"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Prime Cut

Scroll up a little bit and you can read about POINT BLANK, Lee Marvin’s great Richard Stark adaptation. Directed by John Boorman, an obvious influence on THE LIMEY, one of the classics. Well here’s another one in the same tough guy vein. But it’s less arty, less thoughtful, and has a weird ass meat theme to it.

The movie starts with a slaughterhouse montage showing cows going from cows to sausages. Like the e-coli version of the opening credits to WILLY WONKA. Along the way a dead dude gets thrown in there, chopped up, ground and turned into links, then a big sweaty dude says, “Special order,” packs ’em up and mails ’em to the guy’s boss.

Prime CutThat was the last guy that got sent into this place, so now it’s Lee Marvin’s turn. He takes a couple of boys and goes to threaten his old friend Gene Hackman, the head of Mary Ann’s Meats. That’s right, Gene Hackman plays a character named Mary Ann. He used to be part of the same Chicago crime scene as Lee Marvin, but he got sick of the competition and decided to start his own empire out in the booneys. This is where the movie starts to get weird, when you see it has a real fanciful idea of farmland criminal decadence. We first meet Mary Ann in a barn, laughing and eating a huge pile of ground meat, while his rich clients browse the hay-filled stalls where doped up naked girls lay around looking like corpses.

So Lee Marvin comes in, threatens Mary Ann, and leaves with one of the naked girls, future academy award winner/Carrie White Sissy Spacek. Turns out she grew up in an orphanage, actually raised for this fate as a white slave. Lee gets her a dress (but no bra) and brings her to a fancy restaraunt, where everybody stares at her visible nipples. She does some of the ol’ trademark Sissy Spacek wild girl routine, staring at everything with giant eyes like she was just born a full grown woman and is seeing earth for the first time. So of course it turns out that Lee is a tough guy criminal with a heart of gold. He never romances Sissy, but he takes good care of her and tries to help her save the other girls.

There are alot of weird moments in this movie, like when a guy tries to stab Lee with a sausage. But my favorite is sort of a NORTH BY NORTHWEST deal where Lee and Sissy are running through a wheat field and some young sweaty cowboy dude tries to run them down in some kind of wheat plow/hay bailer deal (I never worked on a wheat farm, sorry). There’s no way they’re gonna outrun the thing, but luckily Lee’s loyal chauffeur (the Alfred to his Batman) drives across the field right into the plow and shoots the driver.

So now the threat is over, the action scene has ended. And our heroes stand and watch as the plow chews the whole car into tiny pieces. It’s great.

The movie is well directed by Michael Ritchie, the dude that directed THE BAD NEWS BEARS. There’s lots of gritty atmosphere and quiet moments that erupt into some nice themes by Lalo Schifrin. But of course the show is all Lee Marvin’s. Not even Gene Hackman can take a movie from Lee Marvin.

Unfortunately, like POINT BLANK, this one’s not on DVD and out of print on VHS. And the transfer’s pretty fucked, always either obviously cropped or weirdly stretched out to fit the shape of a TV. Still, it’s well worth tracking down and I’m sure some day the nitwits will figure out to put it on a more convenient and round type of format.

UPDATE: the nitwits did release it on dvd, check it out

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 8th, 2004 at 12:00 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “Prime Cut”

  1. I just watched this one. I’d read a few good things about it and decided to check it out. Lee Marvin is fantastic as usual, the dramatic scenes are pretty effective and the locations are interesting. The action scenes, however, are pretty ludicrous. The scene Vern mentions above with the thresher is ridiculous. It was a real stretch to believe they could not get out of the way of that thing. And why was Marvin’s character not packing a gun at that point? After the car hits the thresher, the thresher chews up the car and shits the parts out the back. Huh?

    I just don’t think the director had any idea how to shoot an action scene. People were literally dodging bullets during gun fights. Marvin ducks under a few shotgun blasts while others use sunflowers in a field as effective cover. This sucks any sense of danger out of the action and renders the entire picture effectively moot.
    I was hoping for an unsung badass 70s classic. This ain’t that.

  2. Ladies and gents, it’s on dvd now.

  3. This movie deserves more attention! Darryl is right, the action scenes are somewhat slack, with hit-and-miss camera placement … but it’s an eccentric picture that has so many top elements that being put through its paces is a distinct pleasure. Marvin’s offhand cool here is reason enough for any Vern reader to check this out; he’s a brute with nuance that’s neither sentimental nor drunk on swagger. Hackman and (especially) Spacek lend their characters more than what’s on the page, but Marvin … wow. Hall of fame, IMO. And like Darryl says, the locations are a terrific look at the urban and rural midwest of the early 70s (plus the clothes, furniture, cars, etc.)

    The tone is something else, too. Odd setpieces, peculiar character moments, the occasional inspired compositions – they might not get your heart racing, but they’re thrilling in their own handcrafted, let’s-quietly-stretch-the-genre way. Prime Cut is aware that its core is exploitative sleaze yet it never winks or nudges. It delivers the goods with a crooked grin all its own.

    (BTW, Michael Ritchie also put his stamp on a greater film that lesser hands would have molded into standard-issue wackiness: 1975’s Smile. Though not badass, it’s another hidden treasure.)

  4. I don’t agree with Darryll in that this isn’t a badass 70’s classic. It is. And one of Marvin’s best ever. And Richie’s action scenes can be very good. Just look at Marvin’s attack on Hackman’s farm; now that’s the essense of cool!

  5. I watched this recently. Very good film. And the meat part was interesting which made it stick out among a lot of tough guy movies. Seeing Marvin and Hackman in the same film is also an encouragement to see this film. Maybe not a classic, but a quirky slice of bad ass cinema and I ate it like a good steak.

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