Is it possible that Lee Marvin is underrated? In the history of American cinematic cool-tough guys it’s the Bogarts, Deans, Brandos, and McQueens of the world that get the glory. Lee Marvin-
-is Nick Devlin, who’s as cool a customer as Marvin’s characters in classics like The Dirty Dozen and Point Blank. He’s sent to Kansas City from Chicago to get mob money owed by Mary Ann-
Yes, that’s Gene Hackman as a maniacal butcher (literally, in both senses). When all is said and done Prime Cut is a great film, and it’s not even one of Hackman’s best. Top five Hackman performances for me would have to be The French Connection, Night Moves, Scarecrow, The Conversation, and Unforgiven. What a career.
Prime Cut features Sissy Spacek pre-Badlands and Carrie in a performance that nearly outdoes both of those as Poppy, the girl whom Nick saves from captivity.
It feels like director Michael Ritchie gets a real kick out of setting what would normally be a big city narrative in the open fields of the midwest. One of the best sequences of the film comes towards the end. Nick and company ride towards a final showdown:
A storm brews in the distance ominously, and those dark clouds play out as backdrop for a fantastic (long) shootout in a sunflower field. You can get the feel from some of these shots how much Ritchie loves his location:
It’s the opposite of what a back-alley city shootout or chase scene might be. Here Ritchie frames openness, and even when there are obstructions (the last shot above), the soft yellow in the foreground really mitigates anything that could equate to the hard asphalt of the Windy City. This really reminds me of the end of another great mob/revenge film that I wrote on recently, the original Get Carter, in that location makes a scene sing more than it otherwise would.
From good ends to good beginnings. The opening montage of the meat factory is a thing of beauty. It’s kind of like the anti-Killer of Sheep.
Here the shots are sterile, cold, automatic, and controlled (as opposed to Charles Burnett’s great film where the factory is dreamlike and glowing). This montage – of which only a small fraction is represented here – is great not only for its varied imagery and character introduction (that’s Weenie (Gregory Walcott), Mary Ann’s brother), but also for a fun plot point. That shoe on the conveyor belt? Not an accident. They’re killing more than cows here.
Prime Cut is a pretty funny film – sometimes outlandishly so – and that hotdog that Weenie is holding is part of the comedy. Consider this ending fight between Nick and Weenie. Nick drops Weenie off a ledge-
-and Ritchie cuts to an overhead shot, where he then zooms into the hand-
It’s not a knife…but a hotdog. This is a meat factory-lifer.