Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Prizzi's Honor (1985)


By Eric Jessen 8/4/09

Prizzi's Honor is a warm, funny Mafia contractor's lullaby and a smooth, creamy portrait, washed in watercolor, with hits and kidnappings, and a switchblade or silenced pistol under our pillow never reaching a fever pitch but instead lulling us into sweet dreams. Prizzi's Honor is a nice tune, a pretty picture, a farcical satire, but above all a wonderful love story.
Our two love birds are Jack Nicholson as Charley Partanna, the regular guy turned Brooklyn mob boss who takes names so he can mail every busboy and photographer he encounters a ten dollar bill, and Kathleen Turner as Irene Walker, the femme fatale assassin. They first spot each other at a wedding which was scheduled as Mafia alibi for a murder. Charley and Irene share a dance and then Irene suddenly vanishes. Charley finds her in Los Angeles, tells her “I love you,” looking just dumb enough to mean it, and then sleeps with her. They seem a match made in heaven. Eventually they get married and decide to work together in Charley's new assignment: kidnapping a swindling bank executive.
The abduction is a hilarious and skillfully crafted. Irene, hidden behind a corner, looking suave holding her magnum gently against a plastic baby, throws the doll in the air, expecting the bank executive to lunge for it, instead it falls to the floor. An innocent woman unexpectedly arrives on an elevator. Irene promptly shoots her between the eyes with cold blooded efficiency as Charlie knocks out the target. Irene and Charley, dragging the unconscious man, feel closer then ever.
Later Irene and Charley find out the innocent bystander was a police commissioner's wife. The police decide as a point of moral principal to quit taking kick backs, bribes, and quit turning a blind eye to illegal betting, pimps and prostitutes until the Mafia give up the shooter. Charley and Irene are filled with paranoia, greed, and a killer's mentality but they always stay connected.
Jack Nicholson is great as Charley Partanna (though I found his mob goon impression, scrunched face, puckered lip “uh” talking annoying). Kathleen Turner is absolutely fantastic. She is the first actress, or co-star to truly match Nicholson's screen hogging. In fact at times she is a more intriguing, dominant presence. They are spectacular together. Charley seems gullible, but also an efficient, level headed criminal and Irene has a scheming smile, lying eyes but appearing desperate enough to leave Charley (and the audience) always uncertain.
Prizzi's Honor is a movie with a great attention to detail. John Huston is the ultimate professional for the job, showing little signs of age. His direction has calm patience, never descending into cheap gangster movie clich├ęs, keeping a consistent lush, alluring vein. It progresses swaying with whimsy, quiet, but with a charming black comic sarcasm in portraying the mafia (watch for the anti Brando “Don” played by William Hickey, old and confused). And most of all Prizzi's Honor is the perfect assassin's love story, ending as it should (minus the final minute) with the two killers staring tenderly into each others eyes as they hurl their final collective bullets and daggers.

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