 50 movie villains of all time, played acerbically and ruthlessly by Burt Lancaster.
J.J. Hunsecker is a ruthlessly powerful columnist who doesn't like his sister's new boyfriend Steve, a jazz guitarist. He hires Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) to do the dirty work of breaking the two apart in the age when everyone suspected a Red under every bed.
Tropes used by the film:
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing
- Dirty Communists: One of the smears against Dallas is that he's a Party member.
- The Dog Bites Back
- Don't Do Anything I Wouldn't Do:
Sidney: Don't do anything I wouldn't do! That gives you a lot of leeway...
- The Dragon: Effectively, Falco to Hunsecker.
- Driven to Suicide: Almost.
- Executive Meddling: Falco does a Heel Face Turn at the end, threatening to expose the dirty cop. He gets beaten up for it.
- Extreme Doormat: Susie.
- Faux Affably Evil: Hunsecker always speaks calmly and politely, especially to Susie and Steve. Neither of them are fooled.
- Grew a Spine
- Ho Yay: J.J. implies strongly that heterosexual Sidney had sex with him to get ahead.
- Incest Subtext: J.J.'s possessiveness of Susie smacks of feelings deeper than mere brotherly love.
- Knight Templar Big Brother
- Manipulative Bastard: Both Falco and Hunsecker.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits
- Nerd Glasses: Hunsecker's extremely thick spectacles.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: J.J. Hunsecker is a thinly-disguished version the once-powerful gossip columnist and radio broadcaster Walter Winchell.
- Only Known by Initials: J.J. Even his sister calls him that.
- Playing Against Type: Tony Curtis, who became famous with heroic roles. At the preview screening of the movie, his fans were pretty disappointed.
- Pretty in Mink: Susie's highly-symbolic fur coat.
- Red Scare
- Scary Shiny Glasses: J.J. Hunsecker wears them.
- Shout-Out: The musical refrain repeated throughout is borrowed almost note-for-note in Boogie Nights.
- In Diner, one character does nothing but repeat famous lines from the film.
- Law and Order Criminal Intent once referenced the movie with a victim's death, down to the line "I love this dirty town".
- The press agent in Matlock is also named Sidney Falco.
- The rock band Kitty Kat Stew has a song called "Cookie full of Arsenic"
- Sudden Principled Stand: When a columnist refuses to print a smear against Steve, despite Falco threatening to inform his wife about an affair. Falco, however, subverts his when J.J. merely offers to pay him more.
- Sugary Malice: Hunsecker.
- Terms of Endangerment: Hunsecker constantly calls Susie "dear". He's called on this by Steve.
- What Could Have Been: Orson Welles was to be casted as J. J. Hunsecker at one point. Robert Vaughn was cast as Steve.
- Witch Hunt