52 Pick-Up (1986)
“Greed. Extortion. Revenge.”
Director: John Frankenheimer
Cast: Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret, Vanity
Synopsis: A secret fling between a man and his mistress leads to blackmail and murder.
WARNING – This review contains SPOILERS!
With 52 Pick-Up, one-time boy wonder director John Frankenheimer delivers an average crime thriller that possesses the amorality more typical of 70s crime flicks than those made in the 80s and which benefits from a snappy script by prolific crime novelist Elmore Leonard.
Roy Scheider, whose brief sojourn near the top of the pile was already nearing its end when 52 Pick-Up was made, plays Harry Mitchell, a self-made industrialist with a thriving business, a beautiful wife (Ann-Margret), and a young mistress (Kelly Preston) who turns out to be the honey trap for a trio of sleazy low-lifes out to blackmail everything they can from their victim. The trouble is, Harry is only paper rich, and can afford to raise no more than $52,000. Balking against being a blackmail target anyway, Harry refuses to pay so the blackmailers up the stakes by filming the murder of Mitchell’s mistress and framing him for the crime…
There are no real heroes in this film. Harry Mitchell is the notional hero but he’s not that nice a guy really. He ‘s cheating on his wife of twenty-three years with a girl young enough to be his daughter, and although he claims that he was about to call time on his squeeze you get the impression from the opening scenes of the movie that he was only doing it because wifey was getting suspicious. So how do you make a character of questionable moral principles the hero of your film? You make the three villains of the film as sleazy and unscrupulous as you can. So the ringleader of the bad guys, Alan Raimy (John Glover giving a wonderfully slimy performance) is a maker of cheap porno films who makes a snuff movie of the killing of Mitchell’s girlfriend then injects his wife with heroin before raping her. Leo, (Robert Trebor) is a weasel who runs a nudie show and who becomes a nervous wreck when, instead of rolling over, Mitchell begins to fight back. The third member of this unholy triumvirate is Bobby Shy (Clarence Williams III), a taciturn killer who attempts to suffocate a girlfriend (Vanity) whom he suspects of colluding with Mitchell with the use of a giant cuddly toy. These are not nice guys — they’re not too bright either because the video footage they show Mitchell when they first approach him offers the businessman half-a-dozen clues which enable him to track them down in no time.
While it’s entertaining enough, 52 Pick-Up is a film that seems to wallow in the sleazier side of life. In the course of the film we visit every den of vice and iniquity imaginable. Whether this is intended as a critique on the moral wasteland that the western world has largely become since the sixties is debatable, but if it is, it comes across as one of those documentaries that shows endless scenes of pornography in order to preach about its corrupting influence. There’s plenty of female nudity here and it’s all on display for the pleasure of the male characters in the film. The women in this film are nothing more than vessels for the product of men’s sexual desires — even Ann-Margret, who plays a savvy politically-minded type, ends up the same way as all the other female characters. They are victims of men. It could be argued that Leonard and Frankenheimer are sympathetic to the plight of women, but the way in which the camera dwells on their nudity, and the way it lingers over the suffocation of Doreen — she is brought close to the point of death not once but three times — suggest a more misogynistic motivation. Either way, it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, and diminishes what could otherwise have been a great commercial film.
(Reviewed 15th October 2005)