Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Prime Cut

The Action Mutant…
says Lee Marvin was in his “prime” here. Heh heh. Ok, let’s move on.

Prime Cut

review by Joe Burrows

Memorable first viewing story: Every once in a while, I’d set my VCR (back when there were such things) and timer record late night movie showings from WNUV-54 in Baltimore. When Prime Cut came about the TV listings one night, all I saw was “Lee Marvin” and “Gene Hackman” and it was a no brainer to give a look. I watch what I recorded the next day and I noticed something peculiar for a broadcast TV airing…tits! Tits and full frontal nudity! I don’t know if the late night guy at WNUV was asleep at the switch or at the vending machine getting Bear Claws but there was Prime Cut in its unedited, uncensored glory on broadcast TV. Sure, it was the 2 a.m. – 4 a.m. time slot and all of probably six people were watching at the time but it seemed like a pretty big deal to me. And the movie was pretty kickass, too! You like guts? Prime Cut has them and more!

The Plot, as it was:
Try this suit (or dress) on for size: Lee Marvin stars as Nick Devlin, a Chicago mob enforcer that’s given an unpleasant surprise…the remains of another mobster in sausage form! He’s the latest victim of Mary Ann (Gene Hackman…yes, Gene Hackman as Mary Ann), a cattle baron that wants to avoid paying his $50,000 debt to the mob. Devlin and a posse of gangsters go down to Kansas City to collect and soon find out that Mary Ann and his hotdog toting brother Weenie (Gregory Walcott) don’t sell just animal meat; they auction off doped up, naked orphaned girls to the highest bidder! Nick rescues a girl named Poppy (Sissy Spacek) and the gangsters soon realize that Midwestern hospitality equates to blond haired farmhands hunting you down with shotguns. However, Nick & Mary Ann have a past with each other (much of it revolving around Nick’s former girl & Mary Ann’s current wife Clarabelle, played by Angel Tompkins) and it’s just a matter of time before the two old friends meet up again for one last showdown.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Did I even begin to mention how insanely twisted (and therefore, awesome) this film is? Simply put, Prime Cut has more entertainment value in five seconds than some summer blockbusters have in their entire durations. And while it is certainly grade A exploitation fare, it also has elements of dark comedy and satire that push it above even the best of its genre’s era. From the memorable opening credits tour through a slaughterhouse (set to docile muzak by Lalo Schifrin) to the ending shootout, director Michael Ritchie (Fletch, The Bad News Bears) and writer Robert Dillon (99 and 44/100% Dead) keep a decided undercurrent of weirdness to the film. Seriously, did you read the plot description? The most brilliant touch however, may be that the filmmakers never make the mistake of trying to weird things up for the sake of it. The dichotomy of the “city slickers” stepping into the Heartland is buoyed by the novel twist of the country folk displaying the vicious, greedy streak of their urban counterparts (think City Slickers…if Jack Palance decided to invoke the spirit of a serial killer and off Billy Crystal…now, there’s a movie!). All of the odd elements are presented against the backdrop of a seemingly standard, hard boiled thriller and we are lucky to see actors who perform expertly in this environment. Marvin is just quintessential Lee Marvin here, displaying the usual steely, menacing glares with a dry sarcasm that is just effortless. His exchanges with Hackman are memorable and it’s almost a shame there isn’t more interaction with them. As the heavy, Hackman is so gleefully evil that it’s an equal shame that his Mary Ann isn’t given more screen time. Spacek (in her first substantial film role) acquits herself well in the “Boy’s Club” atmosphere, though she is basically the designated “damsel in distress”. However, there are so many iconic scenes & images that it’s very hard to feel cheated. Such surreal images as the opening credits sequence, Mary Ann & Weenie playfully wrestling about the office while accountants rattle off Mary Ann’s sordid practices, Nick treating Poppy (and onlookers) to a revealing dinner or the legendary, Hitchcock-like wheat thresher chase only scratch the surface of how deliciously entertaining and bent this flick gets. It may not be subtle or politically correct (or “art house” fare), but as far as total film experiences go, Prime Cut is a man amongst its peers and one damn good, perversely fun ride.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Eddie Egan (Jake) was the real life inspiration of “Popeye” Doyle, the iconic detective played by none other than Gene Hackman in The French Connection.

Body Count/Violence: 15. Its not an overly blood splattered abattoir but Prime Cut is nasty when its time for it to be. For me, it doesn’t get better than Devlin’s muscle swearing vengeance on Mary Ann and his army as they take a ride up a stormy, dirt road, all while Nick is quietly assembling his weaponry in the backseat. That’s some heavy, macho shit right there! The ensuing cornfield/barn shootout counts for most of the dead, with a few splashes of blood for good measure. There’s also some brawling, vehicular mayhem and hot dog attacks (you’ll see!). The opening credit tour isn’t graphic but you still may stave off of sausage & assorted pork products for a while afterwards.

Sexuality/Nudity: Both Spacek & Janit Baldwin (as Violet) are both briefly shown in full frontal nudity, as well as from the back (along with other nude women at the “cattle call”). Both also show off their shapely chests while trying on dresses (excuse the sexist commentary but 1972 Spacek = immaculate rack!) and Sissy’s modeling of said dress is certainly a memorable moment. Tompkins shows some nipple and sideboob (a la Peter Griffith) in a very revealing negligee in her scene with Marvin. There are slight glimpses of pale man ass but not enough to ruin the party.

Language/Dialogue: Not particularly strong, with an S - bomb and a half F -bomb being the most potent.

How bad was it?:
Critics are not usually kind to exploitation fare but some seem to give Prime Cut a pass. Ebert gave it *** and promptly noted it as “…a fantasy in which everything is very simple and usually takes place outdoors, and in which the characters act toward each other with great directness and brutality.” Some critics didn’t seem to know what to make of it but most of them certainly made note of its audacity and visual flourishes.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Cinema Center Films (which produced Little Big Man and the first few Charlie Brown theatrical films) released Prime Cut in New York on 6/28/72. No box office/budget figures are available for it, which is common for a low budget feature of the decade. It was only available for a while on an outdated VHS version (last issued in 1985) but Paramount released it on DVD in Widescreen on 6/14/05. It was certainly a welcome addition to my DVD collection, replacing the DVD-R copy I had of that TV airing I mentioned in the beginning.

Film: ****1/2/*****
Entertainment value: *****/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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