John Frankenheimer directs Roy Scheider, Ann-Margaret and John Glover in this thriller where an industrialist cheats on his politician wife, attracting the vicious attentions of a trio of blackmailers.
So sleazy it genuinely is a shock to the system. Lashings of nudity, misogyny, exploitation and real life porn stars. Scheider convinces as a man who looks like a pair of well polished brogues but still can pull Kelly Preston’s stripper while not irrevocably ruining his marriage to hot Ann-Margaret. His over-confident protagonist turns the tables on a team of scumbags, getting them to in-fight and show their arses. His brinkmanship in a tight and increasingly deadly spot proves very watchable, the film expresses very few moral judgments on anyone. Rougher around the edges but it acts as a blueprint for pretty much any Michael Douglas star vehicle that arrived over the next 15 years, no discredit to Scheider but it genuinely is weird Michael Douglas doesn’t play the lead here. What really makes this forgotten gem pop though is the antagonists. Three very different but full fat performances from Glover, Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor. All stand out as well written, juicy villains that the respective character actors clearly had free reign to inhabit with relish. Of course, Elmore Leonard’s source material always showers a plot with great secondary and one scene parts. This is a lot harder hitting than the criminal comedy of manners adaptations that followed a decade later. It really feels more a piece with auteur American cinema like Hardcore and To Live & Die In L.A.. Frankenheimer’s camera is constantly moving, panning, tracking, dangling… when it does stay still for a shot he is making bold choices like split-diopter lenses. It is an excessively mannered slice of directing but it suits the seedy, relentless plot. While it would be easy to dismiss 52 Pick-Up as merely a better acted than average videoshop filler, I almost immediately wanted to watch it again. Hence a generous score…
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