Before "Bonnie & Clyde": Remembering Arthur Penn's "Mickey One"

September 30, 2010

Legendary film director Arthur Penn should have made more films in Chicago.

Penn, who died yesterday at age 88, is best known for the 1967  film Bonnie & Clyde–and its infamous ending. But two years earlier, Penn and his  Clyde co-star Warren Beatty, took to the streets of Chicago for the acclaimed, if now seldom-seen, Mickey One.  In the film, Beatty plays a nightclub comic who runs afoul of the Detroit mob–and does not know how he did–and flees to Chicago. (You’d think Chicago would be the last place you’d go to escape the mob, but in the context of the movie, it makes total sense.)

Under Penn’s direction and Belgian-born Ghislain Cloquet’s crisp, documentary-like black-and-white photography, Mickey One presents a hip, jazzy and yet gritty Chicago with plenty of location shots.  The movie feels like a European New Wave film in both tone and approach, and was filmed at a time when there were very few motion pictures made in Chicago.

The above clip comes courtesy of Steven Dalhman, keeper of the always entertaining Marina City Online site, shows a crazy kinetic sculpture (“It’s called…’Yes.’ “) built for the movie on the ice rink at then-brand new Marina City. You can catch a glimpse of the old Sun-Times building over Beatty’s right shoulder at the start of the clip. Beatty’s character also turns up in seedier parts of town, including the old Skid Row on west Madison Street.

I wish Penn had gotten a chance to revisit Chicago. The city looked exciting through his eyes.  But there is one thing for which to be thankful: For years, Mickey One had been unavailable on DVD, but this oversight was corrected just two weeks ago when Sony/Columbia released the film via its Screen Classics By Request service.