Thursday 1 February 2007

Prizzi's Honor (1985) John Huston

At a Mafia wedding so prominent that half the seated guests are mafioso and the other half are cops, Charley Partanna falls in love with a guest he's never seen before, Irene Walker. He's a middle aged hitman who isn't that bright, as played by Jack Nicholson who is as hesitant and unsure about things here as he is dynamically dominant in things like The Witches of Eastwick or Batman only a few years later. Irene falls for him back and they embark on a lively love affair. What's surprising is that she turns out to be a hitman too, or a hitwoman or whatever female hitmen should be called. She's Irene Walker, played by Kathleen Turner.

They don't know this to start with but it doesn't take long to turn up. Partanna kills Marxie Heller, who has been scamming the Prizzis, and quickly discovers that Marxie's wife is none other than his new love. Somehow they get past that one and hop off down to Mexico to get married themselves. Not long after that it gets pretty confusing because Irene gets hired to hit Charley. They also pull a job together but accidentally take out a police chief's wife in the process, bringing no shortage of unwelcome attention down on the mob.

It's a good story and it's told well. John Huston never lost his powers, even though he only had one more film left to come. I know there are lesser movies in there, but I haven't watched them yet. He directs well but scores the film magnificently. It's full of Italian music, both classical and popular, sometimes hiding in the background and sometimes dominating the foreground, always appropriate. However I had a lot of problems with the acting, however highly regarded it was.

Kathleen Turner is superb. This is early in her career, which still seems way too short at thirty films including voice work, but she was really reaching her true powers and her most beautiful. She works well opposite Jack Nicholson, though not as well as she would soon begin to opposite Michael Douglas. Partanna's father is played by John Randolph who I also thought was absolutely superb. However neither of them, nor other solid actors like Lawrence Tierney, Robert Loggia and Lee Richardson, were Oscar nominated for their work, unlike Nicholson, William Hickey and the director's daughter, Anjelica Huston, who won.

Huston is solid, as Partanna's bitch of a former wife, but it took some effort not to laugh at her accent quite a few times. She's tough as nails at points and sensual at others, not easy given her hard looks. Nicholson I thought chewed up every bit of scenery he could find and overacted to a scary degree. I'm amazed that he was nominated for this role, especially given so many that were more than worthy. And then there's William Hickey. He's the don, the old and very white man in charge, and just like Marlon Brando's turn as Don Corleone in The Godfather, I thought he was truly awful for quite a while but his performance grew on me more and more as the film rolled on. By the last third I was seriously impressed.

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