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Blu-Ray Review - MICKEY ONE (1965)

mickey one review
A stand-up comic attempts to reignite his career while evading the mobsters who want his head.







Review by Jason Abbey

Directed by: Arthur Penn

Starring: Warren Beatty, Alexandra Stewart, Hurd Hatfield, Franchot Tone, Teddy Hart

mickey one powerhouse bluray

Mickey One (Warren Beatty) is a cabaret comic with an eye for the ladies, a shit-eating grin and a gambling habit that has him deeply in hock to the mob. What on paper seems like a standard man on the run picture turns in the hands of Arthur Penn into something more twisted, wryly comic but also paranoia inducing. It’s a film easy to pigeon hole as an ersatz new wave with a director in love with the posturing and navel gazing of the French cinema at the time, but that does it a slight disservice. For every cheesy cinematic non-sequitur, such as Beatty in a fur coat in a sauna puffing on a stogie with mob bosses, there is a moment of existential angst and paranoia as Mickey fights his natural urges to run when forced to try out his act in front of a faceless casino owner who may be planning to kill rather than hire him. It’s a scene of abject fear and comic stage fright that has become a pattern in his best work, such as The Parallax View and the underrated and excruciating Bulworth.

mickey one

Beatty was a gift for Penn, a director who previously had troubles with the studios, fired from Burt Lancaster picture The Train and having The Left-Handed Gun taken away from him in the editing room. You would think then that instincts would be to play it safe. As a Hollywood picture this is a big fuck you to mainstream moviegoers with little interest in conventional narrative and using an actor who for all his matinee good looks always appears to be uncomfortable in his skin. Like a reverse Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor, you feel he is a suave womaniser who wants to be an umber smart geek. Ignoring emotive orchestral scoring for the slinkier jazz noodling of Stan Getz, this is a director as devil may care and risk taking as his titular hero is at the start of the movie.

For all the whip smart camerawork and risk taking it is still a hard film to like. Mickey's fall from grace is shown with bravura economy and zip in the first five minutes. We are then subjected to mucho navel gazing. You can read this as a man on the run from McCarthyism; the jester as truth teller needing to be quieted for the good of the public. Or he's just a bloke who has absconded with a lot of cash after a party of hedonism that has gone on just that little bit too long.

mickey one

For all of his attempts to flee his previous life, Mickey is a hamster on a wheel. Mickey isn’t even his name, just an identity he has stolen off of a bum. Unhappy with being a dishwasher, Mickey almost offhandedly heckles an underperforming burlesque comic, leading to gigs and a diminutive agent (Teddy Hart), which leads to word getting around and him back on the comedy circuit that was previously almost the death of him. Is Mickey paranoid or are they really out to get him?

A massive flop, which somehow still didn’t have an impact on Penn teaming up with Beatty again in the far more profitable Bonnie and Clyde, it is by turns pretentiously smug. A conversation with Jenny (Alexandra Stewart), Mickey's roommate in the boarding house he is holed up in, tests the patience beyond endurance, and the continuous presence of a character known as The Artist (Kamatari Fujiwara) infuriates more than explains anything.

mickey one

Beatty might not be anyone’s idea of a stand-up comic, but he does do panicked and lost rather well. Worth watching for the auditioning scene alone, this is a film that, although frustrating in places, is a marker of things to come - the moment when the old-school system fell apart and the Easy Riders and Raging Bulls came to the fore. It plays like free form Jazz, which will delight as many as it alienates.
Extras:

A fantastic blu-ray transfer with the usual high quality selection of extras from this label, be it an audio only NFT lecture with the director, an interview with Matthew Penn talking about his father’s work and a short interview with the actor Alexandra Stewart. Add a trailer with a Joe Dante commentary and a 40-page booklet and you have all you need for this world Blu-ray premiere.

Mickey One is available on blu-ray now from Powerhouse Films.

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