Prizzi's Honour

John Huston
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Richard Condon, Janet Roach
Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, Robert Loggia
Screening Date:
  • 7 Mar 2023
  • Categories:
    Comedy, Crime, Drama

    Kathleen Turner and Jack Nicholson (at the top of their game) play two professional assassins who fall in love. Is this the funniest mobster movie ever?

    What's this?
    F-Rated Silver

    Film Notes


    You`re going to be hearing Jack Nicholson`s new film ''Prizzi`s Honor'' described as a comedy, and that may set you up for a disappointment. Yes, the film has its comic moments. My favorite occurs when Nicholson`s Italian mobster character advises an old girlfriend to settle down, get married and ''work on your meatballs.''

    But the special charm of ''Prizzi`s Honor''--and it is a charmer--is not to be found in broad laughs. Rather, it grows out of the mixture of whimsy and heartbreak concocted by master director John Huston, 78, the author of such all-time movie classics as ''The Maltese Falcon,'' ''The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'' and ''The African Queen.''

    So when you walk into ''Prizzi`s Honor,'' be on the lookout for how this story is told, how it has a serious subtext to its seemingly preposterous goings-on. It doesn`t have a conventional laugh-a-minute, but it does contain one delicious theatrical moment a minute.

    The story couldn`t be more complicated, but it, too, is worthy of following. Nicholson plays Charley Partanna, an effective but dimwitted enforcer for a third-generation Brooklyn mob family, the Prizzi family, controlled by a cranky old old don (acting coach William Hickey in an Oscar-nomination-worthy performance).

    Charley finds himself in the middle of two fiery women, one a Prizzi daughter (Anjelica Huston) he spurned years ago and the other a professional hit-woman (Kathleen Turner), who turns him on like no other woman he ever has met. Meanwhile, the don and his lieutenants, who include Charley`s father, want Charley to restore the family honor by recovering $700,000 stolen from the family`s Las Vegas casino.

    The special tone that director Huston achieves is a matter-of-factness about the work that the Prizzis and Charley and the hit-woman do every day. They all pretty much punch the clock. And sometimes they shoot the clock. And yet Huston does not play any of the human relationships in the film for laughs. Their physical actions and dialogue may be funny, but Charley`s relationship with each woman is as serious as Huston and his actors can make it.

    And what actors he has chosen. Nicholson, of course, is as attractive an actor as is working today. He plays Charley with a thick upper lip that doesn`t move and a Brooklyn accent that, to me at least, doesn`t work. It`s the film`s only flaw. Nicholson doesn`t do accents very well (see also ''The Fortune'' and ''Goin` South''), and the dialect here is an unnecessary encumbrance. He played a similarly slow-witted character, a lifer sailor, in ''The Last Detail'' without an accent, and it`s one of his finest, most convincing performances.

    That aside, however, Nicholson is eminently watchable, as is Kathleen Turner as his literal femme fatale. Turner, with this film, ''Body Heat,''

    ''Crimes of Passion'' and ''Romancing the Stone,'' now can step to the head of her acting class. She has yet to be less than lusty without being cartoonish, and the guess here is that she is carrying more than half the load in fleshing out her various characters. She plays them all brighter than we expect.

    A most pleasant surprise is the performance of Anjelica Huston (John`s daughter) as the Prizzi princess who has been banished from the empire for being a floozie. In many ways, hers is the most realistic character in the movie, and that we feel deeply for her in the film`s last great final shot is testament to just how important a role her character plays in giving a serious underpinning to what could have been a silly romp.

    ''Prizzi`s Honor'' is receiving all sorts of praise from critics because it comes as a welcome respite from a summer full of goony teenage pictures. But that isn`t fair to ''Prizzi`s Honor.'' This film would be a winner any time of the year. It`s a classic piece of moviemaking that I plan on seeing again very soon.

    Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune, June 14th 1985.

    John Huston's "Prizzi's Honor" marches like weird and gloomy clockwork to its relentless conclusion, and half of the time, we're laughing. This is the most bizarre comedy in many a month, a movie so dark, so cynical and so funny that perhaps only Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner could have kept straight faces during the love scenes. They do. They play two professional Mafia killers who meet, fall in love, marry, and find out that the mob may not be big enough for both of them. Nicholson plays Charley Partanna, who is a soldier in the proud Prizzi family, rulers of the East Coast, enforcers of criminal order. The godfather of the Prizzis, Don Corrado, is a mean little old man who looks like he has been freeze-dried by the lifelong ordeal of draining every ounce of humanity out of his wizened body. To Don Corrado (William Hickey), nothing is more important than the Prizzi's honor - not even another Prizzi.

