A Chicago mob enforcer is sent to Kansas City to settle a debt with a cattle rancher who not only grinds his enemies into sausage, but sells women as sex slaves.
"You know what Chicago is? Chicago is a sick old sow, grunt'n for fresh cream, what it deserves is slop. Someday they're gonna boil that town down for fat."
Catalogue titles can be a bit of funny business. On one hand they can be so old that most people over a certain age don't know they exist or have forgotten them entirely, making them a tough sell. On the other hand, by taking some time out of a busy reviewing schedule to look at a film like 'Prime Cut' that came out ten years before you were even born, you can discover one hell of a nasty little exploitation flick starring two cinematic legends, Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman, and featuring the first leading role from Sissy Spacek. It's a movie like this that makes me love watching obscure catalogue titles - when you find a gem, sometimes it turns out to be a rough and tough little diamond.
In Chicago, things aren't all fun and games. The mob is having a tough time of things and the sharks are smelling blood in the water. Things are so bad in fact that a wheeler and dealer in Kansas City named Mary Ann (Gene Hackman) who specializes in cows and women feels so bold that he can hold out paying over $500,000 and not fear reprisal. Only the mob doesn't forget and they tend to have a tough time forgiving. They sent three men to get what's theirs from Mary Ann. The first ended up in a ten foot high pile of manure, the second was found floating face down in the river, and the third was returned to the Chicago bosses processed into hotdog links.
If the mob ever hopes to get the money they're owed, they're going to need some extra muscle from the one guy Mary Ann fears - Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin). Nick has been around, he's seen it all and he knows how to apply a delicate touch to get back what his bosses are owed. If formal niceties don't get the job done, he's got two good fists and an automatic submachine gun to finish the fight before it even has a chance to start. When Nick arrives in Kansas City backed by three fresh-faced enforcers, not even his years of experience can prepare him for what he sees.
Nestled in the heartland of America, Mary Ann has built himself quite the meatpacking empire. In addition to slaughtering and processing cattle, he's selling off women to the highest bidder. When they're on display they're stripped nude, drugged, and tossed into cattle pens. When they're not being auctioned off, they're kept at "The Orphanage" and held there waiting for some sleaze bag to come along and offer the right price. It's when he confronts Mary Ann during a "private" banquet that Nick meets Poppy (Sissy Spacek). He doesn't see someone to be used and tossed away - he sees an innocent young girl pleading for help that in another life could have been his own daughter. Taking her as part of his "fee," Nick gets Poppy out of harms way as he figures out how to nail Mary Ann to the wall. The only problem is Mary Ann knows the score, he knows how the mob works, and he and his half-wit brother Weenie (Gregory Walcott of 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' fame) are more than ready for anything Nick and his guys can throw their way.
Crime thrillers have been a staple of movie making since movies were invented. All the way back to the silent era, criminals, tough cowboys, mobsters, and gangs have proved to be sources for some solid entertainment. 'Prime Cut' is no exception. Written by Robert Dillon and Directed by Michael Ritchie - this hard boiled thriller moves fast at just under 90 minutes long and never pulls any punches. While most certainly an exploitation film, it never feels exploitive. It feels brutally honest like what is on screen could happen - at least until Lee Marvin pulls out his submachine gun. Marvin once again proves he's one of the biggest and baddest tough guys to ever make it to the silver screen. Here he lets out a subdued menace while also letting a softer side of himself shine through - especially during the scenes with Spacek. The real ace in this movie however is Gene Hackman. He may not be top billed, but the man is acting like he is. Hackman has always had a knack for playing scumbag characters and his Mary Ann is quite possibly the dirtiest.
For such a short movie, I was actually surprised by the slow, deliberate pacing of the picture. From the opening credits all the way through to the final gun battle, the film knows how to take its time, hit the gas in all the right places, and also when to pop on the breaks and let the actors be human. In fact the film's best moments come when Lee Marvin's Nick buys Sissy Spacek's Poppy a dress and takes her out to a nice dinner - even though the dress is far too revealing. Being able to see through her dress isn't the point. The point is Nick is the first man in Poppy's life to look past that, see her for who she is and treat her like a respectable human being even when everyone around them wont.
I wasn't expecting to get such a kick out of 'Prime Cut.' It's not entirely a perfect movie, but what it is manages to be a better than average crime thriller featuring two of the best leading men in the business. Watching Hackman and Marvin share screen time was one of those cinematic moments that gives you goosebumps, and any time Marvin plays a character compelled to make use of a machine gun, you know you're in for something good. Toss in a subdued but pitch perfect score from Lalo Schifrin and you have 88 solid minutes of always engaging entertainment.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Prime Cut' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber's Studio Classics line. Pressed on a Region A locked BD25 disc and housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
Being a film of some 43 years, 'Prime Cut' makes a slightly better than average Blu-ray debut with a decent but problematic 2.35:1 1080p transfer. Crush and grain saturation are the primary issues dogging this otherwise very strong transfer. For the most part black levels are very strong and natural offering some decent depth - but when the scene takes place at night or in a very dark room, anyone wearing dark clothing can become a floating head and the visible grain kicks into high gear making a somewhat noisy and flat appearing image. Thankfully those are the only two issues with this transfer. For the most par the print is in fine shape, aside from some slight speckling here and there. Colors are warm and robust adding a little bit of an eerie feel to the flick since so much of it is brightly lit. Flesh tones appear appropriately warm without appearing too pink. With grain retained the image has a nicely detailed effect to it making facial features and costumes stand out nicely. A particularly great scene is when Lee Marvin and Sissy Spacek have to run for their lives through a field of wheat (cue Woody Allen joke here). Aside from some slight banding during the opening credits, this image is actually very strong, it just has some slight but noticeable issues knocking down the grade.
With a strong DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track, 'Prime Cut' gets a strong and resonate lossless track that really helps bring some life to the flick. For what sounds like a repurposed mono track, there is actually a great deal of imaging coming through this one. The sound elements have a lot of space between them so sound effects, background ambients, dialogue, and the film's Schifrin score have plenty of room without feeling they're overlapping each other. Scenes like when we first meet nick in a Chicago bar and the county fair shootout later in the film are great examples of this layered effect. Levels are wonderfully balanced as this can be a movie that is quiet and conversational one moment and then loud and intense the next. The tonal shifts happen smoothly and don't create any distortion or require you to ride the volume button. The track is also free of any age related issues like hiss or drop outs making it a nice upgrade to Blu-ray.
Trailer: (SD 2:32) a solid trailer that has great bits of dialogue that aren't in the movie - I hate it when that happens!
'Prime Cut' is one of those odd little 70s thriller/exploitation movies that has a simple concept with a great cast. Movies like this just don't get made today and it's a real shame, because these rough around the edges studio films offer some of the best entertainment value out there. With a pretty decent transfer and a strong audio track, 'Prime Cut' earns some great marks. Sadly the only extra feature is a pretty beat up trailer, so at the end of the day I can really only call this one as being worth a look. I think the film will pick up some new fans with this Blu-ray from Kino.