Prizzi’s Honor

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Aug 28, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Legendary director John Huston’s penultimate film, Prizzi’s Honor, was an unusual choice for the director, who had made his name in Westerns and solidified his reputation as both a director of and an actor in gritty, thrilling action dramas and mysteries. Ostensibly a Mafia film, it borders on screwball comedy, as its cast of well-known dramatic actors offer up an irreverent and humorous look at the pitfalls of Organized Crime.

Jack Nicholson plays Charley Partanna, hired hitman for the Prizzi crime family, one he was briefly married into when he wedded Mareose Prizzi (Anjelica Huston). While at the lavish wedding of his former sister-in-law, he sees who he claims to be the most beautiful woman he’s ever met, Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner). This mysterious beauty enchants him, and when they meet briefly, his love is only solidified. But while he’s on the job for the family, taking care of someone who besmirched the family honor by stealing from them, he discovers her secret—she too is a contract killer for the family, and one who has seemingly scammed the family. Thus, the conundrum is raised: how does one develop a relationship with a woman who not only is a coldhearted killer like you, but is also someone you suspect is guilty of going against the family.  Furthermore, what happens when your crime family suspects the woman you love has wronged them, and thus needs to answer for their crime?

The answer? Well, that would give things away and rob you of the delightful experience that this film has to offer but let’s just say that it’s a recipe for screwball comedy, which it then quite exquisitely delivers in one wickedly funny way. It’s a fast-paced recipe, thanks in part to score composer Alex North’s jaunty, frenetic arrangements of Classical Italian composers Puccini and Rossini, which propels the film and works nicely to build the comedic tension—one that results in an ending that is quite shocking and unexpected, one that goes against the ending the viewer would naturally expect to see.

Along the way are some truly legendary screen names Robert Loggia, John Randolph, and Lawrence Tierney, all performing their very serious roles in a comedic manner, which only adds to the hilariousness, while it is William Hickey’s role as the decrepit, elderly Godfather-like character of Don Corrado Prizzi, who seems to be decaying in front of the camera; it’s a surprise, then, to discover that he was only 57 years old! The role would earn Hickey his sole Academy Award nomination—one of seven it did not win that year—and Prizzi’s Honor would earn Anjelica Huston her first Oscar.

Prizzi’s Honor was an unusual film—it was turned into a comedy in part because the dramatic Mafia genre had become stale and unsuccessful by the mid-1980s—from one of Hollywood’s finest directors. Yet it serves as a testament to his talents that for a film that would be a nightcap to his storied career, proving that the man still had something valid and interesting to say, and was willing to take risks at a time when he could have rested on his laurels, and those risks gave us one of the decade’s best comedies.


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