A Fancy Piece of Homicide (2017)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A.C. Nicholas, who has a sketchy background and hails from parts unknown in Western Pennsylvania, was once a drive-in theater projectionist and disk jockey, Currently, in addition to being a writer, editor, podcaster, and voice-over artist, he contributes to Drive-In Asylum. His first article, “Grindhouse Memories Across the U.S.A.,” was published in issue #23. He’s also written “I Was a Teenage Drive-in Projectionist” and “Emanuelle in Disney World and Other Weird Tales of a Trash Film Lover” for upcoming issues.

Bingo O’Malley was one of Pittsburgh’s greatest stage actors. For decades, he was the go-to guy for Pittsburgh’s best theater directors, with leads in Death of a Salesman, Bent, The Man in the Glass Booth, Glengarry Glenn Ross, and The Ruling Class. When folks shot movies in Pittsburgh, Bingo was in them: Dominick and Eugene, Wonder Boys, Out of the Furnace, Lady Beware, Bob Roberts, Love and Other Drugs, and so many others. He was also in Pittsburgh-shot TV series and TV movies. But to horror fans, he will always be remembered for the remake of My Bloody Valentine and three George Romero films: Knightriders, Creepshow, and Two Evil Eyes. In Two Evil Eyes, he played the titular M. Valdemar in Romero’s segment. He was born in the Pittsburgh area, and despite his formidable talent, he never left his hometown. For this, he was beloved by Pittsburghers. Thus, it gives me great pleasure to feature the crowning glory of his long career, a little-known Pittsburgh indie film called A Fancy Piece of Homicide.

In 2016, before Bingo’s health took a sharp decline, young local director Joseph Varhola cast him as the lead in something original, a Yinzer noir. Varhola’s screenplay harkens back to the noirs of old with a flawed, but honorable, lead trying to unravel the most complex of mysteries, a mystery that ultimately is inscrutable. The difference, though, was that these mean noir streets were those of the Steel City.

In A Fancy Piece of Homicide, Bingo plays a gumshoe who, years before, had taken the fall for a murder he didn’t commit. Now he’s been released from prison and determined to set the record straight by writing his memoirs. But the past returns to haunt him when he begins to receive cryptic photos and messages. Soon he’s in way over his head as he looks for closure in his life. 

Bingo himself received closure, passing away in 2019, two years after the release of A Fancy Piece of Homicide. It was to be his last acting triumph. Watching the film was a bittersweet experience. Here he was at the height of his powers, giving a performance that, had it been in a studio film with a multi-million-dollar budget, would have received raves, if not awards. He’s compelling as a man determined to understand bewildering events from the past—and now the present—not within his control. He’s also a rare lead: a smart, independent octogenarian, out to solve one last mystery before the final curtain. 

The film is almost completely in Bingo’s capable hands. It’s a nearly no-budget affair (I’m pretty sure everyone brought their own wardrobe to the shoot), which, despite an excellent score, some competent tech credits, and an intriguing plot, tends to meander as a slow-burn with some travelogue padding shots of the Pittsburgh suburbs. And when it gets to its Dashiell Hammett-like revelation, you might be inclined to ask yourself: Is that all there is?  Apart from another Romero regular, Mark Tierno (Knightriders and Day of the Dead), who plays a weasel pretty well, the rest of the cast ranges from serviceable to awful. 

But ultimately, none of this is important. What is important is that A Fancy Piece of Murder memorializes the performance of one of the best of Pittsburgh’s homegrown talent, the likes of which we may never see again, in a film merging the unique Pittsburgh sensibility with a classic genre. May we all be so lucky to go out on such a high note.

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