Set in 1942 The Public Eye, is inspired by one of the first of the paparazzi, the great Weegee, aka Arthur Fellig, whose B&W photographs of New York in the 1940-50's not only time captured the city, but has also been suggested as one of the influences of the look of Classic Film Noir. Weegee's nickname was a corruption of "Ouija" board. It was in reference to his magical appearance at crime, fire and accident scenes (he actually had a license for a police radio that he kept in his automobile). Weegee was the original "nightcrawler".
Consistent with the film's theme the title sequence consists of a series of developing photographs similar to Weegee's work.
|title sequence composite|
|1939 Ford Coupe De Luxe Club Coupe trunk darkroom|
|Bernsy at work|
|$3 dollar per photo|
|Bernsy's photo stash|
|Kay, Bernzy's first sight|
So Bernzy continuing his amateur sleuthing goes to pay a social call on Portofino. Portofino is past talking. Portofino is ready for a toe tag and the horizontal phone booth. Bernzy calls the police and reports the murder, and before he can give them the address they tell him they'll be right there. He next calls Kay and tells her the news and that it looks like a mob hit. When the cops show the FBI is tagging along. Bernzy is dragged downtown for questioning. They want to know who he's working for . They want to know how he knows Portofino. Bernzy feeds them BS. As soon as he's cut loose the mob braces him. They take him for a ride to Frank Farinelli. Big Frankie wants to know why Bernzy called the FBI. Wants to know who he's working for. Wants to know how he knows Portofino. Bernzy feeds him some BS. Frankie gives some advice forget about Portofino.
|Portofino at room temperature|
Bernzy continues to investigate, creatively sneaking into the FBI offices after hours to look at their files. He discovers that Portofino is involved with "Black Gas". It doesn't take long for him to connect the dots, gas ration coupons are worth gold. The Farinelli and Spoleto families are at war the Portofino hit was the spark. Kay is involved through her late husband, and someone in the Farinelli family is ratting to Spoleto (Dominic Chianese).
Bernzy breaks into the Spoleto estate and takes snaps. The photos reveal that Sal Minetto (Tucci) is the informer.
|Bernzy (Pesci) and Sal (Tucci)|
Bernzy confronts Sal Minetti who spills that Portofino was a punk from DC who was fronting for Thatcher Grey (Hull) in DC who works for the OPA. He can't unload the gas ration cards because he knows nobody. The heads of the five families won't touch them directly since they are getting amnesty from the Feds because they are working with the Italian mobs against Mussolini. Portofino hears that Lou Levitz was an old time bootlegger so maybe he knows how to unload them. Levitz was interested because there were millions involved and all Levitz had to do was turn the stamps over to Spoleto for a fat percentage. When Levitz died Portofino went to Farinelli, signing his own death warrant. Now Spoleto is gonna kill Farinelli's whole gang and Sal is going to finger it. Bernzy wants in on the location so that he can take photos.
I wish a bit more of Bernzy's work of photographing gritty New York would have been depicted, the Bowery, the srtrip joints, the beer gardens, the arcades, the Broadway scene.
The Public Eye glides along never reaching iconic levels, and there really are no cinematic sparks between Pesci's Bernzy and Hershey's Kay, it's not quite believable, but maybe that's what Franklin was going for. There are, though, some great dialog sequences that will leave you chuckling.
Spoleto: (nodding towards Bernzy and Kay) Look it's like Quasimodo and Sarsaparilla.
Henchman: I think you mean Esmeralda
The film is beautifully photographed, again as in A Rage In Harlem (1991) Cincinnati fills in very adequately for New York City, other locations being Chicago and Los Angeles. The score by Isham is decent. It should have more recognition. The screencaps are from the Universal Vault Series DVD. 7/10