Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In 1997, I WAS J.J. Hunsecker

I knew I was destined to be a classic movie fanatic from a very early age. I was always in the habit of watching and rewatching favorite films. Memorizing the dialogue, then using said dialogue in my mundane, everyday life. I'd use the many clever lines from 1957's Sweet Smell of Success on my fellow unsuspecting music store drones. The lines would come out of nowhere. Usually they were in context but a lot of times they weren't, which made those in the know all the more amused.

Wait. Let me back up for a second.

In 1997, I became fascinated with New York City and how it looked in the 1950s. I was and am obsessed with jazz from that time and to get a sense of what things looked like circa 1957 is best exemplified in Alexander Mackendrink's Sweet Smell of Success. Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis became legends in my personal, worshipful pantheon of movie heroes. Lancaster played powerful NYC gossip columnist--and Walter Winchell surrogate--J.J. Hunsecker, a strange man with a swank apartment filled with objets d'arte that he knew nothing about ("Picasso-- one "S" or two?") and who was in love with his power as well as his virginal little sister, Susie. Curtis played the oily, hand-wringing press agent, Sidney Falco. Tom Cruise's Jerry Maguire owes everything to Sidney Falco; the chump.

Every friday night for fifteen consecutive weeks, my pal and I would set up the steam-powered VCR (that's Video Cassette Recorder to youse kids born after 1990) and watch a different movie each week, but we would end the night with our corrupt noir masterpiece. It would be several years and one slow internet connection later when I would finally realize that Sweet Smell of Success was a cult classic. It was also adored by critics but largely unknown by the Great Unwashed. Still, I loved this movie.

Movies and junk food go together like Liz Taylor and divorce, so we armed ourselves and filled our burgeoning guts with sweet and salty crap. We live in South Florida, so we had to have something hispanic, and Inca Kola fit the bill. It's the national beverage of Peru. It tastes something like liquid bubblegum. It goes great with spicy and salty foods, not that that stopped us from downing a dozen doughnuts along with it. We sure punished our bodies.

Let's not forget to have a movie icon and personal hero's line of foods along for the ride: Newman's Own. We continued to put up speed bumps for our metabolism by gobbling anything and everything with Paul Newman's mug on the box/jar/carton/bottle. We loved his popcorn, salsa, spaghetti sauce, and lemonade: which I can no longer find; did it die with him???

"Movie Night", as we called it, was a great time of bonding and learning about classic film. Black and White became our friend, Elmer Bernstein's big, big, BIG score for "Sweet Smell", as we came to call it, was a call to arms. We worked on our Burt Lancaster accents and Tony Curtis mannerisms and quoted Emile Meyer ("I call him the boy with the ice cream face.") more than any twentysomething ever should. Hard to believe it was thirteen years ago.

Oh well, onward with new memories.


  1. What a wonderful post! Thanks for letting me in on a fun part of your life!
    I saw some Paul Newman vinegar and barbecue sauce in a store a few weeks ago, actually. It exists in Sweden too! Not too easy to find, though.

    Merry Christmas, dear C.K. Dexter Haven!

  2. Great post! Enjoyed reading it
    Have a happy Christmas

  3. Excellent post, loved reading it! You've peaked my curiosity and I must find this film now!

  4. great post. Newmans Salad dressing rules.
    Sweet smell of success is brilliant and has the most memorable dialogue, Lancaster ruled at that role. ditto for Tony Curtis. Beautifully filmed also.
    Merry Christmas.

  5. Burt Lancaster was one of those splendid blood-stirring virile male actors that aren't born any more. Never been too keen on Tony Curtis, too sweet to my taste. Just like you I always wondered why our everyday dialogues can't be more like those in old movies.

  6. Hey there. Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my Tuesday post on my Dino Lounge blog. Glad you enjoyed those Sammy ads. If you haven't checked it out yet, I've got my last Christmas post up now. I'll be taking a break until after the New Year rolls in. Take care. Season's Greetings to you and yours!

  7. Yes, a perfect movie in every respect. And yeah, I also tend to combine good ol' movies and not so good but adorable junk food. Spot on, man!

  8. What a marvelously written post! I so enjoyed reading it.


  9. C.K. A terrific and funny post and of course a great movie! One I am going to be tackling soon myself.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.