Tony Curtis & The Power of Ambition
Tony Curtis passed away at the end of September 2010. Here is what Time Magazine has to say about one of the roles that defined him as an actor, Sidney Falco in The Sweet Smell of Success. It is a stunning example of a Power of Ambition protagonist falling to the Dark Side.
(In the film) Sidney Falco, Broadway publicist, is telling his secretary Sam how far he wants his ambitions to take him: “Way up high, Sam, where it’s always balmy. Where no one snaps his fingers and says, ‘Hey, Shrimp, rack the balls!’ Or, ‘Hey, mouse, mouse, go out and buy me a pack of butts.’ I don’t want tips from the kitty. I’m in the big game with the big players. My experience I can give you in a nutshell, and I didn’t dream it in a dream, either. Dog Eat Dog. In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me.”
An actor doesn’t often get a role that upends his Hollywood image and reveals his inner demons. Tony Curtis, who died Wednesday at 85 of cardiac arrest at his home near Las Vegas, found that dream-nightmare part in the 1957 Sweet Smell of Success. Sidney Falco, a name that replaced Sammy Glick as the slick nogoodnik par excellence, is a pretty boy on the make — all hustle, no morals, and with a line of patter like petty larceny…
…Another refugee from the New York streets, and one of the first postwar actors to produce his own movies, (Burt) Lancaster … cast him in Sweet Smell as Sidney, the publicist trying to get his clients’ items in the gossip column written by Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker.
In the script, by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, Sidney’s status floats between villain and victim — he peddles flesh and secrets, and pins the Commie label on an innocent young musician, before getting climactically framed by J.J. — but (actor) Curtis was the victor in the movie. It’s easy to imagine that, that when the actor first read this script, he thought exultantly, “That’s me all over!” A shark in the Broadway aquarium, Sidney looked like a million bucks, all counterfeit. FULL ARTICLE HERE
A character driven by the Power of Ambition can be a hardworking, eager, charming optimist with a “can-do” spirit— or a lying, manipulative, backstabbing striver who will do anything to get ahead in life.
The definition and meaning of “success” is at the heart of a Power of Ambition character’s story. The basic question for this character’s emotional journey is: “What does it profit a person to win the whole world but lose his or her own soul?”
That what we watch Sidney Falco do, lose his soul, over the course of The Sweet Smell of Success. It is a film well worth watching and a master course in the Power of Ambition Character Type.