The Public Eye (film)
|The Public Eye|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Howard Franklin|
|Produced by||Sue Baden-Powell|
|Written by||Howard Franklin|
|Music by||Mark Isham|
|Edited by||Evan A. Lottman|
|Distributed by||Universal Studios|
The Public Eye is a 1992 neo-noir film written and directed by Howard Franklin, produced by Sue Baden-Powell, and starring Joe Pesci and Barbara Hershey. Stanley Tucci and Richard Schiff appear in supporting roles.
In the 1940s, Leon "Bernzy" Bernstein is a freelance photographer for the New York City tabloids, dedicated to his vivid and realistic work and his ability to get shots nobody else can get. He is very confident of his skills, declaring at one point, "Nobody does what I do. Nobody."
With a police radio under the dashboard of his car and a makeshift darkroom in his trunk, he quickly races to the scene of horrific crimes and accidents in order to snap exclusive photographs. He is so good at his job that he becomes known affectionately as the "Great Bernzini".
Bernzy meets the sultry widow Kay Levitz, who owns a nightclub. It seems the mob is muscling in on her due to some arrangement with her late husband. Kay asks if Bernzy could investigate an individual she considers troublesome. Generally unsuccessful with women, Bernzy agrees to help. In fact, he begins falling in love with Kay.
After talking to his contacts, including journalist friend Arthur Nabler, he tracks down Kay's man, only to find him dead. But when he calls the police, he becomes a suspect. The police and the FBI are also very interested in this case. Bernstein makes a connection with gangster Sal, uncovering a conspiracy involving a mob turf war, gas rationing, and the government. His activities get Sal killed and place Bernzy's life in great danger as he waits in hiding at a restaurant where a mob hit is about to take place.
- Joe Pesci as Leon "Bernzy" Bernstein
- Barbara Hershey as Kay Levitz
- Stanley Tucci as Sal
- Jerry Adler as Arthur Nabler
- Dominic Chianese as Spoleto
- Richard Riehle as Officer O'Brien
- Max Brooks as Teen at Thompson Street
- Richard Schiff as Thompson Street Photographer
- Christian Stolte as Ambulance Attendant
- Jack Denbo as Photo Editor
- Timothy Hendrickson as Richard Rineman
- Del Close as H.R. Rineman
- Lisa Parthenakis Christakis - as young bride with soldier husband the night before he sails, in five and dime as Bernzy looks on admiringly and longingly from the soda fountain counter
Joe Pesci took this role right after his Oscar winning performance in Goodfellas. It was an attempt to capitalize on his popularity at the time and help elevate Pesci from respected character actor to star status.
Director and writer Howard Franklin was unable to secure the rights to Arthur "Weegee" Fellig's story. Franklin, then, wrote the story of a Weegee-like photographer who smokes cigars and he named him Leon "Bernzy" Bernstein. In the film, like Weegee, cops wonder if Bernzy uses a ouija board to snap his photographs and find the stories.
According to journalist Doug Trapp, Franklin was inspired to write the screenplay after seeing a show of Fellig's photos in the 1980s at the International Center of Photography in New York City. And Weegee did, in real life, have a "soul-mate" named Wilma Wilcox, who was the woman in charge of the his estate. But, Franklin has always denied that the film was about their relationship.
The producers used the following tagline when marketing the film:
- Murder. Scandal. Crime. No matter what he was shooting, "The Great Bernzini" never took sides he only took pictures... Except once.
The Public Eye began filming on July 24, 1991 and completed October 28, 1991.
The film's box office performance was a disappointment. The first week's gross was $1,157,470 and the total receipts for the run were $3,067,917. According to "The Numbers" box office database the film was in circulation one week (5 days) in 635 theatres.
In September 2007 an Unbox Digital Video Download was made available. The movie is also available at Amazon.com as digital Video on Demand.
It was released on DVD on January 31, 2011 in the Universal Vault Series.
Chicago Sun-Times film critic, Roger Ebert, was especially complimentary of the film and of actor Joe Pesci, and wrote, "One of the best things about the movie is the way it shows us how seriously Bernzy takes his work. He doesn't talk about it. He does it, with that cigar stuck in his mug, leading the way with the big, ungainly Speed Graphic with the glass flashbulbs. In the movie's big scene of a mob assassination, he stares death in the face to get a great picture." Ebert said the film made him "think" a little bit of Casablanca (1942).
Time Out magazine liked the acting and the script, and wrote, "The main virtue of screenwriter Franklin's debut as director is Pesci's portrayal of Weegee, the famous low-life tabloid photographer of urban disaster, lightly concealed as Bernstein, 'The Great Bernzini'... good dialogue, nice period recreation, great performances."
Desson Howe, film critic for The Washington Post wrote, "Public wants to be taken for an atmospheric film noir, full of intrigue, romance and street toughness. But it's all flash and no picture. Despite the usual quippy, perky performance from Pesci, as well as cinematographer Peter Suschitzky's moodily delineated images, the movie is superficial and unengaging. It's as if Life magazine decided to make an oldtime gangster movie."
The original score for the film was written and recorded by Jerry Goldsmith but he was replaced by Mark Isham at a late stage. As such, Isham had a lot of work to do and in a short time. He found working with director Franklin a wonderful and educational experience.
A motion picture original soundtrack was released. Shorty Rogers also worked on the score and contributed 1 track. The CD contained nineteen tracks in total. The CD was released on October 13, 1992 on the Varese Sarabande label. Mark Isham uses a dark melody played mostly on piano. Isham mixes symphonic, jazz and electronic music; strings and trumpet also play a major role.
- Gallagher, Sean. Suite 101, film review.
- Trapp, Doug. Cincinnati CityBeat, Fellig article, July 24, 2002.
- Levy, Emanuel. Film Review.
- The Numbers box office data. Last accessed: November 27, 2007.
- Box Office Mojo box office data.
- Ebert, Roger. The Chicago Sun-Times, film review, October 14, 1992.
- Time Out Film Guide. Time Out-New York, film review. Last accessed: November 29, 2007.
- Howe, Desson. The Washington Post, film review, October 16, 1992.
- Score Magazine interview with Mark Isham, by Miguel Ángel Ordóñez and Pablo Nieto, 2005.
- Amazon.com web site.