While the nineties heralded an impressive selection of hip crime movies based on the work of Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight stand out), the previous decade had offered slim pickings for fans. The 1985 Burt Reynolds thriller Stick had been generally regarded as a misfire and when Cannon acquired the rights to Leonard's 1970s novel 52 Pick-up, expectations were not high given the studio's less than illustrious track record. Curiously Cannon chose to use only elements of the original story, jettisoning even the Detroit setting and instead relocating to the Middle East. Filmed as the Ambassador and released in 1984, this pedestrian thriller is notable only as being the last starring role for Rock Hudson. When acclaimed director John Frankenheimer showed interest in the novel shortly afterwards, Cannon still held the movie rights and were persuaded to revisit the project. With Frankenheimer at the helm, 52 Pick-up was made 2 years later, this time staying more faithful to the original source material.
In 52 Pick-up, Roy Scheider plays Harry Mitchell, a successful LA businessman who finds himself blackmailed by a criminal gang. They have secretly filmed him having an affair and threaten to release videotape evidence unless he pays them 105 grand. Harry knows that he cannot report this extortion to the police, otherwise the resultant scandal could jeopardise his wife Barbara's promising political career. When Mitchell refuses to meet their demands, matters escalate and his mistress Cini (kelly Preston) is murdered on camera by the gang. To his horror, Mitchell discovers that he could be framed for the murder as the girl was shot with his stolen gun. This time the gang decide to up the ante and demand 105 thousand dollars a year from him else the incriminating footage will be released. The movie becomes more compelling as the perpetrators discover that their target is not the easy pushover that they were expecting. Having identified the ringleader as sleazy pornographer Alan Raimy (John Glover), Michell plots to turn the tables and outsmart them.
This somewhat overlooked thriller has much to recommend. Scheider is excellent as ever in the central role, being an actor particularly adept at playing characters suddenly thrust out of their depth into a perilous situation. The heated exchanges between Scheider and Ann-Margret as his ambitious wife are convincingly played. Character actor John Glover is memorable as the ruthless Raimy, with solid support from Clarence Williams III as his menacing accomplice Bobby Shy. Former model and Prince protegee Vanity, who sadly passed away in 2016, also has a small but pivotol role. The film is stylishly shot by Paul Vehoeven's favoured cinematographer Jost Vacano, with scenes ranging from sweeping ariel views of the city to close-ups of the fear etched across Mitchell's face as his life unravels.
Arrow's release of 52 Pick-up is a dual format blu-ray and DVD package. Taken from an HD master provided by MGM, the blu-ray image is clean with a good level of detail, much improving upon the original MGM DVD released more than 10 years ago. Colours may not be as vivid as recent theatrical releases, but remain perfectly acceptable. The audio is clear with no discernable issues.
Extras are a little scant compared to Arrow's usual exemplary standards. Sadly lacking are any featurettes on Elmore Leonard or the career of director Frankenheimer. Instead there is a rather pointless 12 minute guide to the various adult film stars who make brief cameo appearances and a feature length commentary from US critics Glenn Kenny and Doug Brod. A collector's booklet featuring new writing by the "Badlands Collective" rounds off the package. The sleeve is reversible featuring an eye-catching new design from German artist Reinhard Kleist, or the original bland artwork on the reverse.
An overlooked Roy Scheider thriller gets a solid blu-ray release from Arrow Video. Well worth seeking out.