Prizzi’s Honor (1985): One of Huston’s Best Films, Starring Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston in Oscar Winning Performance

One of John Huston’s very last films, “Prizzi’s Honor” is a black comedy about the Mafia that might have paved the way to the public’s acceptance of TV shows like “The Sopranos.”

Jack Nicholson plays Charley Partanna, an aging, not too bright dopey hit man, who works for a powerful New York crime family. When the story begins, he spots the Waspish Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner) at a wedding and loses his heartand mind. She claims to be a tax consultant from Los Angeles, and in the next couple of episodes, we see the couple flying from East to West Coast and back.

The romance and eventual marriage are not as interesting as the darkly humorous and cynical sequences about the “everyday” life of the Mafia, how they live, eat, socialize, and punish their errant members, like Maerose (played by Huston’s daughter and Nicholson’s girlfriend at the time, Anjelica Huston), who was sent into exile in Brooklyn.

Though nominated for Best Actor Oscar, Nicholson can’t find the right tone for his role, and his performance also suffers from lack of chemistry with Kathleen Turner, particularly after they get married and Charlie discovers that Irene his really a hit woman for the mob.

Things get worse, when Charlie discovers that Irene has cheated his own family, the Prizzis, out of a huge lump of money, which raises the issues of loyalty and commitment. Before long, it’s clear that the husband and wife are after each other, and one of them has to go. (The same premise was used in the 2005 black action-comedy “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie).

The bleak ending, particularly for a movie billed as a comedy, fits into the general view that Huston has shown in his earlier crime-noir films, such as “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and “The Asphalt Jungle,” but it was still shocking to audiences of the 1980s.

The best performance in the movie is given by Anjelica Huston, who swept all the critics awards and won a Supporting Actress Oscar for a role that put her on the map of leading ladies of the late 1980s. William Hickey, a New York Method actor, is also good, playing a don who’s much older than his real age, and whose line, “Have another cookie,” become the funniest and scariest line in the picture.

Oscar nominations: 8

Picture, produced by John Foreman
Director: John Huston
Screenplay (Adapted): Richard Condon and Janet Roach
Actor: Jack Nicholson
Supporting Actor: William Hickey
Supporting Actress: Anjelica Huston
Film Editing: Rudi Fehr and Kaja Fehr
Costume Design: Donfeld

Oscar Awards: 1

Supporting Actress

Oscar Context

The most nominated films in 1985 were “Out of Africa” and “The Color Purple, each with 11 nods. “Out of Africa” swept most of the Oscars, including Best Picture and Director for Sydney Pollack. The other two Best Picture nominees were “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” with four, and “Witness,” which like “Prizzi’s Honor,” was nominated in eight categories.

Of the five nominees, “Prizzi’s Honor” and “Color Purple” boasted the largest number of acting nominees, each three. The most commercially successful of the five, “Color Purple,” emerged as the biggest loser that year, failing to receive a single award.

In 1985, the Best Actor winner was William Hurt as the flamboyant hairdresser in “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and vet Don Ameche received the Supporting Actor Oscar for Ron Howard’s comedy “Cocoon.”

Cast

Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson)
Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner)
Maerose Prizzi (Anjelica Huston)
Eduardo Prizzi (Robert Loggia)
Angelo “Pop” Partanna (John Randolph)
Don Corrado Prizzi (William Hickey)
Dominic Prizzi (Lee Richardson)
Filargi “Finlay” (Michael Lombard)
Plumber (George Santopietro)
Ly. Hanley (Lawrence Tierney)

ABC (Motion Pictures Production)