Thursday, December 01, 2005

MICKEY ONE (1965) - Arthur Penn

Finally. A movie that justifies my random late-night Starz/Encore tapings. It just goes to show that if you cast your VHS net wide enough, you’re likely catch a pearl or two.

I’d never heard of Mickey One before. Probably because I’m not the biggest Warren Beatty fan, though admittedly that guy has a knack for working with great directors on great projects with great scripts. He’s always seemed like a “face man” to me, best when he’s cast as a handsome prick, because it feels like that's probably his true persona (if Madonna's Truth or Dare is to be believed). But I’m always left wondering if someone else like a Hoffman or a Hackman or even a Redford wouldn’t have been better in the role.
As for director Arthur Penn, I don’t know why I’m not a fan. I guess it never occurred to me. But then I look at his list of credits…Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man, Night Moves. What was I thinking? Why haven’t I tracked down all this guy’s films already?
And now there’s Mickey One. This is a fantastic little ‘60s jazz number. It takes a very bare-bones premise -- boozing, gambling, philandering comic on the run from the mob -- and turns it into a free-from, improvisational jam on paranoia and the inability to truly escape your past. Beatty plays The Comic who has to get out of town after he offends the mob that “owns” him. He doesn’t know exactly what did (and neither do we), but from the all-night bender opening sequence we know it must involve money, someone else’s girl, an offensive joke…or all of the above.
Beatty hides out in a rough part of Chicago (great auto wreckage yard scenes) and, with the help of a stolen Social Security card, gets a manual labor job sifting trash under the name Mickey One (shortened from something Polish). But the comedy jones gets the best of him and he finds himself walking past the late-night clubs soon enough, back onstage almost as soon. Considering the contract out on his head, this is either a very bold or very idiotic move. Almost as bold/idiotic as when he tells the downtrodden waif he falls for at his rundown hideout hotel what his real identity is. I think it’s safe to say Mickey has a self-destructive steak. Penn even goes so far to visualize this in an interesting middle-of-the-film set piece involving a performance artist who’s made an elaborate contraption out of trash only to set it ablaze to the delight of Mickey and his new girl.
The combination of the gorgeous black and white shooting, the jazzy soundtrack and funky locations make Mickey One a fascinating tone poem. It’s a tone I haven’t seen much before…sort of an upbeat, uptempo sense of dread…as if greeting impending death with a cocktail, a snare shot, and a one-liner.
As usual, my only problem was with Beatty, which may admittedly just be MY PROBLEM.
I didn’t really buy him as a comic. Some of the jokes he mouths are funny enough, but they kind of slipped out the side of his handsome puss in the unintelligible inner city wiseguy accent he seemed to be trying on for size. For one, comics are generally not that good-looking (that’s part of the reason they’re comics). And generally they enunciate, because they want to make sure EVERYONE in the room, bar, street has heard their joke. Find the loudest person in a room…it’s probably a comic, or at least one that wants to be.
But this minor quibble shouldn’t deter you from a wonderful flick. The only REAL problem with Mickey One? My copy’s not letterboxed (slightly cropped). And it’s on the same tape as the atrocious Quintet.

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