Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Prime Cut (1972)

You know how movies like Fast Food Nation (and various documentaries - none of which I have seen) depict, to put it mildly, an unhealthy beef industry? Well, I'm not sure any of them can top Prime Cut which, in a brilliant opening credit sequence, posits that sometimes human cadavers get mixed in with cattle and end up as sausage. This sequence begins with the unloading of the cows and continues through with such niceties as the hammering of their heads, the cutting up of limbs, the loading of parts onto conveyor belts, and the condensing of various unsavory bits into a machine which squeezes everything together into a paste that ends up as sausage. Along the way, we catch a quick glimpse of a naked male ass that somehow becomes a part of the process. One of the "cow" parts on the conveyor belt has a wristwatch. A guy (aptly named Weenie) follows these particular parts throughout the process, while munching on cold sausage, eventually packaging up the finished bits and sending them off to Chicago (the movie takes place outside of St. Louis). All of this takes place as the credits slide onto the screen accompanied by Lalo Schifrin's cues. It's one of the more original openings I've seen.

Turns out that slaughterhouse is run by Mary Ann (Gene Hackman), a former Chicago mobster who got sick of playing second banana in the big city. So, he moved to farm country where he could operate his own business. The beef industry is too legitimate, however, so he also deals in drugs and sex slavery on the side. It turns out that the human sausage links were once this mob guy sent down by his boss in Chicago to collect a debt from Mary Ann. His former boss, upon receiving the package, dispatches an enforcer (Nick played by Lee Marvin) to get the money and maybe settle a few scores. I like Hackman, but he's not a match for Lee Marvin.

I enjoyed this picture. We got some good scenes (and one great one). Marvin plays his character the only way he knows how: tough (note: I haven't seen Cat Ballou). Although, in a bit of a twist, they also give him a sensitive side. In one of the more risque scenes, Marvin and a couple of his men, arrive at Mary Ann's slaughter house, to talk. They arrive as he's auctioning off drugged out girls kept naked and non-lucid inside cattle pens. One of these girls is a very naked Sissy Spacek (in her first major role) who, at one point, whispers "help me". He does. He brings her back to his hotel, buys her a dress (it's see through) and takes her out to a nice dinner (a scene echoed in Pretty Woman). When other patrons begin staring at her visible nipples Marvin gives them a staredown (obviously they relent) and treats Spacek to a wry smile. I don't think his intent was to give her a revealing dress. He's just not good at those sort of things.

Gene Hackman is good as the villain, a slightly more sinister Lex Luthor. First off, he's been saddled with Mary Ann as a name so you know he's probably always had to act tough. In the first scene between him and Marvin, he's shown eating cow guts. At first he smiles alot, laughs, etc. When Marvin pisses him off he looks like he's about to fly off the handle for a moment, but then he quickly bursts into a laugh. His views on forced prostitution are simply "cow flesh....girl flesh...all the same to me." He's not all bad though. His brother Weenie is the supervisor of the slaughterhouse. Apparently, he makes a slave's wage since he can only afford to live in a room in the lousiest hotel in town. Also, the only thing he seems to eat are sausages which he likely stole off the assembly line. In an amusing scene, he and Mary Ann wrestle in the kitchen (a fight that goes on and on) while the accountants tally up the cash, none of which seems to make it's way into Mary Ann's brother's pockets. Come to think of it, I guess Mary Ann is a "son of a bitch", a sentiment shared by Weenie.

The best scene (the great one I alluded to earlier) of the picture takes place at a local fair, the site of an arranged money pick up between Mary Ann and Nick. The deal goes bad (the money is switched with cow organs) and some violence erupts. The whole thing culminates in a wheat field chase with Nick and Spacek (character named Poppy) fleeing from one of those hay bailer machine things. It cuts and gathers up the grass in the front and then shits out a bail of hay in the back. Anyway, what's great about this scene is the way it ends. Nick's driver crashes his limo into the front of the machine, gets out, shoots the driver and then we watch for a few moments while the bailer chews up the limo and lays out a bail of metal in the back.

The climax was a little too familiar but I liked how it began with Nick (who previously had refused the use of guns - as if it was insulting that he would even need one) loading up with an arsenal as they drive to the final confrontation with Mary Ann. There's a nice moment when Weenie stabs Nick with a sausage. There's a gunfight amongst sunflowers. Marvin even finds time to free some girls that were raised from childhood to be sex slaves (a local orphanage turns them out faster than Mary Ann turns out sausage links). In some ways, it's like that movie Taken except it doesn't jump directly from one action scene to the next spending little to no time developing Neeson's Bourne-esque character beyond the fact that he's incredibly lucky and trying to make up for lost time with his daughter. Here, we got some small character moments like the look Marvin gives when he finds a comatose girl in a flophouse clutching a fistful of nickels (her payment for sexual services) and a line full of derelicts waiting to use her. Or the bond between Marvin and his driver which is conveyed without words. Or the non-generic score by Schifrin. I wish the studio would put shit out like this these days. Good job on the part of Michael Ritchie (the director, whose credits also include The Bad News Bears and Fletch).

1 comment:

Megmo Eskimo said...

Wow I didn't even know this movie existed! I like how Hackman states that cow flesh and girl flesh are synonymous :)