Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mickey One

He is on stage. Trying to do his act. He's dying up there, as comedians often do. This time, it may well be truly be a matter of life or death. The spotlight is blinding. There is an intimidating voice.  Who is behind that light?

He's been there before, under far less urgent circumstances.  The montage that opens 1965's MICKEY ONE details the charmed life of our anonymous hero (Warren Beatty). He cavorts with a blonde bombshell through Detroit nightlife. But then he sees something in a back room. The Mob follows him as he flees to another desolate, nightmarish urban landscape: Chicago. How ominous that his first vision of the city is in an auto junkyard, where he stumbles upon a police scene: a man was killed in one of those crushers.

He begins to call himself "Mickey One" and meets a woman named Jenny (Alexandra Stewart) who falls for him, represents the promise of a stable life.  But is she working with them? Does Mickey really owe something to the Mafia? There are doormen and bartenders and club owners who may all be in on it, plotting against him. Can he even trust himself?

Director Arthur Penn's rather odd, near one-of-a-kind feature is one of the first Hollywood pics to mimic the disorienting (for the time) style of the French New Wave. Ghislain Cloquet's camera is rarely still, flailing about in sync with an appropriately frantic score by Stan Getz and some moodily impressive use of light. Inventive edits and transitions. The characters speak very quicky; Mickey's tone is always caustic. Everything works together to keep the viewer feeling unsure, uneasy, maybe even a bit lightheaded. Alan Surgal's script is a grab bag of ideas, with a decidedly discordant, Kafkaesque atmosphere of paranoia. I'm not sure I understood it all.

Beatty does some good work in an atypical role. He projects fear, confusion, and hopelessness as well as I've ever seen on screen.

Is Mickey just some puppet, some tragic figure at the whim of supernatural forces? Is he the John Q. who dares have an inquiring mind, to question all the supposeds of Life, rather than keeping his head down and toeing the line? When he takes the stage near the end, it is in fact for an audition. But Is he standing before, God? Has he already left the cruel world and now must give account at the throne or gate? Or is he about to take his last breath before a firing squad?

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