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Cinemalphabet: P is for Prizzi’s Honor (1985)

June 10, 2011

Prior watching Prizzi’s Honor, I had limited exposure to the black comedy genre. After all, I was around 13 when I first saw the film and had dutiful parents who hadn’t yet explained the concept of schadenfreude, despite the fact we lived in Germany at the time. I thought “black comedy” meant films where black people said and did funny things as observed in Richard Pryor films and his records, which I listened to when my parents weren’t around. So despite liking Prizzi’s Honor when I first saw it, I’m pretty sure I found it funny because it felt like a version of the Godfather saga I could laugh at without worrying La Mommie would think I was too immature to fully appreciate its sophisticated storytelling.

Prizzi’s Honor stars Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner at the apotheosis of their 80s fame as likable, lethal hitmen who navigate the thorny waters of their romantic, familial and professional obligations. Thanks to The Sopranos, Analyze This/That and even the third Godfather film (albeit unintentional) the idea of sharply drawn glimpse into the world of organized crime – peppered with brilliant comedic touches – seems downright quaint. But make no mistake, in its day nothing could touch Prizzi’s Honor.

Legendary director John Huston, still smarting from the critical beatdown received by Annie, brings an old fashioned sense of propriety to the film, which could have easily descended into a craptastic, cringe-inducing mashup of tropes, canned jokes and offensive stereotypes in the hands of a lesser director. Huston’s surprisingly buoyant direction, coupled with a sharp script and stand out performances are what make Prizzi’s Honor irresistible in my book.

    There is instant, electrifying chemistry between the two of them, and the odd thing is, it seems halfway plausible. They’re opposites, but they attract. Nicholson plays his hood as a tough Brooklynite; he uses a stiff upper lip, like Bogart, and sounds simple and implacable. Turner, who is flowering as a wonderful comic actress, plays her Mafia killer like a bright, cheery hostess. She could be selling cosmetics.

(via Roger Ebert)

Kathleen Turner and Jack Nicholson have chemistry for days and yet the film doesn’t overwhelm the audience with their larger than life off screen personas. In fact, despite yielding brilliant performances neither actor resorts to hamminess or screen hoggery. Nicholson is subtle and amusing, while still allowing some of his trademark Jackness to permeate each scene. Tuner, on the other hand, eschews the suffocating sultriness that had become a signature of her 80s oeuvre.

That said, Anjelica Huston owes Prizzi’s Honor. Her performance is as the bitterlicious, jilted ex of Nicholson’s character who like the Energizer Bunny, simply will not stop. Much has been made of Huston’s relationship with Nicholson at the time and the fact the director was her father, but this no Tori Spelling situation. Anjelica Huston’s performance is worthy of every award and morsel of glowing praise it received. While the other leads received well deserved acting nods, Anjelica Huston was the only one I felt deserved to walk away with the Oscar (which she did).

Ha! I forgot Oprah was nominated in the same category that year. Also, I see you, Ed Harris!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. IrishUp permalink
    June 10, 2011 11:19 am

    OMG Yes! One of my favorite book adaptations, too.
    I also adored William Hickey in this (as in everything!), and we all still say
    “She gotta gooooooooo, Charlie” when some isht needs to end.

    Kathleen Turner was perfect in this role, which I felt she drew heavily on for “Serial Mom”.

    But Angelica steals the whole thing, no doubt.

  2. June 10, 2011 6:04 pm

    Kathleen Turner was perfect in this role, which I felt she drew heavily on for “Serial Mom”.

    I’m pretty sure Prizzi’s is what made me eventually love Serial Mom. I didn’t realize it was a book. Now I want to read it. I love when you stop by. You always have good trivia!!! 😉

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