Prime Cut (1972)
Lee Marvin as a mob enforcer is really all one needs to know when sitting in on this violent gangland tale but wait, you get Gene Hackman thrown in the bargain as a lowlife country boy selling dope and young girls to the highest bidders. Wisely, the filmmakers have put the pair of cinematic heavyweights with Oscars in their back pockets on a collision course.
Prime Cut opens in the cattle country of Kansas. Starring as Hackman’s psychotic brother is Gregory Walcott. He and Gene are sending a rather nauseating message back to the mob in Chicago by way of hot dogs. It seems they’ve eliminated the muscle that’s been sent to collect half a million dollars by way of their meat grinders in the slaughter house they run their cattle through. For a brief moment I half expected Rory Calhoun to show up proclaiming, “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.” Yup that’s a movie reference so look it up.
The heavy hitters in Chicago call in the one guy they know can handle Hackman and that’s Marvin. He’s handed a gang of new boys on the payroll to tag along and it’s back to the old ways of gangland violence. As soon as he arrives in KC, Lee kicks the hell out of Walcott to send a message to Gene that he’s in town and won’t be easy to bump off. When Lee meets Gene we’ll see just how sleazy his character is. One who goes by the name Marianne. Wouldn’t catch me calling Gene Hackman “Marianne.” Hackman has set up shop in a large barn with naked women in the stalls. All drugged up for the buyers with cash in their pockets. Destined for a short life in prostitution.
Lee isn’t exactly enamoured with Hackman’s sleaze merchant and when three magic words come forth from a young and barely coherent Sissy Spacek, “please help me” Lee’s going to melt just a bit. He’s taking her as collateral against the 500K and he’ll be around to collect in 24 hours. Lee’s taking of Sissy leads to one of the film’s most amusing scenes. She’s a total innocent and “right off the farm.” She’s enamored with her knight in shining armor and when he takes her to dinner in a swank restaurant with a totally see though dress, snooty noses are in the air and lecherous stares are directed to their table. Watching Marvin act out this scene is a major highlight in the film that clocks in at a brisk 87 minutes.
Anyone care to guess whether or not Hackman antes up the 500K owed to the syndicate? Yeah you’re correct and when Gene says no with a gang of hillbillies sporting shotguns and recaptures Spacek, Marvin is going to get mean and the violence is going to escalate when Lee comes calling at the Hackman farm.
On one hand this is blood soaked film of the era with far more nudity than there needs to be and a real nasty scene involving one of Sissy’s girlfriends who bears the brunt of Hackman’s mean streak. On the other there is some really gorgeous cinematography. Most notable when Lee and Sissy are caught in a wheat field hiding out from Hackman’s assassins in overalls
and a gun battle in a sea of sunflowers.
As much as I like Gene Hackman, I’m all about Lee Marvin when recalling this viewing experience. He was still at the top of his game and had that edge on camera that screamed out loud to not poke the bear. I’m also surprised that Hackman’s name isn’t over the title alongside Lee in the opening credits. Gene had already scored an Oscar for French Connection which I would have thought propelled him to above the title billing after Lee’s name first appeared.
Sissy Spacek makes her film debut here and I for one felt sorry for both her character and the young actress herself. I have no idea if she’s gone on record over her nudity in the film but I felt the majority of it was uncalled for and exploitative. Kind of in keeping with the times I suppose and perhaps I’d feel less opinionated about it if she had never amounted to much as an actress as opposed to having an outstanding career that is still going strong to this day.
Not a great film, for that see Lee in Point Blank or Gene in The French Connection among others as they both scored some great roles over the course of their acting careers but there’s always something to be said for movies that cast two iconic actors together no matter how great the film is. I’ve gone on record in the past chatting about missing out on the likes of Bogart and Gable making a movie together or John Wayne and Gary Cooper. Take your pick of others who we missed out on. So at least Lee and Gene gave us that.
Prime Cut is out on blu ray thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics division.