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Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (probably)

 
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Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (prob... - 16/11/2011 3:29:54 PM   
Debonair Film Club

 

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Ok so I'm going to give this another go in a different format.

I'm working my way through Empire's 'Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (probably)' from a 1999 edition of the mag and I'd thought I'd post the reviews here in the hope that it may initiate some discussion on my favourite genre.

So I'll start with #20 'A Better Tomorrow'. I'm afraid I can't find a copy of #19 Borsalino but I've already reviewed #18 Black Caesar so I'll also add that post now.

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Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (prob... - 16/11/2011 3:31:47 PM   
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#20 A Better Tomorrow (1986)

”They say one with a dirty mouth steps on shit entering an elevator”

Ho (Ti Lung) and Mark (Chow Yun Fat) are high flying gangsters in the Hong Kong underworld, running a successful racket dealing in counterfeit American currency. However things start to unravel when Ho decides to bring ambitious up and coming mobster Shing (Waise Lee) on a business trip to Taiwan instead of Mark. The pair are ambushed and Ho eventually gives himself up to the police, allowing Shing to escape. There are repercussions back in Hong Kong though. Ho's brother Kit (Leslie Cheung), who recently graduated as a cop, finally discovers his brother's true profession when an associate of the Taiwanese gang attempts to kidnap his father. And when Mark avenges his friend, he is crippled by two bullets in the knee. Three years later, Ho is released from a Taiwanese prison and returns to find everything has changed in his hometown. His brother has disowned him. His onetime high flying friend has hit rock bottom. And to top it all off, his replacement as the head of the gang has Kit in his sights. Despite his best efforts to turn his back on the underworld, Ho gets dragged back in as he attempts to protect his brother and old friend.
This is the first Asian gangster film I've ever watched. I had planned a series of posts along the lines of 'a beginner's guide to Asian gangsters' so this is as good a place as any to start. What really struck me as a newbie, although I'm not sure yet whether this is typical of the genre, was the contrast between the slapstick comedy at the start of the film and the brutal violence once things start to go wrong in Taiwan. You could nearly mistake the first ten minutes for a Benny Hill skit, with the cello owned by Kit's girlfriend causing all sorts of mischief.
But A Better Tomorrow was written and directed by John Woo and the film has all the hall marks of a Woo masterpiece. The gun battles are spectacular, none more so than the finale, with bodies flying everywhere. And the violence is explicit, especially when the crippled Mark takes a beating from his former associates. Woo makes sure to get a close up of Mark when he gets punched in the nose and two drops of blood run out of each nostril and down towards his lip.
This was Chow Yun Fat's break through role and it not only made him a star but also something of an icon, thanks to the super cool gangster character he portrays at the start of the film. He appears to model himself on a cowboy, with a tooth pick constantly hanging out of his mouth. And the gun battle in which he avenges Ho would have undoubtedly impressed many a gunslinger in the old spaghetti westerns.
I think the best way to describe this is an interesting start to the countdown. I wouldn't classify it as a classic but it was relatively easy viewing. I wouldn't rush out to buy it but if you can find a cheap 2nd hand copy on Amazon, its worth adding to your collection.

< Message edited by Debonair Film Club -- 16/11/2011 3:38:12 PM >


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RE: #20 A Better Tomorrow - 16/11/2011 3:33:44 PM   
elab49


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I think there's a bit of a visual dating with some of those Woo films, but they are still a fun watch. Have you seen the Korean version of this? It came out last year. 

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Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (prob... - 16/11/2011 3:34:05 PM   
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#19 Borsalino (1970)

Missing from collection, please let me know if you can tell me where I can get a copy!

< Message edited by Debonair Film Club -- 16/11/2011 3:38:34 PM >


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RE: #20 A Better Tomorrow (1986) - 16/11/2011 3:34:20 PM   
shool


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Great movie, although I rate Hard Boiled and The Killer better in Woo's catalogue.

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Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (prob... - 16/11/2011 3:37:07 PM   
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#18- Black Caesar

"Me? Live in this apartment? Why they'd hang me right off that terrace, Jew folks ain't even allowed here”

Having recently been released after 8 years in prison thanks to a run in with bent cop John McKinley (Art Lund), Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson) gets his big break when he takes on a gangland contract of his own accord for Mafia boss Sal Cordoza (Val Avery). Initially reluctant to hire a black gangster, Cardoza decides to take a chance on the ambitious Gibbs, giving him a small patch in Harlem to work on. Gibbs reunites with childhood friends Joe the Brain (Philip Roye) and Rufus (D'Urville Martin), now a Reverend, to help build his empire. Their plan is for financial whizz kid Joe to launder their proceeds through Rufus' church. Gibbs decides he needs some insurance so he sets his sights on a set of mafia ledgers which feature names of corrupt politicians and cops, including McKinley. Possession of the ledgers accelerates his path to the top and he outgrows Cordoza, eventually becoming the Godfather of Harlem. However Gibbs' rapid ascent leads to jealousy amongst fellow gangsters. As McKinlay plots his downfall, Gibbs is betrayed by those closest to him and is left fighting for his both his empire and his very survival alone. You can't really discuss Black Caesar without addressing the race issue. After all, the subject matter is a hugely successful black gangster in 1970's New York. And race does play its part. I don't think there are many filmmakers in the present day who would feel comfortable including as much racial prejudice as this film. But there is another angle to look at too.  How much is Gibbs motivated by his treatment as an African American? Obviously this weighs on his mind, as demonstrates when he purchases his white lawyer's plush apartment (with everything in it) for his mother. But I'm not convinced that this was his strongest motivation. I think Gibbs is just a ruthlessly ambitious individual, regardless of his skin colour. Another aspect of Black Caesar that I must comment on is the unique approach to cinematography. Several of the scenes look like they were filmed on an open set i.e. amongst members of the public who were not part of the film as extras. Unfortunately I can't confirm if this was indeed the case, despite my research, but regardless the end result is a film with a very realistic feel. And finally, I couldn't write a proper review of Black Caesar without mentioning the soundtrack. Written and performed by James Brown especially for this film, it is everything you would expect from a 1970's blaxploitation movie. It is also responsible for what has to be one of the most iconic images in the gangster genre, where a sharply dressed Gibbs walks down the street while Brown's 'The Boss' plays in the background. I'd highly recommend Black Caesar. The alternative perspective means it approaches the genre from a completely
different angle. Add one of the coolest ever lead gangsters in Fred Williamson, and you are left with a very classy and original movie.

