Prizzi’s Honor (1985) Directed by John Huston. With Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, William Hickey, Robert Loggia, Anjelica Huston and John Randolph.
I’m rubbish at cryptic crossword puzzles. A mere glance at one of the clues hurts my tiny brain. A not dissimilar feeling descended upon me during the first hour of John Huston’s gangster ‘comedy’ Prizzi’s Honor. I’ve read one reviewer , presumably far more plugged-in than I, refer to it as a “baroque comedy”, which I presume to mean is that it’s a period comedy. Is that just another way of saying it isn’t funny? I’m still confused.
Clearly I am in the minority. In 1986, it was decorated with Oscar nominations in most of the major categories. Indeed, Anjelica Huston took home the gong for ‘Best Supporting Actress’, despite having very little in the way of actual screen time. Apart from myself, this is a film that most people seem not only understand, but also possess a great degree of love for.
It’s not that I don’t follow the basic premise. The story is a very simple one of boy (Jack Nicholson) meets girl (Kathleen Turner). The twist being, he’s a mobster and she’s an assassin. I think that’s the central ‘gag’. What puzzles me, is that tonally, I’m not sure if John Huston made the film he wanted to make. If I’m rating it as a ‘black comedy’, then how can I recommend a film that didn’t make me laugh once? Not even a smile. Not even an internal smile.
I suspect John Huston was trying to subvert the ‘Godfather’ tradition of great gangster movies, but all I could think of was how much better an experience those films were. Am I supposed to be comparing them though? Maybe this is all an elaborate tribute to Coppola and not a comedy at all? Who knows. Clarity of thought, of motive even, is hard to come by. Perhaps I wouldn’t be searching so hard, had the film not been met with such widespread critical acclaim.
It doesn’t help that it’s an absolute snooze for the first 20-odd minutes. It begins at a snails pace, with all the pomp and ceremony of a traditional wedding. Introducing a gangster comedy with a wedding is presumably an ironic, knowing tip-of-the-cap, that’ll have us gleefully smiling inside. Zzz. We meet Jack Nicholson with a thick Brooklyn accent. He pronounces ‘work’ as ‘woik’, ‘first’ as ‘foist’. You get the general idea. Then, he meets Kathleen Turner and stuff ensues. Try to stay awake at the back.
After the hour mark, I’d made my mind up that it wasn’t a comedy at all, and that I’d just watch it as a straight-up mob picture. At least that way I could stop doing my own head in. It didn’t improve the experience much, but I hung in there to the bitter end. All 130 painstaking minutes of it. It doesn’t help that Nicholson and Turner fail to conjure much chemistry between them. Perhaps the best presence in the film is the ‘Don’ of the piece, William Hickey. His portrayal is at least colourful enough to define. You might be able to tell that I didn’t enjoy Prizzi’s Honor. Unlike the film, I have have at least tried to make myself clear. 2/5