PRIZZI’S HONOR (John Huston, 1985)

John Huston’s very funny black-’n’-blue comedy uses the machinations of a syndicate family to observe the absurd application of such notions as obligation and honor.
     The most shattering moment in the Huston œuvre is, perhaps, the finale sealing Brigid O’Shaughnessy’s fate in The Maltese Falcon (1941); but Prizzi’s Honor has an electrifying moment of its own. It arrives towards the end of the film. In slow motion, a hit person aims a hit at her own husband, who is the crime family’s hit-person, as he lies pajama-clad in their bed, only to have her mark miss when, expecting what’s coming and raising his head, he scores a hit against her: the slow motion erased, a knife like a bullet through her neck.
     How could this happen? After all, Irene Walker is the professional equal, at least, of spouse Charley Partanna. Irene makes a womanly miscalculation. Domesticity tugging at her independence, she wrongly assumes that her husband will not try to kill her until after they have had sex, thereby giving her matrimonial hit a clear path. Alas! And the probing as well as horrific slow motion (a Huston surprise) allows us to recall another flare-up of this Achilles’ heel of hers; in a kidnapping scheme, Irene tosses a fake baby at the intended victim’s boyfriend, having predicted, “naturally he will try to catch it”—except that he doesn’t, thus exposing, despite her desire to be free of such conventionalism, a lingering sentimentality that, given her line of work, eventually proves fatal, and with which countless other working women must daily cope.
     Elegant and possessing visual grandeur, Prizzi’s Honor is beautifully acted, especially by Huston’s daughter, Anjelica, and Kathleen Turner as Irene Walker.

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