VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the September 27, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.
Nicky (John Cassavetes) calls Mikey (Peter Falk) to bail him out of trouble. This happens all the time, but this time, there’s a contract out on his life for the money he robbed from a mob boss. Director and writer May had originally cast Paramount president Frank Yablans as one of the gangsters, but parent company Gulf+Western didn’t think that was funny and made her get someone else.
This was not the end of May’s battles with this movie, the last she’d make for a decade.
The next movie she would direct was Ishtar.
She shot over one million feet of film, three times as much as was shot for Gone with the Wind. At times, she kept three cameras running for hours at a time, all to better capture the spontaneity between Cassavetes and Falk. During one scene, both men left the set and she kept rolling. A camera operator yelled, “Cut!” and she flipped out, as that was her job. He said, “The actors are off the set.” She replied, “They might come back.”
At the end of production, May had gone over budget and lost her final cut, so she kept two reels in her husband’s garage. In response, Paramount played a continuity error-filled version of the movie into theaters for just a few days. Former Paramount acquisitions employee Julian Schlossberg purchased the rights from the studio with May and Falk. It was first shown as the Directors Guild of America Fiftieth Anniversary Tribute in 1986 and at the United States Film Festival’s Tribute to John Cassavetes in 1989.
As for the film, Mikey has to save Nicky from a hitman (Ned Beatty) as well as his own paranoia. They have their lives on the line, but for the killer, it’s just business, and he’s actually losing money when you factor in expenses. But maybe Mikey needs to get away from Nicky to save himself, because there’s a reason why he’s the only friend Nicky has left. And sometimes, being a man means being a better friend to yourself than your best of friends.
Needless to say, I would also just turn a camera on Cassavetes and Falk to see what they would do and just keep it running. May was just as tenacious and explosive as the men she’s captured on celluloid and who cares, decades later, how many feet she shot? More artists should be ready to throw it all away for their craft.