Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Mikey and Nicky (1976)

I'd read of this little gem of a crime film a long time ago, but always failed to see it. I once had the Finnish VHS published in 1989, but I couldn't watch it, since the picture ratio was so wrong, my eyes started to bleed. Now I finally had a chance to see it on screen, and boy, was it good! Mikey and Nicky was ahead of its time as a crime film and hasn't aged as some other crime films of its era have.

John Cassavetes and Peter Falk play minor gangsters in the movie. In the beginning we see the freaked-out Cassavetes in a sleazy hotel room, seemingly afraid of everything. He thinks other gangsters are trying to kill him, and Falk offers to help him. It becomes a bit of an odyssey through night-time streets, dirty joints and movie theaters. Ned Beatty plays the hired killer who doesn't seem to get anywhere on time. There's a bit of a surprise twist near the end, but more essential is the actual ending of the film, very poignant and touching, with a nice touch in the dialogue.

The writer and director Elaine May let Cassavetes and Falk improvise their scenes (at least partly), and this brings life to the characters that otherwise might be stock. There's warmth, energy, fear, abruptness, violence and jerkiness to these guys, and while they are not very likable, they feel very real.

The improvisation led to film being burned, which made the studio angry, and then Elaine May sat on the results for three years and trying to bring the thing together, but then the studio decided otherwise, and the end result isn't what May had in mind. I don't know whether we'll ever see May's version of Mikey and Nicky. (The Finnish version, seen here after a five-year break in 1981, is slightly shorter than the original American print.)

Someone has said this is the best film ever produced in Hollywood directed by a woman. I don't know if this is the case anymore, but it may have been. At least Mikey and Nicky is different and interesting. Here's Jonathan Rosenbaum on the film.

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog. (Hopefully.)

PS. Oh, I'd written about this and the goddamn Finnish VHS earlier.

1 comment:

Gary R. Peterson said...

Learning about this overlooked gem is especially cool because I just saw Falk and Cassavettes square off on COLUMBO: "Etude in Black," from September 1972. The two actors had a definite chemistry and I'm glad they parlayed that into a feature film!