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February 24, 2015

52 Pick-Up

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John Frankenheimer - 1986
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

I saw 52 Pick-Up at the time of its initial release. Among films directed by John Frankenheimer, it's a middling effort. Even though Elmore Leonard had a hand in writing the screenplay, it's not among the better adaptations of his books. There's one scene that comes close to the kind of corrosive humor found in Leonard's novels. After the combined efforts of Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret disarm would be murderer Clarence Williams III, Scheider offers Williams a bandage for his bruised nose. In retrospect, what we have is Frankenheimer's best film in what turned out to be a lousy decade.

The basic plot involves the attempt by a disparate trio to blackmail industrialist Harry Mitchell with videotape of his rendezvous with a young "model". Mitchell tries to avoid revealing anything to his wife, Barbara. When the stakes are raised with Mitchell to be framed for murder, he come up with a plan to turn the blackmailers against each other for the coveted loot.

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Throughout a good part of the film, Frankenheimer keeps the camera moving on his characters. The effect is that it there is no other choice but to move forward. One of the rare times that there are static shots is during scenes of emotional intimacy between Scheider and Ann-Margret. Much of the film also takes place in shadowy areas, emphasizing the morally ambiguous behavior that Scheider and Ann-Margret fall into when dealing with the blackmailers. The only scenes in clear open light are in the first and final scenes, establishing and re-establishing the relationship between Harry and Barbara.

Where the film works best is in diving into the seedy side on Los Angeles in the mid 1980s. One of the blackmailers, Leo, operates a joint where customers can take photographs of the available nude models with polaroid camera. Alan manages a porn theater, and shoots movies on videotape on the side. It is suggested that the murderous Bobby Shy has worked as a pimp. There is one scene at a party featuring several porn stars including the ubiquitous Ron Jeremy, Amber Lynn, and Sharon Mitchell.

The other reason to take a look, or revisit, is for John Glover's performance as Alan, the lead blackmailer. To describe Alan as oily or sleazy is inadequate. Elmore Leonard's bad guys are usually the most entertaining characters in his novels. Alan is smart enough to read and understand accounting ledgers, but his garish bachelor pad with the ceiling mirror is indicative of someone with no distinction between his professional life and personal proclivities, and unsurprisingly, his greed gets the better of him.

And I hope the performer known as Vanity is happy where ever she is. Her moment of stardom was brief, but the actress introduced to many of us, strutting around in music videos usually wearing suggestive lingerie, was one gorgeous enough to induce me to spend my money on otherwise forgettable Action Jackson and the wondrously dopey The Last Dragon.

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Posted by peter at February 24, 2015 06:34 AM