By Chuck Ross
There are a lot of movies with great dialogue. There’s "Casablanca," "His Girl Friday" and "The Godfather," just to name three.
One of the movies with the most biting dialogue is the Bette Davis classic "All About Eve."
But my favorite movie with dialogue that cuts like a knife is "Sweet Smell of Success" from 1957, with a screenplay by playwright Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, based on Lehman’s short story.
The film, which is on the MGM HD channel today, Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, at 3 p.m. ET/PT, has the most pungent, sarcastic and peppery dialogue of any film I know.
If you can’t catch it or DVR it today, try and rent it. Also, it’s on TCM from time to time.
The movie stars Tony Curtis in his best role, playing the too slick talent agent Sidney Falco. Burt Lancaster is equally astonishing as columnist J.J. Hunsecker.
Check out the dialogue in the following scene. It won’t really spoil anything for you if you want to see the movie. It takes place in the "21" Club restaurant in New York City:
Sidney Falco enters the restaurant and says to the SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR:
Honey, get me Mr. Hunsecker.
He’s right inside, Mr. Falco.
(from now inside a phone booth next to the switchboard)
So it isn’t long distance.
outside for one minute?
Can I come out? No.
I have to talk to you, alone, J.J.,
You had something to do for me –
you didn’t do it.
Can I come in for a minute?
No. You’re dead, son – get yourself
We now see HUNSECKER inside the restaurant, sitting at his table. There are other men at the table and a younger woman.
HUNSECKER (to one of the men at his table)
Harvey, I often wish I were dead
and wore a hearing aid…with a
simple flick of a switch I could
shut out the greedy murmur of
J.J., I need your ear for two
HUNSECKER (to waiter standing nearby)
Mac! I don’t want this man at my
I have a message from your sister.
HUNSECKER (to one of the men at the table)
interrupted before –
HARVEY, who is a United States SENATOR
Err…the Supreme Court story, I
was telling you – Justice Black.
Yes, the Justice, that’s right.
But I think you had it in the column.
Last July, the lead item…
And I believe that’s precisely
where I read it, too. You see,
J.J., where I get my reputation for
being the best-informed man in
Now don’t kid a kidder.
I don’t think we caught your name,
Sidney Falco, sir. And, of course,
everyone knows and admires you,
Every four years I get less
convinced of that. This young lady
is Miss Linda James.
(indicates the Girl)
She’s managed by Manny Davis.
(he indicates the Agent)
I know Manny Davis.
Everyone knows Manny
(There is a phone on the table in front of HUNSECKER. As the phone rings
on the table)
…except MRS. Manny Davis.
HUNSECKER answers the phone on the table
Yes? Go ahead, Billy – shoot…
HUNSECKER (repeating what’s being told him on the phone)
Uh huh. Sports cars in California
are getting smaller and
smaller…the other day you were
crossing Hollywood Boulevard and
you were hit by one…you had to go
to the hospital and have it
You’re not following the column: I
had it last week.
Do you believe in capital
(pointing to the phone)
A man has just been sentenced to
Manny, what exactly are the UNSEEN
gifts of this lovely young thing
that you manage…?
Well, she sings a little…you
Manny’s faith in me is simply awe-
inspiring, Mr. Hunsecker. Actually,
I’m still studying, but –
Singing, of course…straight
concert and –
Why "of course"? It might, for
instance, be politics…
Me? I mean "I"? Are you kidding,
Mr. Hunsecker? With my
The brains may be
the clothes are Trainor-Norell.
SENATOR (to break the tension)
Are you an actor, Mr. Falco?
That’s what I was thinking. Are
you, Mr. Falco?
How did you guess it, Miss James?
He’s so pretty, that’s how.
Mr. Falco, let it be said at once,
is a man of FORTY faces, not one,
none too pretty and ALL deceptive.
See that grin? It’s the charming
street urchin’s face. It’s part of
his "helpless" act – he throws
himself on your mercy. I skip the
pleading nervous bit that sometimes
blends over into bluster. The
moist grateful eye is a favorite
face with him – it frequently ties
in with the act of boyish candor:
he’s talking straight from the
heart, get it? He’s got about
half-a-dozen faces for the ladies,
but the real cute one to me is the
quick dependable chap – nothing he
won’t do for you in a pinch. At
least, so he says! Tonight Mr.
Falco, whom I did not invite to sit
at this table, is about to show
his last and most pitiful role:
pale face with tongue hanging out.
In brief, gentlemen and
Lilly, the boy sitting with us is a
hungry press agent and fully up to
all the tricks of his very slimy
HUNSECKER, looking at
Match me, Sidney.
Not just this minute, J.J.