' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Prizzi's Honor

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday's Old Fashioned: Prizzi's Honor

The second to last film of the epic Hollywood maverick John Huston was based on a novel by Richard Condon and set in the world of the Brooklyn mafia but, when you really stop and consider it, was "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" 20 years before "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" - just with blacker humor and much more poignancy. But it's also a reminder of just how formidable an actor Jack Nicholson was back before he became "Jack", the guy who mugs on camera as slight variations of his sunglasses-all-the-time, courtside-Lakers-seat persona.

The film opens at a wedding of the uber-powerful Prizzi family, governed by Don Corrado (William Hickey, an amazingly strange, affecting, and understatedly frightening performance), "Ave Maria" wonderfully coloring it in, and eventually the camera will find our protagonist, Charley Partanna (Nicholson), who will eventually see a Polish vixen, Irene (Kathleen Turner), in the upper balcony, angelical, and seek her out at the reception where they dance and he provides his name and she is about to provide her name until she is summoned for a phone call. Charley, however, does not find her at the phone when he goes looking and comes to learn she has returned to L.A. and so he flies out (the jet going west and then east and then west and then east, throughout, is a subtle, slow-burning sight gag) and professes his love and she professes hers and then he decide to get married and wow, you think, this movie is 40 minutes in and this is all that's happened and yet it feels like so much has happened.

More plot kicks in. Someone was offed during the wedding which was cleverly employed as an alibi for any and all affiliated with the Prizzi family. Hmmmmm. So who did the offing? Turns out it was...Irene. She's a hit-woman, a hit-woman who also happens to be involved in a scheme of scamming money from a Vegas casino run by the Prizzis and so when Charley is sent back to west who "take out" the scammers he finds himself face to face with Irene at her home with her husband she had told Charley was just missing in whom Charlie has just planted a couple slugs.

But, dang-nabbit, Charley can't bring himself to rub her out. He can't! And he can't because he loves her. So he spins a few fibs to the Don, marries Irene, which angers Maerose (Anjelica Huston, in a performance deserving of the Oscar it won), shunned by her father, who wants to be the woman who brings Charley into the family he may be destined to one day run, and, before long, Charley finds himself involved in a hit in which Irene involves herself in which Irene ends up popping a cap in a police captain's wife (wrong place, wrong time) which turns the police against the Prizzis which means the Prizzis might have to give up Irene to the police. But will Charley let this happen?

Filmed in his classical, un-ornamental style (consider the way in which the hit of Irene's husband is framed - a set shot outside the garage where it takes place), Huston pits the Blood Oath against the Wedding Vow. Which supersedes which? That's the question.

And Nicholson makes that choice worthwhile. Taking on a Brooklyn accent he creates a character who comes across vaguely dim in his mannerisms but is strikingly effective at what he does - at least, until love enters the fold, at which he begins asking himself questions for which his superiors will provide answers. Sometimes knowing where you belong is really quite depressing.


Andrew K. said...

I like this movie a whole lot, but oddly Jack is the weak link in it. I remember Jose, Luke and I were doing this Actor discussion on the 1985 race and it's like Jack is such a smart guy, he seems to have palpable issues committing to playing the dumb role and eschewing all his smartness inherent in himself. Still, even if it's not top tier Jack it's still good acting and the film is quite good (and Kathleen Turner is excellent, as is the general cast.)

Nick Prigge said...

Interesting. I don't know, I kinda liked Jack here. I thought he played dumb but I also thought he couldn't play TOO dumb because then it's not believable that he would have earned such an impressive spot in the Prizzi Hierarchy. Don't you think? Maybe?

Or maybe I've just been so unsatisfied with more recent Jack As Jack performances that this one seemed refreshing.