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From director Michael Ritchie comes this 1972 crime drama, Prime Cut. When the movie begins, a Chicago mob boss named Jake (Eddie Egan) enlists the aid of a hitman named Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin) to travel from the windy city to Kansas City. His mission? To get the half a million dollars owed to Jake by a cattle rancher named Mary Ann (Gene Hackman). He takes the job and heads off to take care of it and has no trouble finding the man he's looking for, tracking him down to the ranch that serves as his base of operations. It's here that Nick learns that cattle isn't all that Mary Ann deals in… he's also got a harem of young white women doped up and is more than willing to trade in human flesh.
Nick tells Mary Ann he's got twenty-four hours to find the money and when he splits, he takes one of his harem girls with him, a pretty drug-addled young woman named Poppy (Sissy Spacek in her big screen debut). Mary Ann doesn't take kindly to this at all, and if Nick's not careful, he might just find himself stuffed into the cowboy's meat grinder.
A fairly subversive film in a lot of ways, this one takes your expectations and toys with them. Here you expect that the guys from Chicago will be the ones lacking in morals. After all, they're involved in organized crime. Once the action is transplanted to the rural mid-west, however, we soon see the nasty underbelly of what seems to be a good old American small town exposed. That's where Hackman's character comes in. Not only does he dabble in the slave trade but he keeps his girls doped to the gills and has a tendency to grind those who don't agree with him into sausage. It's a great role for Hackman, whose screen presence is as natural as it is impressive. The guy's a great actor and this is a great role for him. He seems to be having a good time playing the bad guy and he turns in a very memorable turn in this picture.
While few could match Hackman in terms of screen presence, Lee Marvin can and does. His character, a man who makes his living killing people for money, turns out to be of considerably higher moral ground than the seemingly wholesome farmer he's been sent to collect from. Of course, as he takes Poppy under his wing he starts to care for her, his type of character has to care for her type of character in movies like this, but once he becomes begrudgingly involved in this he does try to do the right thing in his own way. Marvin plays this part with the same sort of methodical precision we saw him bring to Point Blank but without that character's obsession. The similarities are there though in how clinical and calculating he can get when out to try and do what he feels needs to be done. Marvin throws his weight around a bit here but the movie is all the better for it.
We get some neat supporting work here too. Sissy Spacek does just fine as Poppy and hey, look for the beautiful Angel Tompkins here in a small part as well. Janit Baldwin, who Gator Bait fans should recognize, pops up here too in her film debut and Gregory Walcott of Plan 9 From Outer Space even has a supporting role. Really though, it's Hackman and Marvin that you'll come away from this one remembering. How could you not?
The movie is interesting in how it is shot and put together. There are times where you feel Ritchie is borrowing from classic film noir pictures and there are times where you feel like he's going to take things in a Peckinpah-esque direction (and towards the end he sort of does) but Prime Cut never feels like it's ripping off what came before it. The cinematography does a great job of capturing the wide open landscapes of the farms and the dingy interiors of certain buildings used in the film, which makes for some interesting visual contrast. Lalo Schifrin provides a pretty great score for this one too. It's an odd movie compared to other, more traditional crime films but once you get used to both its bizarre cast of characters and its twisted sense of humor Prime Cut is very much a film worth checking out.
If this 2.35.1 widescreen transfer, presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, isn't perfect, it's definitely very good. Some of the darker scenes look just a little bit noisy and there are a couple of spots where you might wish a bit more cleanup work had been done. The good news? Detail is typically very strong, not just in close up shots but medium and long distance shots as well. Those sweeping shots that take place in the field are a good example, you can really notice the detail here. Colors also typically look great and black levels are generally nice and strong here too. This transfer feels true to source, in that the grain inherent in the image has been left intact and there is no evidence of any filtering or noise reduction issues. Reference quality? No, but still very good.
The English language DTS-HD Mono track on the disc is decent enough. Though it is obviously and understandably limited in range (a surround mix would have been fun for the finale!) there are no problems with the clarity of the track. Dialogue is crisp, clean and clear and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. No alternate language or subtitle options have been provided.
Extras? We get a theatrical trailer but that's it outside of a static menu and chapter selection.
Prime Cut holds up really well. Marvin's at the top of his game here, cool as can be and tough as nails, while Hackman and Spacek also do fine work. And hey, we get Angel Tompkins too! The story builds nicely to a particularly satisfying conclusion and while this Blu-ray isn't suspiciously light on extras, it does offer a nice audio and video upgrade over the previous DVD release. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.