Top 10 Tony Curtis Films

Even 50 years after the event, Tony Curtis could be heard reminiscing about fondling Marilyn Monroe. The 1950s Hollywood pin-up boy famously said that an amorous moment with Monroe was like kissing Hitler.

Renowned for his love affairs with Hollywood starlets, Curtis maybe remembered more for his six marriages and fathering Jamie Lee Curtis, than for his acting abilities. Ever the tease, he fuelled his own myth throughout his life, stating in a memoir released in 2009 that Monroe miscarried a child he had given her. His relationship with the blonde bombshell, something that has remained one of Hollywood’s great mysteries much like the life of Monroe herself, became the focus of his book The Making of Some Like It Hot. About their on-off love affair he said: “When I was in bed with Marilyn I was never sure – before, during or after – where her mind was. She was an actress. She could play a part. She could give the part what she thought a man wanted. I never asked for more.”

Curtis’ off-screen antics may have grabbed the headlines but after a shaky start to a career that eventually spanned eight decades and over 100 films, he deserves to be remembered for what he did in front of the camera. Adept at likeable funny-man roles in Some Like It Hot and Operation Petticoat (under the guiding hands of Billy Wilder and Blake Edwards), Curtis could also play it straight with key dramatic turns in film noir Sweet Smell of Success (which earned him an Oscar nomination), The Defiant Ones alongside Sidney Poitier, and his own personal favourite The Boston Strangler.

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Outside of film Curtis became a prominent painter commanding over £15,000 for individual works.

Curtis passed away peacefully on 29th September 2010 at his home in Nevada aged 85. Daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, paid tribute to her father, saying, “He leaves behind a legacy of great performances in movies and in his paintings.” She added: “He leaves behind children and their families who loved him and respected him and a wife and in-laws who were devoted to him. He also leaves behind fans all over the world.”

Sir Michael Parkinson, who interviewed Curtis on many occasions, said: “He was an extraordinary man. Hollywood tried to make him into a sex symbol in the 1950s and 1960s but he was his own man. He was a great chat show guest and was wonderfully indiscreet but he was very bright and did not take himself too seriously.”

Once asked what he’d like written across his gravestone, Curtis quipped: “Nobody’s perfect”. It appears a well-suited measure of his light-hearted, self-deprecating personality, and a summation of his often turbulent on-screen and off-screen career.

10. Spartacus (Kubrick, 1969)

spartacus, tony curtis,

Tony Curtis can be found among a sea of greats in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.

9. The Vikings (Fleischer, 1958)

tony curtis, the vikings

Kirk Douglas is again the star (as he was in Spartacus) but this time Curtis has equal footing as feuding brothers in 10th century Britain who want the throne and the girl.

8. Insignificance (Roeg, 1985)

insignificance, tony curtis,

Curtis manages to have a little fun with his own persona playing The Senator in Nicolas Roeg’s visual feast.

7. The Outsider

the outsider, tony curtis

Curtis gives a strong, restrained performance in Delmot Mann’s film about bravery and public fascination.

6. Sex and the Single Girl

sex and teh single girl, tony curtis, natalie wood

Curtis plays the womanising reporter in Richard Quine’s box office hit comedy. Natalie Wood, Lauren Bacall, and Henry Fonda also star.

5. Operation Petticoat

operation petticoat, tony curtis

Blake Edwards directs Tony Curtis and Cary Grant in this comedy about a World War II submarine.

4. The Boston Strangler

boston strangler, tony curtis

Curtis said many times his performance in The Boston Strangler was the finest of his career. Indeed, he delivers a fine, gritty performance as strangler Albert DeSalvo opposite Henry Fonda and George Kennedy.

3. The Defiant OnesSee also our top 10 films about race and prejudice

tony curtis, the defiant ones, sidney poitier,

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier are the escaped convicts chained together in this tale of discrimination in pre-Civil Rights Act America.

2. Sweet Smell of Success

sweet smell of success, tony curtis,

Curtis is brilliantly against type as Sidney Falco in Alexander Mackendrick’s film noir Sweet Smell of Success.

1. Some Like It Hot

tony curtis, jack lemmon, some like it hot,

Tony Curtis’ most memorable role has to be as cross-dressing Joe (and Josephine) opposite the brilliant Jack Lemmon and the alluring, almost mythical presence of Marilyn Monroe. One of the best comedies ever made.

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Of all these films, I have only seen three. Some Like It Hot, Spartacus and The Defiant Ones. Having read this list, it seems I have some catching up to do. A truly great actor, legendary in his own time, and he will be missed.

  2. Avatar
    rfd1 Reply

    Great actor and personality.

    As to the descrpition of “Some Like It Hot”, you do him a dis-service. The reason he got into acting, so he’s said, was because of Cary Grant. And, eventually, he got to play Cary Grant as a character in that film, a stunning, ironic achievement and magnificent performance, one not to be missed.

    And, of course, “Operation Petticoat” – incredible, and, again, a smattering of Cary Grant-ish take-offs too. Grant’s war movies were also inspiring to Curtis and he got to play opposite him in their very own war movie, though a, GREAT, HILARIOUS, comedy. A shame that there was never a “behind the scenes TV show, book written or a fan mag that chronicled that adventure – it must have been CLASSIC!

    Glad there’s film to enjoy forever.

  3. Avatar
    rory dean Reply

    Great List, Dan. He had such a tremendous career, unimaginable highs and terrible lows – such is life though, no? I can really relate to the demons that settled in after his star began to wane and he took to drinking and drugs – very warm, often comfortable blankets that are entirely too easy to get used to, especially having a certain amount of money to make said blankets and accompaniments so much nice.

    As rfd1 noted, Operation Petticoat was one I had forgotten about – and agree, glad we have a wonderful repertoire of films, book, his paintings and the stories of those closest to him to remember him by.

  4. Avatar
    rtm Reply

    Wow, top ten list! Don’t hate me but I have only seen one in this list, Spartacus, and I actually loathe that film.

  5. Avatar
    Ross McG Reply

    man, i love The Vikings. great film. Up there with Spartacus, which is saying something. Spartacus is such a bizarre, brilliant and very sexual film – it’s risqué even by today’s standards i reckon. i enjoy Sweet Smell of Success, but it leaves me a little cold. Not as good as The Sweet Smell of My Succe$s, with micky j fox, which just happens to be your other top ten, Dan. That Boston Strangler seems worth a look. Im sorry, but i dont find men dressing up as ladies very funny.

  6. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Only seen this once, and it was over 30 years ago on TV (and therefore cut), but I remember Curtis was pretty good in Lepke when he played the gangster Louis Lepke. Offbeat and under-played last meal-execution scene.

  7. Avatar
    Hmwa Reply

    Here’s the quote being attribute to Tony (over at JMG—I amusse it’s from a memoir):I was 22 when I arrived in Hollywood in 1948. I had more action than Mount Vesuvius – men, women, animals! I loved it too. I participated where I wanted to and didn’t where I didn’t. I’ve always been open about it….yet at the same time, when Brokeback Mountain came out, he apparently found “seeing two men on screen” distasteful, and chose not see it.Complicated—like human beings so often are!

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