Roy Scheider - Harry Mitchell
Ann-Margret - Barbara Mitchell
Vanity - Doreen
John Glover - Alan Raimy
Clarence Williams III - Bobby Shy
Robert Trebor - Leo Franks
John Frankenheimer - Director
Henry T. Weinstein - Producer
John Steppling - Screenwriter
Jost Vacano - Cinematographer
Elmore Leonard - Original Novel
Michael Bishop - Film Score
Elmore Leonard's suspenseful novel 52 Pick-Up was the source for this screen thriller directed by John Frankenhiemer with a solid cast of Roy Sheider, Ann-Margret and some good bad guys in John Glover and Clarence Williams III. Set in Detroit, the story is of a blackmailed industrialist, played by Scheider, whose affair with a mistress leads to blackmail and then murder. Frankenheimer added a subplot of Ann-Margret working for a political candidate who may be threatened by Scheider's indescretion. Omitted from the film was work slowdown at Schedier's manufacturing plant which parellels his major problem of dealing with the blackmailers.
John Steppling wrote the screenplay. So much of the dialogue from the book was used that Frankenheimer thought Leonard should get a screen credit despite the fact his only changes were correcting Steppling's punctuation errors. The film version of 52 Pickup changes the setting from Detroit to Los Angeles. Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider) is an affluent businessman whose metallurgical company has recently landed a hefty government contract. Then, one day, three blackmailers, led by the sleazy Alan Raimy (John Glover), appear with a videotape of Harry making love to his topless-dancer girlfriend Cini (Kelly Preston), which they threaten to send to his politically aspiring wife, Barbara (Ann-Margret), unless he forks over $110,000.
But Harry, a self-made man and Korean War veteran, isn't one to take this sort of arm-twisting lying down. He refuses to pay, deciding to solve the problem by telling all to his wife. After his confession, she tells him she suspected as much and even wonders why he bothered telling her. Raimy next moves on to plan B: He shows Harry a video of his girlfriend being murdered with his own gun. Although shaken, Harry still refuses to pay, deciding this time to formulate a plan to provide a much-needed education for his tormentors.
Harry finesses Raimy's name from a prostitute (Vanity) who asks, "if you take an umbrella, what kind of day is it?" For her betrayal, Bobby Shy (Clarence Williams III) nearly suffocates her with a teddy bear. Confronting Raimy and insisting he review his business ledgers, Harry convincingly offers $52,000 as all he can liquidate. The blackmailers' increasingly vicious ploys only add to his gumption, as he slyly plays the villains against each other. With the "52 pickup" arranged, Harry has one final surprise for Raimy which demonstrates his advanced engineering skills.
An entertaining and amazingly sleazy revenge thriller raised a few notches above the norm by Leonard's patented colorfully terse dialogue and complex characters, 52 Pick-Up features a wildly over-the-top performance by Clarence Williams III that nearly obscures John Glover's brilliantly perverse villain and the solid work of Scheider. In a chilling scene, Raimy "narrates" the murder video with Harry forced to watch from the very chair where Cini died. As part of Raimy's overall nastiness, he derisively calls Harry "sport" during all this. Clarence Williams III's execution of the Sex Shop owner, however, is a spectacular gag (the screen shatters into shards of painted glass), followed by him walking away like a skulking brute.
Frankenheimer dismissed this as "made for money," but it's a series of very wicked inventions on a theme of grotesque perversity, played for all it's worth and then some. Elmore Leonard's story was also used as the basis for the 1984 film The Ambassador starring Robert Mitchum.
--The Film Noir 'Net
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