Mickey One

Drawing inspiration from French New Wave cinema, Arthur Penn’s visually arresting but overly self-conscious tale about a comic on the run from the mob is one of the great what-ifs of American cinema

Film Review by Michael Jaconelli | 22 Aug 2017
Film title: Mickey One
Director: Arthur Penn
Starring: Warren Beatty, Alexandra Stewart, Hurd Hatfield

It could have been different. Had audiences known what to make of Arthur Penn’s homage to French New Wave cinema on its release in 1965, it could have been the film that critics pointed to as the one that signalled a shift to the ‘New Hollywood’ era of American cinema. Instead it stands as an almost completely forgotten cinematic curio.

Warren Beatty stars as a devil-may-care nightclub comic who flees Detroit after falling into debt with the mob. Washing up in Chicago, he assumes the identity of a Pole whose name he abbreviates to Mickey One and soon finds himself back performing in one of the city's sleazy clubs. Consumed by paranoia, he repeatedly sabotages opportunities to play in better venues for fear of being recognised until finally summoning the courage to confront his fate.

Combining a plot straight out of film noir with the narrative and stylistic innovations of the French New Wave, Mickey One certainly doesn’t lack for ambition. Its Kafka-esque plot is conveyed with jump-cuts and bizarre symbolic imagery unlike anything from American cinema at the time. But Penn ultimately fails to successfully blend his stylistic urges to his story and the film frequently comes across as overly obtuse and pretentious. Unsurprisingly, it failed to find an audience on release and promptly disappeared.

Penn would find a better balance between his blend of American narrative and European cinematic technique two years later in Bonnie and Clyde – the film that is widely heralded as the starting point for the new wave of talent in American cinema. In another world that film might have been Mickey One. Nevertheless it remains an ambitious failure – one signalling greater things to come. 


A decent selection of trailers and interviews. Stand-out is The Guardian Lecture with Arthur Penn – an hour long audio recording providing fascinating insights into one of American cinema's most talented directors. [Michael Jaconelli]

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