Tuesday, October 13, 2015
(June 1985, U.S.)
When I was in high school in the 1980s, I saw THE GODFATHER and THE GODFATHER-PART II for the first time just once on HBO, which is just as good as saying that I hadn't seen them at all because to see those two Coppola's masterpieces is to view them multiple time for many years and learn to experience something new each time. To see them is to see into them, and that just can't happen when you've only seen them once. That being the case, the decade of the 1980s did not leave very much to go with in order to properly and effectively experience the world of mafia gangsters in cinema. Consider the attempts that didn't exactly leave a lasting impression on cinema history - John Cassavetes' GLORIA (1980), Francis Coppola's THE COTTON CLUB (1984), Michael Cimino's YEAR OF THE DRAGON (1985) and THE SICILIAN (1987), Jonathan Demme's MARRIED TO MOB (1988). Really, if this was the best the 1980s could offer young film fans as myself, then I can only declare a tremendous thanks to Sergio Leone for giving us ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984), the only real intelligent and substantial mafia film of the 1980s, in my opinion!
So I suppose what I'm trying to say is that John Huston's PRIZZI'S HONOR is not exactly an Oscar-worthy masterpiece in my opinion, despite being nominated for best picture of 1985. Really, it's sort of like watching THE GODFATHER being played out by the cast of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND (LOL!!!)! And yet, Huston is not attempting to show the mafia as a farce. These are serious Sicilian gangsters with legitimate issues in crime and murder. At the heart of this New York crime "family" is hit man Charley Partanna (played by the ever-so-effective Jack Nicholson!). His performance, while a lot of fun to experience, is something of an homage right out of the days of Prohibition and Edward G. Robinson, so you're never quite sure of just how serious to take it. As one would expect from someone like Jack, he takes his responsibilities of crime and murder very seriously and appears to have a heart of stone in his actions. The flipside of such harsh mannerisms is that he's also capable of real love - real as he puts it and not some medical and chemical imbalance that one is supposed to be experiencing when they claim they've fallen in love. When he meets Irene Walker (played by Kathleen Turner) at a family wedding (yes, people, another mafia film that begins with a family wedding!), he's immediately smitten with her (and who wouldn't be?? There was a time when Turner was fucking hot!). Just when it seems that he may never see her again, they reunite in California and he soon confesses thereafter that he loves her. Amazingly, she seems to love him just as quickly, so go figure. As the film progresses, he learns that Irene practices the same sort of hit man (woman) profession as he does and is likely just as good at her job as he is. This doesn't dissuade him - he loves her just the same, more perhaps because they now share the same level of professional respect and honor as well as their love as man and wife (yeah, they get married!). And as one would expect from just about any mafia film, money is stolen, family is betrayed by someone close and that person has to pay, or as the the chief Don puts it, "She gotta go...and you gotta do the job." Love, being what it is, cannot triumph in the end because if Charley doesn't kill Irene first, she'll surely kill him, and it would seem that loyalty to one's "family" will always come before loyalty to a wife you've only known for a few weeks (love does suck, doesn't it!).
For whatever flaws PRIZZI'S HONOR suffers from, it's truly Jack Nicholson that is the film's mighty touchstone. This film is what I can only describe as a baroque comedy about people in life who attempt to behave in ordinary ways in rather grotesque circumstances of crime and murder, and all the while it manages to squeeze out the bizarre "juices" of everyday family weirdness that many of us are likely familiar with. It's a poke of fun at a serious institution from a film maker who made his famous mark with more classic films like THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948), KEY LARGO (1948) and THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)...all with Humphrey Bogart! Like I previously indicated, it's not exactly the best source of mafia cinema during a decade that followed two GODFATHER films and preceded Martin Scorsese's GOODFELLAS (1990) and CASINO (1995), but at least it's fun without being stupid. I suppose that'll do as a sidetrack film on the subject. If absolutely nothing else, there a very brief (but wonderful, nonetheless) shot of Kathleen Turner in a sexy nightgown with her ass showing (sorry, I couldn't find a picture of it on the web. I looked!) just before she pulls out her gun to tries and kill Charley! I can show you how she ended up, though, if you like...
That's gotta hurt!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Eduardo Prizzi (reading from Charley's letter): "Dominic put out a contract on me..."
Dominic Prizzi: "He's a fuckin' liar!"
Eduardo: "You wanna hear the letter? Then listen, don't talk. There's about a a hundred thirty million dollars here, maybe more. We gotta renegotiate before we get it back. Just shut up and listen. Go on, sit down. Go on. (continuing with the letter) "Dominic will say it's a lot of bullshit. But it so happens he hired my own wife and he gave her a down payment of fifty thousand dollars and my wife is sittin' here next to me and she's laughin' like hell. I personally think the Don found Dominic on a doorstep because Dominic is fifty times too dumb to be a Prizzi!"