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In Sweet Smell of Success (1957), press agent Sidney assures the unimpressed Evans that he will provide Temple with proper publicity build for his performance:

Temple: Al makes all the deals, doc. I can't —

Sidney: I don't like a fella that's quick with his hands. You know, Temple, you've been three passes behind for the last 20 years.

What does "quick with his hands" mean?

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  • Metaphor: dextrous in business dealings. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 10:13

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The first meaning is the literal "deft, agile" in the domain of handiwork, whether it's dealing cards or dribbling a basketball or turning a Rubik's cube.

But the secondary meaning, and the one surely intended here, is that such a person is capable of sleight of hand — think of a shyster running a shell game. Their quickness means they can get away with a bit of cheating or deception or misdirection. If they shuffle a figurative deck of cards, you don't know whether they slipped in a joker or strategically placed the ace.

Without context, I read the rest of Sidney's line as suggesting that Al has been cheating Temple in exactly this way throughout the 20 years that he's been "making all the deals".

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