Let's be blunt. Where the fuck has this been hiding all these years? Yea, yea, yea, I know it sounds like a some lame ass, stupid comedy, and with Peter Falk's name attached you just assume it is. For me the other negative was the costar John Cassavetes. Let me explain.
When I was on my Western binge about ten years ago I came across Cassavetes in Saddle The Wind. Man, did this guy grate against the laconic nature of the Western Genre. I mentioned in a review that he comes off like some manic demented Jerry Lewis. He had this hair trigger out of control intensity. In his early films, you can see it in his face, the mechanical wheels turning in his brain. The hellzapoppin' school of acting, lol. It was distracting.
Reading his wiki biography, I quote "He studied acting with Don Richardson, using an acting technique based on muscle memory." Was that WTF it was? In this film however I discovered a different Cassavetes, age rounded the sharp edges, slowed him down abit. The intensity is still there but now it's just more natural and convincing.
Mikey and Nicky is a nice surprize, and a heads up to all aficio-Noir-dos and Noiristas, there are undiscovered Noirs out there, even Silver and Ward's "An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style Film Noir " misses this one and that's a real head scratcher. It's an extremely well acted, one off, by a notorious hit and miss director that delivers. So what happened? Sabotage.
Directed and written by Elaine May. May directed two Oscar nominated performances in The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and later the disastrous box office failure Ishtar (1987). The filming of Mikey And Nicky proved contentious and somewhat prophetic. May ran the film's original $1.8 million budget up to $4.3 million. Paramount sabotaged the films initial release, booking it into theaters for a very limited run guaranteeing a box office bomb. The rights to the film were eventually purchased in 1978 by Julian Schlossberg Peter Falk and Elaine May. In 1986 a new version of the film approved by May was screened at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City.
The cinematography was sort of an ensemble affair (due to onset difficulties) with five cinematographers listed in the credits, Lucien Ballard (Laura (1944), Berlin Express (1948), Don't Bother to Knock (1952), Inferno (1953), The Killing (1956), A Kiss Before Dying (1956)), along with Bernie Abramson, Jack Cooperman, Jerry File, and Victor J. Kemper (The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)). The music was by John Strauss.
The film stars Peter Falk (The Bloody Brood (1959), Murder, Inc. (1960), Wings of Desire (1987)) as Mikey, John Cassavetes (Fourteen Hours (1951), The Night Holds Terror (1955), Crime in the Streets (1956), The Killers (1964), Capone (1975)) as Nicky, Ned Beatty (Deliverance (1972), The Big Easy (1986), The Killer Inside Me (2010)) as Kinney, Rose Arrick as Annie, Carol Grace (Gangster Story (1959)) as Nellie, William Hickey (Something Wild (1961)) as Sid Fine, Sanford Meisner as Dave Resnick, Joyce Van Patten as Jan, M. Emmet Walsh (Midnight Cowboy (1969), Blade Runner (1982), Blood Simple. (1984), White Sands (1992)) as bus driver and Peter R. Scoppa, as the counterman.
Once Upon A Single Fatal Night
City of Brotherly Love. Center City neighborhood. Nicky (Cassavetes). Hood. On the lamb. Holed up like a cockroach behind a baseboard. Hotel Royale. Downtown flea bag. Sick. Desperate. Paranoid. Chain-smoking cigarettes. His partner Ed Lipsky a small time bookie has been whacked. They skimmed money from mob boss Resnick (Meisner). He's in a jam. He's next. He knows it.
He calls Mikey (Falk). His childhood best buddy. They grew up together, boosted the same candy stores together. Friends for thirty years. Mikey's always around to help.
|"I'm in trouble."|
Nicky scopes out the intersection from his corner hotel room. Mikey shows up. Looks around puzzled. Nicky drops a booze bottle wrapped in a hotel towel out the window at Mikey's feet.
Mikey (outside Nicky's hotel room): Nicky, it's me Mikey from the corner, I came as soon as I got your towel.
Counterman: I just have milk.
Mikey: No cream?
Counterman: Naaah. not to go.
Mikey: What do you put in in the coffee here? You have any cream?
Counterman (pulling up a miniature glass cream bottle): In these little bottles here.
Mikey: OK gimme fifteen of those little bottles to go, and gimme a couple of cartons of milk.
Counterman: Aaah, we can't do that we don't give these bottles to go, if you want coffee to go I put the cream in it right here and give it out of the dispenser right back there.
Mikey: OK, give me a carton of cream from the dispenser.
Counterman: How many coffees?
Mikey: No coffees, just fill up a carton of cream.
Counterman: Can't do that I wouldn't know what to charge you. Cream is for the coffee only.
Mikey: OK charge me for fifteen coffees and give me the cream.
Counterman: Fifteen coffees.
Mikey: That's right. (smashing plates as he jumps over the counter): You give me that in thirty seconds or I'll kill you you hear me,?
