This underseen Elmore Leonard-penned project about a prominent LA industrialist blackmailed for his infidelity cruises through the seedy LA crime underworld in the same way Chinatown and other LA-based noir films before it. But as a time capsule of the decade, for better or worse, it’s also burdened with the vulgarities of 1980’s cinema.
52 Pick Up (1986) dir. John Frankenheimer
Starring: Roy Scheider, Ann-Margaret, John Glover, Vanity, Kelly Preston
By Alan Bacchus
By the 1980’s John Frankenheimer, once a tower of cinema in the 1960’s, was making irrelevant action/thrillers, leaving little to be remembered or cherished in the vain of Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz or Seconds. Working under the banner of Cannon Films/Golan Globus, Frankenheimer and writer Elmore Leonard feel constrained by the exploitative excessiveness of the era.
Roy Scheider, who feels utterly essential to this role, plays Harry Mitchell a wealthy business man, married to Ann-Margaret an LA political candidate. Frankenheimer’s camera cleverly lingers on and idealizes the couple privileged lifestyle and extravagant home. But a tryst with a local stripper catches the attention of a trio seedy blackmailers who kidnap Harry’s mistress (Kelly Preston) and ransom her off for a $100,000 ($105k to be exact) price tag. A series of bad decisions by Harry results in a spiral downward into a rabbit hole of danger and jeopardy. Unable to go the authorities Harry reacts and plots his own way out of his slippery predicament.
Elmore Leonard’s script, based on his novel, boasts most of the hallmarks of his classic works – small time gangsters meeting high-class unsuspecting victims, quid-pro-quo nourish plotting cleverly set up and paid off, and memorable characters on both sides of the law. Leonard’s sense of humour unfortunately feels lost in the uncompromising grisliness of Harry’s journey.
The effortlessly useable character actor John Glover plays the wily ringleader with verve. And the Clarence Williams III Bobby Shy is downright nasty as a murderous henchmen. Leonard and Frankenheimer situate his villains in the porn underworld of Los Angeles, which works both on the level of pure cinematic titillation and exploitation but also a sharp critique of the strange dichotomy slickness/grossness of Los Angeles.
Nudity is rampant and women are frequently terrorized, abused, strangled, raped and killed with little pause or reflection by the filmmakers. Exploitation of women is taken for granted in the picture, but looking back 30 years hence its possible to view such behavior in the way Paul Verhoven’s Robocop or Brian De Palma’s Body Double are viewed today as a hyper-violent genre satires.
Frankenheimer's sure hand behind the camera means robust production values and sharp direction and editing and rich cinematography. 80’s design and iconography can now seem in throwback movies of today such as Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive.