Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson) has been attached to the Prizzi family for some time, ever since childhood in fact thanks to the leader of that clan, Don Corrado (William Hickey) being his godfather. He would do anything for them, and they have been good to him straight back, allowing him to marry one of the daughters, Maerose (Anjelica Huston), though that union didn't end very well for either of them. However, as Charley sits in the cathedral of yet another wedding, he happens to glance up during the aria and spots Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner), then is immediately smitten...
Prizzi's Honor was the sleeper hit of 1985, in that nobody expected much of it when it was released, then all of a sudden it was garnering reviews telling you it was one of the best comedies of the year, audiences began to flock to it, and it wound up garlanded with awards, including an Oscar for Anjelica Huston as Best Supporting Actress. It was a late career highlight for director John Huston, making him still the oldest person ever to receive a Best Direction Academy Award nomination, and he continued to have work left in him even as his health declined. On the other hand, while there were many marvelling at his dedication, others were not quite so enamoured.
The fact remained that there was a slow and deliberate quality to Prizzi's Honor which reflected its director's advancing years, and at times you could feel the great and tiring effort it was taking for Huston to keep the production going. Where some found this made for an experience to relish with performances to match, it was still a film that skirted dangerously close to boredom too many times: a thriller without thrills, a comedy without laughs, a romance where you failed to find either half of the couple particularly sympathetic. That's not to say it was a shoddy effort, as Nicholson for one delivered a proper performance rather than the caricature he would fall back on in the latter half of his career.
But again, you could admire his dedication to creating a character so stupid without so much as a wink to the audience, yet watching him for two hours plus, weird Gloria Grahame upper lip and all, wasn't half as much fun as it sounded when the script, drawn from Richard Condon's novel, didn't give him any funny lines. Or anyone any funny lines, it was one of the most laugh free comedies of the eighties and while there were those who claimed to find it hilarious, many more were either too mildly amused or didn't get the joke. Turner was essaying another femme fatale, but that didn't mean this was another eighties noir throwback, it meant Irene was smarter than everyone else.
Which resulted in her fate being all the more frustrating. Charley and Irene do fall in love, having a shared interest in killing people - she's a hitwoman, what could be more perfect? - and the rest of the story plodded along to a punchline which was given away in every item of advertising for the movie, though if you watched it the big idea wasn't revealed until a good three quarters of the way through. Though it seemed as if she was hardly in the film, Anjelica Huston did manage to make an impression as the fragile but manipulative Maerose as her scenes truly counted, but in another way contributed to the sense of who really cares what these people do as long as they're not hurting anyone outside their circle? Of course, that's what they do when an assassination orchestrated by the central couple hits a snag, but it had no resonance outside of their love affair, and since you may not have warmed to them anyway, the depressive air to Prizzi's Honor made its plaudits baffling to the uninitiated. Music by Alex North.