Mikey: Cause I'm Crazy!
Mikey: Now give it to me!
Counterman: Yes Sir!
Mikey (pushing the counterman out of the way): Now give it to me. Come at me and I'll kill you!
Back in Nicky's room Mikey tells him he should get out of town, catch a flight from the airport. Nicky first doesn't want to leave then he yells out that there is no air in here, he opens a window, He says he can't breath and wants to go outside. Nicky grabs his coat and runs out the door and down the stairs to the lobby with Mikey following. At the doorway to the lobby Nicky stops.
Nicky: Will you go out there?... first?
Mikey: Yes I'll go out first.
Nicky: You will go out first?
Mikey: Yes I will go out first... but there is nobody there. I'm the only one that know's you're here.
Nicky: Then why don't you go out first?
Mikey (heading towards the door): I am going out first.
Nicky: Wait a minute, would you mind wearing my jacket?
Nicky: Will you wear my jacket?
Mikey: What do you think, I'm fingering you?
Nicky: No, but you don't believe they're out there and I do.
Mikey: So if I'm right why don't you wear my jacket?
Mikey: Give it to me.
They exchange jackets and overcoats.
Mikey: Make sure you put on the coat it's damp outside. You want me to leave this open so that they can see the jacket?
Nicky: No, that won't be necessary, why bother there's no one out there anyway, right? Can I have your watch?
Mikey: You want to wear my watch?
Nicky: I'll be very careful, I just want wear the watch for luck.
Mikey: I'll let you wear my watch, will you let me carry your gun?
Nicky: What for.
Mikey: For luck, look if somebody thinks I'm you and they shoot at me it will be lucky if I could shoot back.
They head out the doors and into Noirsville.
|Rating Nicky out|
|Hit man Kinney (Beatty)|
Kinney gets stuck in a traffic jam he's forty-five minutes late. When Nicky catches Mikey watching the clock, Nicky gets suspicious. He's not sure he can trust him. He tells Mikey he's leaving. Outside Nicky wants to go to a movie. They hop on a bus.
Nicky (riding on a city bus with Mickey): You got a cigarette?
Mikey: You're not supposed to smoke on these things.
Nicky: Who's gonna stop me? This guy here?
Mikey: Hey, hey, take it easy here's a cigarette. It's just one bus driver. Save yourself for a crowd.
Lady on the bus: Excuse me... no smoking on the bus.
|"...no smoking on the bus."|
Lady on the bus: I'm going to tell the bus driver.
Nicky: I'm gonna tell your mother. (gives her a raspberry)
Lady on the bus: You know I don't want to start up with your element.
Nicky: My element, (looking to his lap) let me check it out. It's all right, my element's OK
The downtown bus is passing a cemetery. Nicky decides that he wants to visit his mother's grave. The film leaves it ambiguous as to whether Nicky truly knows that he's being set up by Mikey or not but it's another opportunity for some poignant exchanges and intensely profound observations that Nicky makes to Mikey. And the bullshit back and forth banter they speak in between these exchanges and observations is real.
Nicky (in the cemetery as Mikey walks away): Hey Ma, Ma! If anything happens to me Ma, Mikey did it!
Mikey: You take that back. Take that back!
Nicky: Oh you still here?
Mikey: You sonofabitch, you take that back!
Nicky: Ok I take it back, but if anything happens to me she'll find out anyway.
Standing at Nicky's mother's grave.
Nicky: Hey Mikey....
Mikey: I'm trying to remember the Kaddish.
Nicky: He Mikey.... wouldn't it be great.... I was just trying to say that wouldn't it be great if she was alive? Don't you wish your mother was alive?
Mikey: Of course I wish my mother was alive.
Nicky: I think that's the reason we're such good friends. Because we remember each other from when we were kids. Things that happened when we were kids that no one else knows about but us in our heads. That's how we know they really happened.
Mikey: What are you talking about I really know what happened when I was a kid.
Nicky: But nobody else does. I mean everyone we knew when we was kids is dead.
The film continues to depict the last night of atonement for a friendship going through revelations of long harbored grudges, envy, betrayal, melancholy, and regret. Once the two wise guys go their separate ways the film loses a bit of steam. It delves into Nicky's failed marriage and his up and down relationship with his slutty girlfriend. Mikey (with Nicky's existential observations from their cemetery jaunt fresh in his mind) tells his wife belatedly about his past family traumas.
Elaine May, despite all the on set controversies hits it out of the ballpark, The film is a Neo Noir
gem. Powerful performances by real life long time friends, Cassavetes and Falk, informs the piece, they got chemistry, the friendship depicted is alive with a vitality that's well, authentic. The rest of the cast Ned Beatty, M. Emmett Walsh, Carol Grace, Sanford Meisner, William Hickey, Joyce Van Patten, and Rose Arrick round out an excellent supporting cast. 9/10