In Alexander Mackendricks 1957 classic, Sweet Smell of Success, the character of J. J. Hunsecker is extremely powerful, respected and lonely. This is also true of the character Jerry Langford in Scorsese’s 1983 film, The King of Comedy. Both character’s share positions of supremacy and therefore can be easily contrasted with reference to their similarities and differences. J. J. is the most powerful newspaper columnist in New York, thus yielding authority with his command over the press. Jerry is a famous talk show host and comedian (i. e. “The King of Comedy’) and therefore his power lies ithin the control over the entertainment business.
How is this sense of power similar between characters? Both characters have the ability to make or break someone in their respective fields. For example in Sweet Smell of Success, J. J. has the ability to help press agent, Sidney Falco, by his control over The New York Globe and what gets published. J. J. then uses this leverage to his advantage by employing Sidney for his own devices. Similarly, in The King of Comedy, Jerry has the authority to make Rupert Pupkin a successful comedian by allowing him to perform on his show. Jerry denies this of Rupert until the stakes are high and it’s a matter of life or death.
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At this time Jerry uses his power to save his own life. Although these men are both in similar hierarchal positions, they are viewed differently by the public and those around them. Both men are respected, however this is shown differently. With J. J. the respect of others stems solely from fear. People are afraid of a king who is manipulative, corrupt and known to play dirty. Thus, he is respected because he demands it. For example when J. J. says; “Sidney, this syrup your giving out with… you pour over waffles, not J. J. Hunsecker”, this shows Sidney that J. J. s not to be messed with and that he will not except any nonsense from those around him. J. J. has also fashioned this ‘only speak when spoken to’ kind of environment, which demands reverence in it’s own right. On other end of the spectrum, Jerry is respected out of admiration by the public and those around him. He is a comedian and a friendly personality therefore people love him. This is shown in the film when he is walking down the street and fans approach him to shake his hand. He is still esteemed as the king of New York, however this is on a more ersonal level than J. J. because people do not fear him.
Both characters share the glories of wealth, power, fame but also loneliness. J. J. is surrounded by people, however they are solely acquaintances rather than friends. From the scenes at his apartment we see that J. J. is truly alone. The only person he seems to care for is his younger sister. It seems as though his desire for power and wealth has destroyed all friendships or any shot at love. This is true of Jerry as well. When we see his mansion in the Hamptons, he is the only one there besides the hired help. The table is set for ne, hinting to the audience that he has no wife or girlfriend.
Therefore both of these characters show Just how lonely it truly is at the top. The characters of J. J. and Jerry have been compared and contrasted with reference to their power, respect and loneliness. These men share the power to manipulate those around them for their own needs. They are both respected but this stems from different places for these characters; one is from fear and the other is from admiration. Finally, although both men have made it to the top of their industry it seems as though they have lost all companionships along the way.