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Huston’s Entertaining Mafia Parody
on 3 February 2015
This 1985 black comedy of New York mafia goings-on was something of a 'family affair’ (in my book, always something to be slightly wary of) – it being directed by John Huston (based on co-screenwriter Richard Condon’s novel) and starring the director’s daughter Angelica and her erstwhile partner Jack Nicholson as an estranged couple. Of course, all three have done much great work in their careers, and certainly anything with Nicholson in it is always worth seeing, but I must admit (on watching the film again) I was slightly surprised to see how many Oscar nominations it garnered (a reflection of the often mediocre 1980s Hollywood output) – albeit Ms Huston, in a rather underused role here, was fully deserving of her Best Supporting Actress win.
It’s also a (relatively) long film – at over two hours’ duration – and is (for me, at least) a very slow starter, as Nicholson’s hit man, Charley Partanna, (rather unconvincingly) falls for Kathleen Turner’s 'tax consultant’, Irene Walker, and a 'whirlwind romance’ ensues. Essentially a mix of romance, comedy and 'serious’ character drama, Huston’s film does the first much less convincingly (or compellingly) than the latter two. Of course, once we realise that Irene is also a contract killer, then the laughs ratchet up a notch and, as we enter the murky 'Godfather-like’ underworld of Charley’s extended family, the film’s themes of loyalty and honour (OK, honor) begin to grip. Thereafter, Huston’s film becomes an entertaining (highly) plot-driven character drama (with an increasing number of killer lines) and a case of 'who’s double-crossing who?’. Nicholson is good in this comedic, 'dumb gangster’ role (though his persona here is a little too mannered for me) and Turner and (particularly) Huston, as the 'jilted lover’ out for revenge, both impressive, but it is the supporting cast who really deliver the acting goods. The unscrupulous, ruthless, but 'family-oriented’, criminal world is exemplified by the Oscar-nominated William Hickey, superb as the family’s Mr Big, Don Corrado Prizzi, and his right-hand men, John Randolph’s (father to Charley), Angelo, and Lee Richardson’s Dominic Prizzi.
For me, Huston’s film is certainly not a classic and has a rather underwhelming and (seemingly) rushed ending, but for its intriguing plotting and host of outstanding character acting turns is worth seeing.