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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Drama > Prime Cut

Prime Cut


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: D     Film: B



The early 1970s were a great time for crime movies, and Prime Cut is one of the unsung titles from the period that has aged incredibly well three decades later.  In this contemporary age of special-effects driven nonsense and invincible comic-book heroes, it's always comforting for me to go back to a time when we had a regular diet of hard-boiled movies about real men doing manly things.  These were tough guys without superpowers who could only depend on their guns, fists and wits.  Movies and society have become so feminized and obsessed with political correctness since the early 1970s that it makes you wonder if we'll ever see a prime piece of machismo like Prime Cut ever again.  I sure hope so.


Directed by Michael Ritchie (who's best remember for comedies such as The Bad News Bears, Semi-Tough and the two Fletch movies), Prime Cut is as tough as a nickel steak.  It's the tightly told story of a clash between rival underworld factions.  Gene Hackman plays a Kansas tycoon named Mary Ann (yes, Mary Ann), who runs a meat-packing business with his half-wit hulk of a brother, and dabbles in drugs and prostitution on the side.  Mary Ann owes money to an Irish gangster in Chicago, but doesn't want to pay up.  However, the last henchman the Irishman sent to collect the debt ended up being sent back to Chicago as a pack of hot dogs.  This forces the Irish crime boss to hire one of the best in the business, a free-lance hit man named Delaney (Lee Marvin in cooler-than-cool mode) to try and collect the loot.  Delaney also discovers what's essentially a female slavery ring run by Mary Ann that exploits young orphaned women.  Marvin's hit man with a heart of gold then takes it upon himself to save one of the young women (future Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek) from bondage. 


Prime Cut is a simple yet sometime oblique film where not every detail is spelled out.  With a quick 86-minute running time, it's a good example of efficient cut-to-the-chase storytelling, but I'd have appreciated a few more specifics.  What sets Prime Cut apart from other gangster flicks is that most of it unfolds in a rural setting among cornfields, cows and county fairs.  It also gives us the pleasure of watching Oscar-winners Marvin and Hackman, both former U.S. Marines in real life, go mano-a-mano.  The biggest mystery of all, though, remains how a cowboy thug like Hackman's character ended up with the feminine name of Mary Ann?  A brief explanation would have been greatly appreciated, but the film never addresses the origins of such an odd name.  Johnny Cash had a hit song called "A Boy Named Sue" about a father who purposely gives his son a female name so he'll grow up fighting and become a tough guy.  That's the only plausible explanation I can fathom for a man named Mary Ann. 


A CBS production distributed theatrically by National General Pictures in 1972, Prime Cut was released on home video 20 years ago by Key Video, and has been long out of print since.  But Paramount has given the 2.35:1 Panavision film a nice anamorphic widescreen transfer with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.  The picture is surprisingly color rich, while the remix from the original monophonic sound is not bad for the film’s age.  Now film buffs will be able to see Prime Cut the way it was intended for the first time in 33 years.  We can only cross our fingers and hope that Paramount will give a couple of other long overdue crime gems from the early '70s (The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Badge 373) the same DVD treatment in the very near future.  The biggest disappointment of the Prime Cut DVD is the total lack of extras.  A theatrical trailer and a poster gallery are always much appreciated on such bargain-priced catalog titles.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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