WHY WOULD PETER FALK STEAL
HIS OWN MOVIE FROM A LAB?
He never said that he did.
But he certainly was accused of doing just that. Here's the saga
of his "Mikey and Nicky," a cult film that opened shortly
after my 1976 interview with Falk appeared in The New York Times.
Even though "Mikey and Nicky" did a fast fade, I'd advise
you to go out of your way to track down the DVD. --GUY FLATLEY
me, but are you Mr. Columbo?" whispered the frail, saucer-eyed
child as he approached the unshaved, impeccably rumpled man moodily
gazing into his scrambled eggs in the Oak Room of the Plaza.
"Yes, I am," he smiled, accepting a trembly compliment
from his admirer. But Peter Falk wasnt in town to talk about "Columbo,"
his thriving television series; he was here to discuss a trouble-plagued
movie that, like a sickly child, has come to mean more to him than
any other he has made. Three years after shooting began, and a long
while after lawsuits and counter-lawsuits had been filed and dropped
by writer-director Elaine May and Paramount Pictures, and many months
after Mr. Falk had been accused of conspiring with Miss May to conceal
numerous cans of film that were allegedly taken from a photo lab,
"Mikey and Nicky" is finally set to surface this Tuesday
at Manhattan's Little Carnegie Theater.
The nightmare, however, is not yet at an end. Mr. Falk now fears
that "Mikey and Nicky" a harsh drama with pockets
of dusky humor will be misrepresented as a madcap comedy
from Elaine May, the zany cut-up who tickled us with "A New
Leaf" and "The Heartbreak Kid." "There is nothing
satirical about Mikey and Nicky," Mr. Falk said
in a benign growl. "This is no romp in the park."
It is, instead, an unsparing study of an ambiguous relationship
between two eternal adolescents, one of whom has been marked for
a "hit" by their gangster boss. "I dont know
if you can like these guys," said Mr. Falk, who plays the Jewish
Mikey to John Cassavetess Italian Nicky. "In a way, Mikey
is just a worthless punk; yet, there is a residue of humanity there.
Im trying to make a connection, and Nicky is the one friend
I have. An evening with Nicky is more fun than an evening with my
wife. Nicky can make me laugh."
Nicky can also make Mikey cry. "He humiliates me, and my proper
response to that is rage," Mr. Falk explained. "In real
life, I can identify with being made a joke of. Not so much now,
since Ive become a big actor and all that, but I havent
lost the memory of what its like when somebody tries to make
me feel like Im nothing. Nobody wants to be made a joke of,
especially when that joke is made by a friend. Every friendship,
every closeness, contains the potential for great rivalry."
Still, old friendships die hard. "What Nicky and I share is
a past. Weve grown up on the street together, knocked off
grocery stores together, made deals together. We share the triumph
of survival. After a certain age, you cant make friendships
like that; there is no past to share. Its like an actor who
keeps some fondness for a guy he met in the Army, someone he later
knocked on doors with, was down and out with, stole food from a
supermarket with, got bad reviews with."
Earlier this year, Mr. Falk received good reviews for his tough-lisping
performance as the Bogart-like Sam Diamond in Neil Simons
adroitly camp "Murder by Death," and hell repeat
the role next April in Mr. Simons "The Cheap Detective."
Marsha Mason will also star as a woman of intrigue, and Robert Moore,
the director of "Murder by Death," will return, as will
Eileen Brennan as the battered, all-purpose secretary Tess Skeffington.
"All five of those women who were in Bogarts movie life
will be in the film," Mr. Falk said. "We got to get a
spiritual Frenchwoman full of fervor, one whose love of country
is equaled only by her love of this man. Therell be a Mary
Astor character and a Lauren Bacall character, and one woman who
uses a lot of names. Between the appetizer and the main course,
she goes from being Mrs. Montenegro to Lilly Clark."
Mr. Falk also plans to play the eccentric owner of a used-car lot
in Robert Altmans film of Kurt Vonneguts "Breakfast
of Champions," which will co-star Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson
and Sterling Hayden. And, of course, he is eager to collaborate
again with Elaine May.
"The toughest thing in the making of a movie," he said,
"is to find the right word to say to an actor. Its easy
enough for a director to say Faster or Slower
or I dont believe youre doing it right,
but to hit that precise phrase that an actor will respond to
tough. The thing about Elaine is that if she cant find the
phrase, she wont say anything. For that, I love her."
Might he follow in the footsteps of Elaine May and become a director?
"Maybe. When I find out what to say to actors."