Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Somehow, I missed seeing PRIME CUT (1972) in the theater when it was first released. I know I wanted to see it. My buddy Ray Kohler saw it and said it was great. I finally sat down and watched it the other day. I was disappointed.

PRIME CUT has a great pedigree. Three Academy Award winning stars: Lee Marvin (one of my favorites), Gene Hackman (whom I always enjoy) and Sissy Spacek (in her film debut). But despite the presence of those three stars (all of whom do admirable work in their roles), the film is thin and unsatisfying. If this is a prime cut of film, all of the fat (and flavor) has been trimmed off.

Gene Hackman is a corrupt meat packer named, of all things, Mary Ann. He operates a meat packing plant in Kansas City but it's a front for his vice operations, mainly drugs and prostitution. Mary Ann has been getting fat off of the profits of his enterprise but he refuses to share the wealth with the Irish mob back in Chicago that set him up in his illegal operations. The mob sends some enforcers to collect the take, all of whom meet their unfortunate ends in the slaughterhouse run by Mary Ann's brother, Weenie (the great Gregory Walcott, who was brilliant as Pope in THE EIGER SANCTION).

The Chicago mob has had enough. They send their top muscle man, Nick (Lee Marvin) to the Midwest to get the money that Mary Ann owes the mob. He's aided by a trio of young Irish thugs including Shaughnessy (Howard Platt, who was Hoppy on the TV series SANFORD AND SON). Nick finds Mary Ann holding an auction of naked, drugged young women in his show barn and rescues Poppy (Spacek) from Mary Ann's clutches. Then Nick goes after Mary Ann, letting nothing stand in his way, not even Nick's old flame, Clarabelle (the astonishingly beautiful Angel Tompkins). The most memorable sequence in the film takes place in a wheat field where Nick and Poppy are pursued by a threshing machine.

There's plenty of action but the plot is wafer thin. PRIME CUT seems made to revel in the sex and gore elements that marked many early '70s crime films. Director Michael Ritchie has trouble reigning in his satirical tendencies during a long sequence that takes place at a county fair. His camera focuses on the Midwestern men, women and children as both inherently evil and utterly banal. To emphasize this point, Mary Ann's enforcers are all corn fed, big blond meat heads who wear nothing but denim overalls.

I wanted to like PRIME CUT much more than I did. I waited 42 years to see it but I'm not sure the wait was worth it. I'm sure that had I seen this one when it first came out, back when I was in high school, I would have liked it much more. Worth seeing once if only for the presences of Marvin, Hackman and Spacek.

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