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  Mickey One A Comedy To Those Who Think
Year: 1965
Director: Arthur Penn
Stars: Warren Beatty, Alexandra Stewart, Hurd Hatfield, Franchot Tone, Teddy Hart, Jeff Corey, Kamatari Fujiwara, Donna Michelle, Ralph Foody, Norman Gottschalk, Dick Lucas, Jack Goodman, Jeri Jensen, Charlene Lee, Benny Dunn
Genre: Drama, Thriller, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: This stand-up comedian (Warren Beatty) has hit a spot of bother recently when he has been forced to leave the New York for Chicago after he begins to suspect that mobsters have a contract out on him. He doesn't want to die, so does his best at self-preservation, getting another identity as a Polish immigrant who becomes known as Mickey One because his moniker is too complicated for most people to pronounce. In his attempts to vanish out of sight, a job emptying the garbage in a restaurant is the best he can hope for, but the lure of a life in showbusiness proves too difficult to resist - yet is he unable to resist it or is it unable to resist him?

Mickey One was a tremendous flop in its day, and would have set back the careers of both Warren Beatty and his director Arthur Penn if they hadn't already had other jobs in successes lined up immediately after: when they reunited two years later, evidently fond of this even if hardly anyone else was, it was for the worldbeating Bonnie and Clyde, a work as influential as this was influenced. Influenced by what? By the cinema across the Atlantic, in the main the Nouvelle Vague out of France which was changing the way filmmakers thought about the creation of their movies, whether it be to embrace it or reject it.

Probably the classic Hollywood version of a slavishly New Wave movie would be John Boorman's thriller Point Blank, which was no less obscure in its meaning but managed to relate a captivating story and blessed with some excellent acting. In this case, quite what they thought they were on about was far more difficult to fathom, aside from a fresh take on alienation somewhere between the film noir of the previous couple of decades and the approaching conspiracy thrillers of the seventies, one of which was Beatty's The Parallax View, a far more successful take on this sort of premise, both financially and artistically. Back at the plot of this, the hapless Mickey finds himself caught between the machinations of organised crime and the world of entertainment.

Not exactly the world of entertainment Beatty might be familiar with, something more seedy and needy was what involved Mickey, and one night, sick of laying low he goes to a nightclub and does a better job with comedy heckling than the actual hired comedian does on stage. Soon there is a buzz about him, and he is pulled back into the business with sinister agent Hurd Hatfield, Dorian Gray himself, obsessively endeavouring to persuade him into a contract. But is the real reason to get Mickey to put his head back up above the parapet where it can be shot off? That's what the paranoid funnyman, who in truth isn't exactly hilarious, has to mull over as his existence once again begins to spiral off in directions he feels he has little control over.

Now, this could be a straightforward thriller if handled differently, yet what was on offer was a damn near impenetrable, if crisply photographed in gleaming black and white, ride through one man's nightmare of a persecution which may or may not be occurring. Mickey has no idea what he is being punished for, nor does he know who is doing the punishing, but every so often you'll get a scene where he seems to have a brush with the antagonists or at least something which sets off his fears once again, from the audition sequence where is alone in a darkened club with a single spotlight trained on him but with no reaction to his mumbled material (a neat recreation of a nightmare, if nothing else), to the suspicion he cannot keep at bay when his new lady friend Jenny (Alexandra Stewart) tries to set him back on track and better himself. Throw in such asides as a car crushing plant and an elaborate sculpture designed to self destruct and you had a visual metaphor, intentional or otherwise, of crafting a work which had no chance of succeeding. Music by Eddie Sauter, with Stan Getz on saxophone.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Arthur Penn  (1922 - 2010)

American theatre and film director whose depiction of the rebellious character in movies found its most celebrated example in Bonnie and Clyde, which was hugely important in ushering in a new style of Hollywood film, not to mention new styles in Hollywood violence. Before that he had helmed psychological Billy the Kid story The Left Handed Gun, the much acclaimed The Miracle Worker, and Warren Beatty-starring experimental flop Mickey One, which nevertheless led to the both of them making the gangster movie that was so influential.

After that, Penn moved back and forth from film to theatre, with album adaptation Alice's Restaurant, revisionist Westerns Little Big Man and The Missouri Breaks, and cult thriller Night Moves among the films that sustained his following. Others included Marlon Brando melodrama The Chase, Four Friends, gothic thriller Dead of Winter, and Penn and Teller Get Killed.

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