Written by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets (who based the Hunsecker character on the similarly brutal and power-mad Walter Winchell), the film follows Falco's attempts to promote a client through Hunsecker's column--until he is forced to make a deal with the devil and help Hunsecker ruin a jazz musician who has the nerve to date Hunsecker's sister.
Shooting on location, mostly at night, director Alexander MacKendrick and cinematographer James Wong Howe capture this New York demi-monde in silky black and white, in which neon and shadows share a scarily symbiotic relationship--a near-match for the poisonous give-and-take between the edgy Curtis and the dismissive Lancaster. --Marshall Fine, Amazon.com
Falco willingly submits to JJ's humiliations because he needs the scraps of publicity JJ deigns to throw Falco's clients in his daily column.
But now JJ needs a favour; will Falco destroy the lives of two innocent people just to stay JJ's favoured pet?
The two leads are brilliant. Curtis is nervous, cynical and strangely beautiful. By turns disgusted at the squalid lapdog he has become and thrilled by the reflected power of JJ.
Lancaster as JJ is as monumental a screen presence as Kane or Kurtz; the ground shakes and the air hums when he gets angry.
The scene where a Senator is paying court to JJ with Falco hovering between revulsion and reverence is near perfect: machine-gun dialogue with each bullet carefully dipped in venom.
You could cut yourself on the sharp black and white night photography and the music adds to the jittery atmosphere.
Sure, some of the lesser characters pale against the screen presence of Lancaster and Curtis, and the plot takes over a bit too much toward the end, but this is a riveting essay on power and self-loathing.
A word about the director: nothing in the prevoius work of Alexander Mackendrick prepares you for this. He directed some equally wonderful but very different films (The Ladykillers, The Man in the White Suit, Whisky Galore! ) and is sadly neglected in some quarters. This a dark and brutal masterpiece.
"Match me, Sidney. "
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