Success starved publicity agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) can't do his job when he's routinely ignored by egomaniacal Broadway columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Falco can buy Hunsecker's attention by executing a special favor - dissolve the romance between Hunsecker's beloved kid sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and her lover, hip jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Hard up for his invaluable services, sycophant Falco deceives lesser press agents until he lands a sensational piece identifying Dallas as a reefer-crazed communist. The stunt does nothing to improve Falco's status but it does lead to a showdown between Dallas and Hunsecker with a lose-lose ultimatum for Susan. In a dirty dog-eat-dog realm, karma returns for the weak-and no one's a winner in a city without pity.