March 16 – 26, 2000

American Cinematheque presents...

THE PRINCE AND THE IMPOSTOR: A Tribute to Tony Curtis in-person!






With his career beginning as a Matinee Idol, Tony Curtis leapt through Arabian Nights fantasias with jet-black Bronx hair and street-smart charisma and wound up one of the finest and most versatile actors of a generation that included Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Paul Newman. Tony Curtis remains a Hollywood original: a product of the studio system who broke all expectations with his work as soulless, scorpion-like press agent Sidney Falco in THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS; or his fearless drag-queen meets Cary Grant performance in SOME LIKE IT HOT. Born Bernard Schwartz in 1925 to Jewish-Hungarian parents, Curtis grew up in New York’s matinee movie-palaces – "Cary Grant used to make me feel elegant when I walked out of the cinema, Bogart made me feel tough, Flynn made me feel dashing," Curtis later recalled. After serving in the Navy during WWII, Curtis parlayed a drama-school education, (gained through the G.I. Bill of Rights) into a $100 a week contract with Universal Pictures in 1948.

He paid his dues (and then some) in crime films, swashbucklers, boxing dramas and more, before a string of fierce, brilliant performances in the late 1950’s, including THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, THE DEFIANT ONES, SPARTACUS and THE OUTSIDER, established him as one of American cinema’s most gifted (and under-recognized) actors. Curtis is also a fine artist. His work has been compared to Matisse. He has a virtual art gallery on the web.

"With my part I kept Grace Kelly in mind. I wasn’t going to be no easy lay who hit the sack for just anybody!" Tony Curtis on SOME LIKE IT HOT

Thursday, March 16 – 8:00 PM

Tony Curtis and Elmer Bernstein In-Person!!

THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, 1957, MGM/UA, 96 min. Curtis gives his greatest performance as cutthroat press agent Sidney Falco, willing to sell his soul to syndicated columnist Burt Lancaster for a few lines of copy, in director Alexander MacKendrick’s dark, glittering gem of a movie -- one of the most frightening and seductive films of the 1950’s. Brilliantly scripted by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, with stunning, mood-drenched b&w photography by the legendary James Wong Howe. Match me, Sidney … Discussion following with Tony Curtis and composer Elmer Bernstein.

Friday, March 17 – 7:00 PM

Tony Curtis In-Person -- Double-Feature!!

TRAPEZE, 1956, MGM/UA, 105 min. Dir. Carol Reed. Ultra-colorful circus action from the director of THE THIRD MAN and THE FALLEN IDOL. Brash young acrobat Curtis is determined to do the triple aerial somersault to impress luscious Gina Lollobrigida – but crippled mentor Burt Lancaster (a real-life acrobat) warns him off. Shot on location at Paris’s famed Circque d’Hiver, TRAPEZE is a great guilty pleasure – and one of the biggest hits of Curtis’s career.

HOUDINI, 1953, Paramount, 106 min. Dir. George Marshall. Mesmerizing, often genuinely creepy bio-film of the famed illusionist, with Curtis perfectly cast as the athletic young Houdini, romancing real-life wife Janet Leigh in between Chinese water tortures and bogus seances. Discussion between films with Tony Curtis & guests.

Saturday, March 18 – 5:30 PM

Tony Curtis In-Person!!

THE DEFIANT ONES, 1958, MGM/UA, 97 min. Racist jailbird Curtis finds himself chained body and soul to fellow convict Sidney Poitier, in director Stanley Kramer’s stark, bareknuckled prison-break drama. Curtis’ fierce, hardened performance here is among his finest – as blunt and unforgiving as anything by DeNiro or Keitel in the 70’s. Discussion following with Tony Curtis and guests.

Saturday, March 18 – 8:00 PM

SOME LIKE IT HOT, 1959, MGM/UA, 119 min. Dir. Billy Wilder. Cross-dressing musicians Curtis and Jack Lemmon take it on the lam from the Chicago mob, while luscious Marilyn Monroe falls for a playboy who’s a playgirl … Billy Wilder’s insane blend of sexual confusion and flawless slapstick gave Curtis the best comic role of his career. Biggest on-set problem: keeping Curtis and Lemmon from looking too good in women’s clothes. Tony Curtis to introduce screening.

Sunday, March 19 – 5:00 PM

Early Curtis Double-Header!!