    Charley Partanna is the Don's grandson. He has been raised in this ethic, and accepts it. He kills without remorse. He follows orders. Only occasionally does he disobey the family's instructions, as when he broke his engagement with Maerose Prizzi (Anjelica Huston), his cousin. She then brought disgrace upon herself and, as the movie opens, is in the fourth year of self-imposed exile. But she is a Prizzi, and does not forget, or forgive.

    The movie opens like "The Godfather," at a wedding. Charley's eyes roam around the church. In the choir loft, he sees a beautiful blonde (Kathleen Turner). She looks like an angel. At the reception, he dances with her once, and then she disappears. Later that day, there is a mob killing. Determined to find out the name of the blonde angel, Charley discovers even more - that she was the California hit man, brought in to do the job. He turns to Maerose for advice. She counsels him to go ahead: After all, it's good to have interests in common with your wife. Charley flies to the coast, setting up a running gag as they establish a trans-continental commute. 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.

    What happens between them is best not explained here, since the unfolding of the plot is one of the movie's delights. The story is by Richard Condon, a novelist who delights in devious plot construction, and here he takes two absolutes - romantic love and the Prizzi's honor - and arranges a collision between them. Because all of the motivations are so direct and logical, the movie is able to make the most shocking decisions seem inevitable.

    John Huston directed this film right after last year's "Under the Volcano," and what other director could have put those two back-to-back? It is one of his very best films, perhaps because he made it with friends; Condon is an old pal from Ireland, Anjelica Huston is of course his daughter, and Nicholson has long been Anjelica's lover. Together they have taken a strange plot, peopled it with carefully overwrought characters, and made "Prizzi's Honor" into a treasure.

    Roger Ebert 

    What you thought about Prizzi's Honour

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    8 (22%) 18 (50%) 8 (22%) 2 (6%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 36
    Film Score (0-5): 3.89

    Collated Response Comments

    101 members and guests attended this screening of Prizzi's Honour.  We received 36 responses providing a hit rate of 36% and a film score of  3.89.

    All of your responses are collected below.

    "Nice to see one of John Huston's later movies again. Given his age at the time it perhaps surprising that it has such strong and confident eighties styling (right down to the title font - Benguiat - as used on 'Stranger Things' for that eighties vibe). The plot however, of Chandleresque duplicity and betrayal amongst men who will do anything, however privately dishonourable, to protect their public honour, must have felt like more familiar ground. The actors are delicious, the playfully beguiling Turner, the exquisite Huston and Jack. He is wonderful, face a crumpled mask of desire and puzzlement, all bumbling over expression. And therein lies a problem, Nicholson struggles to look stupid, his acting throughout seems more a comic impression than acting, especially opposite the naturalistic Huston. Perhaps it doesn't matter, it is a comedy after all, if a particularly dark one and he is excellent though one wonders of this is where his descent into self parody began. In the end it is only the fallen angel, woman without honour, whose meddling brings the desired result".

    "Really enjoyed this dark comedy. Sound a bit muffled at times but sure that was due to the original soundtrack".

    "I loved every minute of it. Not seen it before but I had watched Nicholson's earlier movies from Easy Rider onwards, when they were first released. All the key characters brilliantly portrayed".

    "Very surprised that I hadn't seen this before, given it is nearly 40 years old. This showed and following the dialogue (and some of the plot) was not always easy, but overall it was well worth the wait. Picked up momentum as it went along and never dragged. Not always a fan of Jack Nicholson but he was good in this and liked the Don too (although I was reminded of Steptoe whenever he appeared). Another good addition to the season. Thanks".

    "I'm glad I saw this film from late in John Huston's directorial career. Star-studded (by US terms), clever twists and turns plot-wise, a luminous Kathleen Turner".

    "Jack Nicholson at his best with Kathleen Turner in her supporting role as a gangster's wife. Family is more important than anything else, Charley Partanna was challenged with his loyalty".

    "Great film, very convoluted, well acted. Lost count of all the twists and turns".

    "Intriguing story + tidy ending. (difficult to hear the dialogue occasionally)".

    "Lovely complex story - full of betrayal".

    "The subtitles would sure have helped. Felt i missed a lot of what was going on".

    "Difficult to follow the language sometimes".

    "Very slick storyline - with great humorous lines – enjoyable".

    "Very good but a bit dated". "I liked the music". "Hard to hear". "Good fun! Great score".

    "Not sure that everyone got the American humour!"

    "Hard to hear, but luckily I have lived in Brooklyn - maybe more Godfather- type country".

    "Note to self....don't come to a film without subtitles!!! Sorry - could not follow".

    "A bit long - even as an American I found some dialogue hard to understand".

    "Of its time maybe? Felt quite mannered and definitely needed subtitles. Disappointing end".

    "Not inspiring- unclear speech". "Hollywood schmaltz - sorry!"


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