Beatty and Penn make ‘Mickey One’ an arty nightmare

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and  pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).


Mickey One” (1965, Arthur Penn). Friday, May 24, 12:30 a.m.  (9:30 p.m.)

In “Mickey One,” Warren Beatty plays a Chicago comic who has angered the mob.

The man on the run in “Mickey One,” Arthur Penn’s and Warren Beatty’s nightmare of a 1965 neo-noir, is a Chicago standup comedian  trapped in an urban world of disorientation and fear. It’s one of Beatty’s most offbeat roles: a smart-ass hipster Lenny Bruce type who’s  gotten on the mob’s list for  a transgression  that he doesn’t remember (that possibly doesn’t even exist) and now feels himself in danger every time he walks out on stage. Mickey is a prototypical film noir outsider, lost in the big city night, in a darkness interrupted by neon guideposts to Hell.

Donna Michelle

Around the terrified comedian is a gallery of bizarre characters who might have been assembled for some noirish Wonderland:  Hurd Hatfield (who once played Dorian Gray) as a devious club owner, Franchot Tone as Mickey’s elderly mentor, Alexandra Stewart as the girl who loves him (maybe), Playboy Playmate-of-the-Year Donna Michelle as the babe of babes, Teddy Hart as Mickey’s pint-size agent-manager, Jeff Corey as a club guy, and Kamatari Fujiwara (who was one of the two squabbling peasants in  Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress”) as a conceptual artist.

This neglected film, written by Alan M. Surgal, is one of the artiest and most experimental of all ‘60s black-and-white neo-noirs. And though Surgal’s script is pretentious to a fault, “Mickey One” is beautifully made, a classic of ‘60s razzle-dazzle film technique – often more reminiscent of  early ‘60s foreign art film style than anything out of the Hollywood mainstream.

The movie was stunningly photographed by Ghislain Cloquet, who shot some of the French film masterpieces of Alain Resnais (“Night and Fog”) and Robert Bresson (“Au Hasard Balthazar”).  And the picture has one of the finest jazz scores in the movies, written and orchestrated by Eddie Sauter and improvised by saxophone genius Stan Getz.

One thing “Mickey One” doesn’t have is funny jokes. Mickey’s act couldn’t make a hyena laugh. But maybe that’s the point. The next time Penn and Beatty got together, it was to make “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), which does have funny jokes, as well as  violence and beauty. Here, the director and his star may fail, but they fail grandly, with ambition, daring, style and images that stay in your head.

Wednesday, May 22

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.): “The Blue Gardenia” (1953, Fritz Lang), Working girl Anne Baxter lets her guard down and gets mixed up in the murder of slimy Raymond Burr. (As the girls in “Chicago” say, “He had it coming.”)  The rest of the lineup includes Ann Sothern, Nat King Cole and George “Superman” Reeves. Not Lang’s best, but you won’t want to miss it anyway.

10:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m.): “The Outfit” (1973, John Flynn).  Here’s another adaptation of one of Donald Westlake’s (alias “Richard Stark’s”) ultra-hard-boiled “Parker” novels – the series that inspired “Point Blank.” This time, Robert Duvall plays the “Parker” character, and just as unstoppably as Lee Marvin did. Out to avenge his brother, aided (maybe) by Karen Black and Joe Don Baker, Duvall is up against villain Robert Ryan. The  stellar noir cast includes Timothy Carey, Marie Windsor, Jane Greer, Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North and Elisha Cook, Jr. The movie is underrated too. You’ll be surprised at how good it is – unless you look over that cast list again.

Saturday, May 25

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.) “Foreign Correspondent” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). With Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, and George Sanders. Reviewed on FNB February 20, 2013.

Tuesday, May 28

8 p.m. (5 p.n.): “Hard Times” (1975, Walter Hill). Charles Bronson, James Coburn and the illicit world of back-alley, bare-knuckle fighting during the American Depression. (Bronson is the boxer, Coburn his manager.)  With Jill Ireland and Strother Martin. Tough stuff.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Bullitt” (1968, Peter Yates). With Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Duvall. Reviewed on FNB October 27, 2012.

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