THE PRINCE WHO WAS A THIEF, 1951, Universal (Swank), 88 min. Dir. Rudolph Maté. Curtis shot to instant matinee-idol status in this Far-East fantasia about a handsome pickpocket who turns out to be heir to the Arabian throne. Lovely Piper Laurie (with whom Curtis made four films at Universal) co-stars as his feisty flame.

FLESH AND FURY, 1952, Universal (Swank), 82 min. Taut little boxing drama from much-underrated B-movie director Joseph Pevney, with Curtis giving a fine performance as a deaf fighter struggling to earn respect and a little prize money.

Friday, March 24 – 7:00 PM

Tony Curtis and Delbert Mann In-Person!!

THE OUTSIDER, 1961, Universal, 108 min. Dir. Delbert Mann. Bleak, brooding drama of Ira Hayes (Curtis), the Pima Indian who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima – and returned home to face continued racism and the spectre of alcoholism. Along with Mann’s MEN IN WAR and Aldrich’s ATTACK!, this is one of the darkest portraits of the American soldier ever made – fueled by Curtis’s unnerving work as Hayes. Discussion following with Tony Curtis and director Delbert Mann.

Friday, March 24 – 9:45 PM

Super-Swingers Double-Bill!!

BOEING BOEING, 1965, Paramount, 102 min. Dir. John Rich. Get your martinis out, as international playboy Curtis tries to juggle three stewardess girlfriends, while old pal Jerry Lewis horns in on the action. Shameless, sex-drenched 60’s hi-jinks – imagine Hugh Hefner crooning "Come Fly With Me"…

DON’T MAKE WAVES, 1967, MGM (Warner Classics), 97 min. Dir. Alexander MacKendrick. Wonderfully sly, wistful satire of Malibu beach-culture in the 60’s, from the director of SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. East Coast schlep Curtis reinvents himself as a sun-tanned swimming pool salesman, amid a carnival of muscle boys, surfer girls, astrologers, skydivers and more. One of the great lost comedies of the 60’s – as good as THE LOVED ONE or LORD LOVE A DUCK.

Saturday, March 25 – 5:30 PM

U.S. Premiere – Tony Curtis In-Person!!

THE PASSENGER (DER PASSAGIER – WELCOME TO GERMANY), 1988, 98 min. Dir. Thomas Brasch. Curtis gives a terrific, haunted performance as a concentration camp survivor who returns to Germany to make a film about the Holocaust – and runs smack into ghosts past and present. Never before seen in the U.S. Discussion following with Tony Curtis.

Saturday, March 25 – 8:00 PM

Double Feature!!

New 35 mm. Print!! THE BOSTON STRANGLER, 1968, 20th Century Fox, 120 min. The standout hit of our recent tribute to director Richard Fleischer, and one of the strangest, most unsettling crime dramas ever filmed. Curtis delivers an amazing performance as Albert DeSalvo, the unstable blue-collar worker who terrorized Boston in the early 1960’s; Henry Fonda is the head of detectives who doggedly tracks him down. An awesome, inescapable film, on par with Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER.

THE GREAT IMPOSTOR, 1961, Universal, 112 min. Curtis is a delight as real-life chameleon Ferdinand Demara Jr., who managed to successfully impersonate a schoolteacher, monk, naval surgeon and prison warden during his bizarre, Zelig-like career. With Karl Malden, Frank Gorshin, Sue Anne Langdon.

Tuesday, March 28 – 7:00 PM

Psychotronic Madness – Ultra-Rare Screening!!

THE MANITOU, 1978, Canal +, 104 min. Dir. William Girdler. Gonzo 70’s drive-in movie madness, with Susan Strasberg as a young woman who has a 400-year old medicine man growing out of her back. Curtis stars as a bogus spiritualist who comes face-to-face with the midget demon, with the help of New Age midwife Michael Ansara. Must be seen to be believed.

Tuesday, March 28 – 9:30 PM

Brand-New 35 mm. Print!!

THE GREAT RACE, 1965, Warner Bros., 150 min. Dir. Blake Edwards. If you missed it during our Natalie Wood Tribute in September, here’s a chance to see a brand-new 35 mm. print of THE GREAT RACE - ! White-suited Curtis foils the schemes of villainous Professor Fate (SOME LIKE IT HOT co-star Jack Lemmon), while wooing reporter Natalie Wood on a Paris-to-New York car race in 1908.