The Celluloid Pantry: The 21 Club Power Scene and Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

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Few restaurants can boast as many screen credits as New York’s 21 Club.
From its first movie mention in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) (and later the famous Grace Kelly/Jimmy Stewart home delivery scene in Rear Window (1954)) to All About Eve (1950), Wall Street (1987), and Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), the former speakeasy has enjoyed an illustrious Hollywood career.

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Instantly recognizable by its distinctive wrought iron gate work and phalanx of plaster lawn jockeys outside (left), and its signature red and white checked tablecloths, model airplane-studded ceiling, and curio-laden shelves inside, the club has long served as a hangout for politicians, movie stars, and other New York power players.

It should come as no surprise then, that it’s the chosen perch of reptilian gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster, left) in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Attended by the maitre d’, Hunsecker arrives at his seat, immediately making wait staff–and dealmakers—jump:

“These drinks are warm.”
“You said you like to have them on your table,” the waiter explains.
“What are you, a critic?” Hunsecker shoots back icily.

Hunsecker then begins work on his lunch companion, sleazy but hungry talent agent, Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis, right), whose livelihood depends on his clients getting mentioned in Hunsecker’s column. While delicately sprinkling salt on a platter of raw oysters and sipping white wine, Hunsecker cuts to the chase. He wants the jazz musician who’s dating his younger sister out of the picture while keeping his own nose clean. And he wants Falco to help.

Falco assures him it’s already a done deal, but Hunsecker isn’t buying. “This syrup you’re giving out, Sidney, you pour over waffles, not J.J. Hunsecker!”

In a fit of megalomaniacal menace, Hunsecker explains he wants the musician “taken apart.” He gives Falco the name of a man to do it. And then, quite calmly, he returns to his lunch.

- Nora

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The Celluloid Pantry

Nora Maynard is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her recent work has appeared in Salon, Drunken Boat, and The Millions. She recently completed her ninth marathon and her first novel, Burnt Hill Road. Nora wrote for The Kitchn from 2006 to 2011.

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