Anjelica Huston in Prizzi's Honor (1985) - Supporting Actress Sundays

Supporting Actress Sundays return this week with one of those movies that StinkyLulu’s just never gotten around to watching. See, when it came out, StinkyLulu sorta totally hated Kathleen Turner. Then, by the mid90s when StinkyLu started to really like LaTurner, a visceral loathing for Jack Nicholson had started to kick in. Thankfully, there’s a third scenery chewer in the mix to finally bring StinkyLulu’s attention to this strange little movie...

approximately 20 minutes and 25 seconds
13 scenes
roughly 16% of film's total running time

Prizzi's Honor is a big colorful pile of 80s craziness. On the one hand, it's ostensibly a caper comedy about two mob "hitters" (Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner) falling in impossible love. On the other, it's an aging auteur's (John Huston's) distinctive take on the genre of gangster pics. The result emerges as a kaleidoscope of high comedy, high drama and high camp -- an occasionally adept, often entertaining but ultimately erratic exercise. It's as though the movie is tone deaf, the components never quite matching pitch. This hodgepodge aesthetic is perhaps most conspicuous in the movies casting: persona performers (Nicholson, Turner) mix with theatre actors (the cadaverous William Hickey in an unsettling turn as the mob boss) and stock mob players (Robert Loggia). (Could someone please just explain CCH Pounder's cameo as Peaches, the pothead maid?)

And smack at the center of this madcap melange stands the seemingly indomitable Anjelica Huston, as the devastatingly wronged Maerose. Arriving to her baby sister's massive wedding in a sleek black gown accented with a trapezoidal pink blazer and flying saucer hat, Huston's Maerose seems a misplaced figurine, a statue too tall for the room. An elderly female relative observes, "Maerose! Always making a show of yourself," Huston's Maerose replies: "I'm the family scandal. I don' wan' disappoint." In this opening scene, Huston's at her best and most honest, as she encounters the depths of her humiliating estrangement from her family.

Beginning in these early scenes, Anjelica Huston just radiates an uncommon screen presence. Her features -- at once aquiline and crooked -- are distinctly suited to the demands of an attentive camera. And as Maerose, Huston channels this uncommon presence and beauty to redeem the character. Prizzi's Honor, like most capers, is packed with characters who think they're in charge of the game being played. Huston's apparent miscasting (how could someone so formidable be so defeated?) ends up working in her -- and the audience's favor -- as only the audience sees Maerose "spoil" everyone’s game. Huston's Maerose stealthily flies below the radar until she sees and seizes her window and becomes a formidable player. Huston's curious screen charisma makes Maerose -- a reworking of the mistreated/rebellious crime daughter --a treat to watch. (Imagine Connie with actual independence, galvanizing fury and a dash of actual integrity...)

But it's truly the actress's facility with language that StinkyLulu loves most about Huston's Maerose. (Click either/both images above for examples.) Huston is that rare sort of screen actor who lets the language direct her performance. The accent is spotty. The characterization is erratic. But Huston's respect for and facility with the language is brilliant. In her mouth, lines like "Yeah, right here, on the Oriental, w'all the lights on" and "How can I feel worse than I usedta feel before last night" resound as poetry. Where Nicholson and Turner filter the language through their patented idiosyncrasies, the best supporting players (Huston and the freakish Hickey) elevate the whole enterprise with an exhilarating theatricality.

Huston's Maerose may not be a great performance, but she sure is a hoot.


JS said...

I've been waiting for this for a long time. Thank you!

newland said...

How can you say it's not a great performance? She totally steals the show from everyone else, and even if you totally forget the plot (I have) or the rest of the performances (ditto), you still vividly remember Huston's Maerose Prizzi. She'd totally get my vote over her competition that year.

StinkyLulu said...

I agree, newland.

She's great. But -- as a characterization -- it's really erratic. Like the film...