Tuesday, July 12, 2005

DVD: Prime Cut (1972)

For all the talk of the 1970s (which for purposes of discussion run from 1967 to ‘75) as a golden age in American movies, how many great comedies can you name from that period?

Which is why I’ve always been a fan of Michael Ritchie. Starting with 1972’s THE CANDIDATE, he put together a string of sharp, character-driven films that didn’t stint on laughs. SMILE may be his best work, a backstage look at beauty pageants that’s one of the era’s most neglected movies. He followed it up with two sports films – THE BAD NEWS BEARS and SEMI-TOUGH – that work against all the genre’s clichés.

He got sucked into big-budget crap in the ‘80s, along with everyone else. On the plus side, he directed FLETCH. But he’s also responsible for the sequel.

He had a modest comeback by returning to form. THE POSITIVELY TRUE ADVENTURES OF THE ALLEGED TEXAS CHEERLEADER-MURDERING MOM is one of the best TV movies ever made. And 1992’s DIGGSTOWN is a ‘70s film in modern drag, about losers and hustlers and packed with twists. It didn’t fare well at the box office, but it found a long life on video and cable. Every guy I know has seen it at least twice.

Leonard Maltin describes this early Ritchie effort as “tongue-in-cheek trash that fans of sleazy crime melodramas should love.” Regular readers will know that this description applies to me. I was ashamed that I hadn’t seen the movie. When a bare-bones DVD hit the streets last month, I pounced on it.

At last I know why PRIME CUT seldom surfaces on TV. ‘Sleazy’ is the operative word; over the opening credits, we watch a man get ground into sausage.

There’s barely a plot. Enforcer Lee Marvin is sent by the Chicago outfit into the wilds of Kansas City to collect from a gangster known only as Mary Ann (Gene Hackman). That’s it.

In some respects PRIME CUT is a forerunner of this year’s SIN CITY, taking a stock hardboiled set-up and inflating it to the level of a cartoon. Mary Ann doesn’t just sell young girls, he auctions them off from pens in his slaughterhouse. And so on.

I hesitate to recommend PRIME CUT. I will say it’s outrageous enough to command your attention. I’d watch Lee Marvin in anything; nobody exits a room like him. And if, like me, you’ve ever wondered what would happen when a stretch Lincoln meets a thresher, well, this is the movie for you.