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With: Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, Robert Loggia, John Randolph, William Hickey, Lee Richardson, Michael Lombard, Anjelica Huston, George Santopietro, Lawrence Tierney, CCH Pounder, Ann Selepegno, Vic Polizos, Dick O'Neill, Sully Boyar
Written by: Richard Condon, Janet Roach, based on a novel by Richard Condon
Directed by: John Huston
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 130
Date: 06/13/1985

Prizzi's Honor (1985)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Ice Her or Marry Her?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As far as I remember, Prizzi's Honor never played at my local small town theater in the summer of 1985, but after Siskel & Ebert raved about it on their TV show, I bought a VHS copy later in the year. I loved it instantly and watched it many times. By the end of the year, Siskel and Ebert and many others ranked it as one of the ten best films of the year, and it received eight Oscar nominations. Now, in 2017, Kino/Lorber has released it on Blu-ray, and I realized that I had never seen it in any other format besides that old, muddy, panned-and-scanned tape.

Looking at it again, it made me happy. I loved the funny "airplane" transitions, and the sublime subtleties of Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner's comic performances. I loved the supporting performances, especially William Hickey's gnarled, rasping mafia boss (he received an Oscar nomination) and Anjelica Huston's wounded, manipulative Maerose (she won an Oscar). I think it's just about a great movie, and certainly one of director John Huston's best, if not his very best. It has a complex plot, it's not an especially good-looking film (it relies on lots of close-ups and medium shots), and it's a bit long for a comedy (130 minutes). Additionally, the picture on the Blu-ray doesn't appear to have been remastered in any way; it's soft, and not far off from that old VHS. But those things aside, it's wildly smart and subversively funny.

Nicholson plays Charley Partanna, a professional mafia hitman, who attends a wedding and falls for a lavender-wearing mystery woman there, Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner). He discovers that she, too, is a hired killer, but decides to go ahead with his romance and marries her. Many twists later, they find themselves on opposite sides of their guns. Despite the plot, the movie consists of so many wonderful, almost self-contained sequences that it's possible to give up and still enjoy it all. In one, Irene offers some surprising advice on how to kidnap a banker. ("I didn't get married so's my wife could go on working," Charley drawls.)

Part of the movie's power comes from its great cast, from the aforementioned Hickey and Anjelica Huston, to the unsung John Randolph as Charley's "Pop," warm-hearted, but also businesslike. Robert Loggia adds some crackle to his scenes, and Lawrence Tierney brings his blocky presence to a crooked police lieutenant, who, after the accidental killing of a cop's wife, will no longer accept the Prizzi's graft money; he claims it's a matter of "honor." They say Stanley Tucci makes his screen debut here, but I was unable to spot him this time.

Of the movie's Oscar nominations, Huston received his fifth for Best Director (he won for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and to this day remains the oldest nominee in the history of that category. (Incidentally, Huston racked up a total of 15 nominations over his lifetime, including writing and producing awards.) Nicholson received his eighth acting nomination (he currently has 12); one of his earlier nominations was for Chinatown, in which he appeared with Huston. This was the only time Nicholson acted with Huston directing.

Otherwise, Prizzi's Honor was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (taken from Richard Condon's novel), Best Costume Design, and Best Editing. Weirdly, out of all of this, Kathleen Turner was overlooked, as she was for most of her great 1980s work; she only received one career nomination, for Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married. She was easily among the best actors of that decade, so the lack of recognition is confounding, but perhaps people will discover her talent now, on Kino Lorber's Blu-ray. It includes a commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, as well as a selection of trailers.

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