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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Tony Curtis

American acting icon Tony Curtis built an extensive career that lasted decades, having worked with some of the greatest talents of his time. Known for his diverse work in various productions such as serious dramatic projects as well as comedies, Curtis left behind a rich legacy for all film fans.

Born in New York City, Curtis was first introduced to acting during his teenage years in theatrical productions at school. After serving in the Navy during the second World War, he landed in Hollywood and started out with uncredited parts before slowly making his way to iconic projects that would immortalise him for future generations.

Through his collaborations with directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder and Nicolas Roeg among others, Curtis constructed an exceptional body of work. As a tribute to the late actor, we have compiled a list of essential works starring Tony Curtis which should act as the perfect guide for those who aren’t familiar with his films.

Check out the list below.

Tony Curtis’ six definitive films:

Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)

A film noir masterpiece by Alexander Mackendrick, Sweet Smell of Success is a fantastic exploration of the pernicious machinations of the media apparatus and its control over the public consciousness as well as its manipulation of truths.

It stars Burt Lancaster as a media magnate who runs a pretty influential gossip column and is obsessive about his sister. Curtis stars in his breakthrough performance as a lowly press agent who tries to climb the social ladder by sinking to new depths.

The Defiant Ones (Stanley Kramer, 1958)

Another brilliant addition to Curtis’ incredible run in the ’50s, The Defiant Ones revolves around two escaped prisoners (Curtis and Sidney Poitier). Their survival depends on their co-operation with each other since they can’t get rid of the shackles that bind them to each other.

A critically acclaimed project at the time of its release, Kramer’s 1958 engages in rich sociopolitical commentary while bringing out the best in both Curtis and Poitier. While the explorations of racism aren’t exactly subtle, The Defiant Ones remains an interesting watch.

Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

An indispensable work by Billy Wilder starring Marilyn Monroe, Some Like It Hot also happens to feature one of the best performances of Curtis’ career. It tells the story of two struggling musicians in 1920s Chicago who accidentally become witnesses to a mob hit.

In order to avoid the gangsters, they decide to go into hiding by joining an all-female travelling band. An outrageously hilarious comedy classic, both Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are fantastic in the film with an iconic appearance by Marilyn Monroe.

Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960)

One of Kubrick’s less-appreciated films, Spartacus chronicles the accounts of a slave leader (Kirk Douglas) who manages to orchestrate a revolt against human bondage. Curtis appears in a supporting role as Antoninus – a slave who works as an entertainer.

“I was hired to direct Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. It was the only one of my films over which I did not have complete control; although I was the director, mine was only one of many voices to which Kirk listened. I am disappointed in the film. It had everything but a good story,” Kubrick later admitted.

The Boston Strangler (Richard Fleischer, 1968)

Partially based on the true story of the notorious figure, Richard Fleischer’s The Boston Strangler stars Curtis as Albert DeSalvo – the man who reportedly confessed to being the strangler even though his confession was widely disputed.

An unusual role for Curtis, The Boston Strangler examines the nature of crime as DeSalvo balances a life of unimaginably violent crimes with his duties as a husband and a father. Henry Fonda plays the role of the detective who cracked the case by getting DeSalvo’s confession.

Insignificance (Nicolas Roeg, 1985)

An underrated gem by Nicolas Roeg, Insignificance is a bizarre little film about four characters who bear an uncanny resemblance to real icons. Set in 1954, it follows the surreal events as the paths of the four intersect in a hotel in New York City.

The four icons in question are Joe DiMaggio, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, and Joseph McCarthy, with Curtis playing the role of the latter (credited as The Senator). A fascinating effort by Roeg, this is a must-watch for all fans.