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Prizzi's Honor

Years before Tony Soprano started getting therapy and a shrink advised Paul Vitti to "hit" a pillow, mob hit man Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson) was working through some pretty serious issues of his own. And without professional help, too — unless you count the advice and assistance of his girlfriend/fellow assassin Irene (Kathleen Turner). Not that Charley knows who (or what) Irene is when he first meets her at a "family" wedding. Director John Huston's Oscar-nominated mafia comedy (based on the novel by Richard Condon) is filled with more unexpected plot twists and triple- and quadruple-crosses than anything this side of Elmore Leonard, so nothing is ever quite what Charley (or the audience) thinks it is. All he knows is that he's sworn to protect the honor and assets of the Prizzis, New York's pre-eminent crime family. In this particular instance, that means tracking down the traitors who stole more than $700,000 from the Prizzis' casino in Vegas; but whacking the thief sets of a chain of events that causes more problems for the family than it solves. All of the action centers on Charley, a true "youse guys" mobster for whom violence is a casual, necessary thing — part and parcel of belonging to the tight-knight Prizzi clan. Son of the family's consigliore (played by John Randolph), Charley is closer to the elderly don (William Hickey) than the patriarch is to his own son and heir, Dominic (Lee Richardson); Charley is so much a part of the family, in fact, that he almost married Dominic's daughter Maerose (Anjelica Huston, in an Academy Award-winning performance). But he ends up finding his true love outside the clan, accepting Irene's lies and non-Italianness (she's Polish) with equal aplomb — for a professional killer, Charley can be a big softie. That fact that he's believable as both a cold-blooded assassin and a middle-aged man caught up in the throes of puppy love is a tribute to Nicholson, who balances Charley's conflicting interests superbly and makes the hit man's own brand of logic and morality seem perfectly acceptable within the context of the film. Turner is also in fine form, mixing her husky-voiced seductiveness with feisty, can-do charm; Irene is game for anything, and she'll do anything to get what she wants. Watching the two pros work together is a large part of Prizzi's appeal — they have the talent to make the most of John Huston's sure-handed direction, and it shows. MGM's new DVD offers the film in both widescreen (1.85:1) and full-screen transfers (both look good) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are also available. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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