If John Frankheimer, Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret, John Glover, a couple of porn stars, and a screenplay from Elmore Leonard cannot make a good adaptation, then really, even though it is the end of the month, I give up. Surely a good film (not counting the westerns) must have been made before Get Shorty.
Help me 52 Pick Up, you are my only hope.
Harry Mitchell is an L.A. manufacturer who holds a couple of patents and a contract with NASA. His attractive wife is running for city council, and his mistress is a pretty sexy lady. He's doing well for himself. Only some blackmailers, they have evidence of his indiscretions, and Harry knows a story like that can ruin his wife's chances of being elected. He could go to the police. He could pay the $100,000. Instead, he doesn't do any of that. The stakes get upped, and things go south.
Not only is it an underrated gem of a flick, it made me rethink the way a Leonard book can be filmed. Up to this point, the only adaptations I have enjoyed had that slick feeling, the humor, with just breaks of violence. Frankenheimer tosses that right out the window and made a movie that feels like it came from the 70's. Dark, gritty, sleazy. And I love it.
There were some great choices made in making this film. I've read that Leonard based the novel in Detroit, but moving it to Los Angeles was a stroke of genius. This is how I imagine the City of Angels to be, nothing but porn, booze, and corruption. Traditional LA locales are ignored, with this film spending most of it's time in shitty apartments, peep shows, adult theaters, and factories. Frankenheimer uses these settings as props, and fills them with an overabundance of naked people. If I had discovered this movie when I was 12 it would have become a favorite.
But the real thrill of this film is the casting. Roy Scheider is always reliable, but he is so good in this. He's convincing as the poor sap who just wanted to have sex with a younger woman and is desperately trying to get out of the hole he dug. But when he needs to take the offensive, he is surprisingly bad ass.
I've also realized for me to really enjoy a Leonard adaptation, the "bad guys" need to be captivating, and the casting director chose the roles of Alan Raimy, Leo Franks, and Bobby Shy perfectly. As the weak link, Robert Trebor plays him just spineless enough. He's a good talker, so it's easy to see how he ended up on the crew, and how he was the first one deemed unnecessary. Clarence Williams III, a fellow I've always found a bit spooky has that quality magnified as Bobby Shy. Behind those sunglasses and mop top hair is a hard man.
The real revelation though is John Glover as Raimy. He's charming, handsome, and undeniably disturbing. His performance was in danger of going over the top a few times, but I don't feel he went over the precipice. He's smart, but not smart enough, and like most Leonard "villains," his hubris is his own undoing.
52 Pick Up doesn't quite make it into the top tier of Dutch's films, but it fairs better than just about every other movie I watched this month.
I'm only adding this because I've been asked a few times, but yeah, I always accept review/preview copies. Who turns down free stuff? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for my mailing address. And thanks.
Dan Fleming is the writer/co-creator of Warrior Twenty-Seven, the independant comics anthology. He's been known to bury his nose in books since the earliest of ages, and has been busy writing a crime novel for a few moons. His comic work can be viewed at www.warrior27.thecomicseries.com. He is also one half of the podcasting duo, The Potato League Podcast, which can be found on Podbean. He can be contacted at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org