Bingo was his name-o.
A Fancy Piece of Homicide (2017): 7 out of 10: A private eye (Bingo O’Malley) recently released from prison, after doing a stretch for a murder he didn’t commit, writes his memoir only to be haunted by someone leaving old photos related to the crime. Apparently, there are forces that do not want the truth to be known even after all this time.
The Good: Well, let’s start with the reason for the season, lead actor Bingo O’Malley. A local Pittsburg boy who never took The Southwest Chief to Hollywood. Bingo was eighty-four years old when he played this role and he gives a fantastic performance. A Fancy Piece of Homicide is a noir through and through, and Bingo plays his character about twenty years younger than his octogenarian self. We are so used to “Hollywood” old people that it’s simply refreshing to see an actual old person playing a role without his age being a major plot point.
It is also nice to see a proper noir. You could almost convince me that the movie is in black and white simply because the nature of the film and the cinematography give such a strong impression.
Also in the plus column are some very well shot scenes in and around Pittsburg which is not something one often sees in a Hollywood film.
The Bad: I keep saying you would not see this or that in a Hollywood film. And while that is a strength of A Fancy Piece of Homicide, it is also a weakness. This is a very low budget affair. Some of the acting outside of the lead is good. (Fred Steinberg gives a fantastic performance as the obnoxious brother of the Bingo’s lady friend. Well, I assume it is a performance. It is his only acting role on film and for all I know, he really is that insufferable). Some of the other acting, however, is certainly wanting.
Also wanting are a few of the sets. (As I note below in the screenshots, the after-hours club is downright laughable). The overall pacing of the film, while fitting for a noir, can certainly be glacial at times.
The Ugly: The script for A Fancy Piece of Homicide is quite good, with a lot of Bingo O’Malley’s noirish monologuing fitting both the genre to a tee and entertaining in its own right. (Helps that Bingo nails the delivery throughout the film). The story, on the other hand, is a complete mess.
The gist of the story is a shadowy cadre are trying to prevent Bingo O’Malley from writing his memoir. There are plenty of very powerful people who don’t want this to get out. They control the police; they have hidden cameras and are willing to murder innocent people to get their way.
But it is clear as the story unfolds that Bingo doesn’t know anything. His entire version of events is what he said at his trial. Bingo seems more confused by the pictures sent to him than anything else. While A Fancy Piece of Homicide keeps focusing on who is behind this, it never asks the much more pressing question of why.
A story does not have to have high stakes to work. Some of the best fiction has remarkably low stakes. What is important is that the characters are passionate about the outcome. For that, you need a motivation. You need the why. In the big scheme of things, it matters to almost no one whom Mr. Darcy marries. No one except Elizabeth Bennet. (Well and his mother, of course).
A Fancy Piece of Homicide keeps hinting that there will be a revelation or a twist that will tie all this together. It simply never comes. The film ends with a whimper. Which, while a bold and on target choice for an old-fashioned noir, is deadly for a glacial mystery. At some point, Hercule Poirot has to get everyone in the room and go over the evidence. At some point, you have to show the monster.
A Fancy Piece of Homicide has no monster. It figures the mystery should remain unsolved and the status quo at the end of the film should be basically the same as it was at the beginning. That may be realistic, but it is a tough trick for a story to pull off.
In conclusion: My partner at the end of A Fancy Piece of Homicide exclaimed “Well that was bullshit”. I am sympathetic to her point of view. I loved the performance of Bingo O’Malley and I found A Fancy Piece of Homicide refreshing. But the last emotion both times I have watched the film was disappointment. I recommend A Fancy Piece of Homicide, but with that reservation.