Prime Cut (Blu-ray Review)27 Jul, 2015 By: Mike Clark
Stars Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman, Sissy Spacek, Angel Tompkins.
Lee Marvin almost had William Holden’s lead role in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, so perhaps it’s not inappropriate to employ some Wild Bunch parlance here and refer to Prime Cut as “egg-sucking gutter trash” — though this isn’t the entire story. It’s quite possible that even the Bobby Sherman’s Greatest Hits LP got better reviews in ’72 than this sleazily brutal melodrama did from critics of the day, but both then and now, I think Cut’s brisk 86-minute pacing enables an apt cast to keep at least pulp fanciers sticking with a notably preposterous piece of work. Like the original Peck-Mitchum Cape Fear (a better movie, no argument), this is a once culturally disreputable effort with more fans today than at the time — though it’s possible that Cut really did have fans even way back when who didn’t want to admit it.
More or less recycling his vigilante self from The Killers and Point Blank, Marvin is cast as an enforcer who collects debts for big-boy racketeers — driving on assignment from Chicago (oddly portrayed as some kind of relatively sleepy vista) to kick some major Kansas City ass in the form of a modern-day cattle baron (Gene Hackman). The latter’s slaughter houses and posher digs are a front for his drug and sex-trafficking concerns, and in a image that still disturbs to this day, we see some of his young female victims publicly displayed and semi-encaged like calves at a fairground gathering of yahoos. It’s as if we’re out on the KC outskirts intending to eyeball some farmer’s prize stock in a scene out of Disney’s So Dear to My Heart — and instead see a pair of nuder-than-not teenaged girls in near-comatose stoned stupor (equally against their will) that must make joining the 4-H Club must look like an attractive alternative. Cast as one of the two main victims is Sissy Spacek in her screen debut.
We’ll let it go that Hackman’s character is, for some reason, named “Mary Ann” — though buffs, at least, will be thrown even before his introduction not quite 25 minutes into an already short movie. This is because an early scene gives us a shot of Gregory Walcott, an actor forever immortalized as the pilot and nominal star of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (not quite what we expect given that Cut’s three leads have four Oscars among them). One of the lower-grade thugs who works for Hackman, sweaty Walcott operates the machine that grinds raw meat into hot dogs and more recently has done the same with Marvin’s predecessors. You know from all this that Marvin will soon be bloodied up by own his or someone else’s opened veins, which makes the white suit he wears a daring fashion choice.
In the most unexpected subplot, Marvin becomes an avenging angel for a very young Spacek, who has been plucked from an orphanage run by an evil crone apparently descended from some Charles Dickens character — one who funnels her wards directly into Hackman’s pimping operation. At least compared to nearly every other male in the story, Marvin is a good guy, and his rescue of waif-like Spacek includes gifts of pleasing apparel with nothing asked in return. Because this was so early in Spacek’s career (think of the uncommonly randy Reese Witherspoon in Robert Benton’s Twilight), she has a nude scene or two, so forget Coal Miner’s Daughter at least momentarily. The other woman of note, though her part is small, is Angel Tompkins as a platinum bimbo — both in hair coloring and the character’s presumed high ranking in America’s bimbo caste system. Now living off the fat of Hackman’s (or, if you prefer, Mary Ann’s) land, she has some history with Marvin and would probably two-time her current sugar daddy at the drop of an assault weapon (whose brandishing by Marvin is quite a sight in the Midwest wheat fields).
It’s a strange picture with an unpredictable directorial choice: Michael Ritchie, a future (if immensely spotty) comedy specialist whose next picture would be the intellectually stimulating The Candidate, which is something no one has ever said about Prime Cut. In the recent Kino Classic mode, the Blu-ray is here passable without being really exciting, not quite matching my memories of the first-run print I saw in ’72 or the scratchy but otherwise snappy one that I once ran at the AFI Theater. The first Hackman movie to hit theaters after his spring French Connection Oscarcast win significantly upped his industry standing, this was another big-star effort from the relatively transitory National General Pictures, whose production chief(s) never caught a whole lot of the country’s Zeitgeist at the box office. Early on, there’s a marquee shot here advertising that distributor’s The Revengers, which opened around the same time. But no one’s heart really seems to be in the promotion effort.