Mickey One

Introduced by David Thomson

Thomson is a Bay Area-based film historian whose books include The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood.

There's stand-up and there's run-like-hell. In this infernal vision, a Detroit nightclub comic (Warren Beatty) takes it on the lam after being dogged by unknown thugs for an unspecified crime. “I'm guilty for not being innocent,” he explains with perfect paranoid logic. Having discarded his identity and resurfaced in Chicago, the newly named Mickey One is in a bind-he desires both anonymity and to be on stage “where sometimes it's the only place in the world you're free.” He haunts the gin joints, taking on small-time gigs, all the while never shaking his nameless guilt. The wincing story is of little consequence in this masterful existential noir; rather it is the setting suffused with suspicion, strains of aching jazz, and an almost verité squalor that binds us to its alienated convictions. Beatty, so young he looks unfinished, brilliantly captures the fragile temperament of this joker gone wild. Mickey One is pure Penn, not a punch line pulled from the New Wave as some suggest. It's just that no one was expecting Kafka with a laugh track.

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