< Message edited by Debonair Film Club -- 16/11/2011 3:38:56 PM >


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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 16/11/2011 3:42:07 PM   
shool


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Debonair Film Club

#19 Borsalino (1970)

Missing from collection, please let me know if you can tell me where I can get a copy!


Sent you a PM on this. £12.99 on Amazon.
Not cheap, but it is available.

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RE: #20 A Better Tomorrow - 16/11/2011 3:52:59 PM   
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quote:

ORIGINAL: elab49

I think there's a bit of a visual dating with some of those Woo films, but they are still a fun watch. Have you seen the Korean version of this? It came out last year. 

I haven't yet as I'm a relative newbie to Asian cinema. I had heard about it though so will add it to the 'to watch' list.


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RE: #20 A Better Tomorrow - 16/11/2011 4:42:06 PM   
culliford


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I really liked A Better Tomorrow, should rewatch it soon.

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RE: #20 A Better Tomorrow - 19/11/2011 7:12:25 PM   
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I think I may be in the minority here but I preferred A BETTER TOMORROW II.

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RE: #20 A Better Tomorrow - 19/11/2011 7:14:15 PM   
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ABTII has an amazing last 15 minutes, but the proceeding hour and a bit aren't as good as ABT.

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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 23/11/2011 10:35:04 PM   
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Borsalino (1970)

'Never gamble with me, I'm too lucky'

Having recently been released after 6 months in prison, Roch Siffredi (Alain Delon) goes looking for his girl only to find she is with fellow aspiring gangster Francois Capella (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Despite brawling for her affections, the two end up hitting it off and become partners. They start out fixing fights and horse races, but get their big break when a local gangster hires them to eliminate his competition in the fish market. However this isn't enough for Siffredi who persuades Capella to take on the meat market, run by Poli (Andre Bollet), one of the two ruling bosses in the Marseille underworld.  However the pair are betrayed and the raid on Poli's warehouse goes horribly wrong, leading them into a gangland war with Poli and his associates to determine who rules Marseille.

There is a real contrast between the first half of this movie and the second half. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to make of it at first because it starts out in a very light-hearted tone. The fight which brings Siffredi and Capella together borders on comical, for instance when Siffredi gently removes the cigar from Capella's mouth before they start brawling. However the second half is dominated by a ruthless gang war which easily ranks among the best in the genre.
This was my first exposure to Alan Delon, the actor who plays Siffredi. Delon has a pretty strong track record in French cinema, especially the crime and gangster genre, having appeared in classics such as Le Cercle Rouge and Le Samouri among others (neither of which I have seen yet). And he is just what you'd expect from a French leading man i.e. sophisticated, stylish and composed.

I found it very difficult to find a copy of Borsalino on DVD and the one that I found was dubbed. I don't think I've ever watched a dubbed film before and I have mixed feelings about it. For me, hearing the actors' actual accents adds to the authenticity of the movie (even if I do still need the subtitles to understand what they are saying). Having said that, the English voice- overs seem to fit the characters quite well so I wouldn't let that put you off the movie.

As long as you aren't put off by the frivolous start its worth sticking with Borsalino for the second half of the film because it features one of the most intense turf wars in the genre. And if you're not familiar with classic French gangster flicks, it's as good an introduction as better known features such as 'Refifi' and 'Bob Le Flambeur'.

< Message edited by Debonair Film Club -- 23/11/2011 10:36:08 PM >


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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 23/11/2011 10:42:34 PM   
Rhubarb


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I wanted to see Borsalino for ages, but have never been able to find it, even online, where you just wind up with the sequel. So not surprised you found it hard to find it, the idea of Delon and Belmondo dubbed disgusts me, but it would be better than not seeing it at all.

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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 24/11/2011 9:51:56 AM   
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The exact same thing happened to me with Borsalino & Co. Embarrassed to say that I finished the review before I realised I had watched the wrong film!

< Message edited by elab49 -- 24/11/2011 9:53:16 AM >


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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 13/1/2012 2:10:52 PM   
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Been a while but finally got round to reviewing #17 on the list, The Penalty (1920). A silent gangster movie featuring a main character with no legs? You've got to see this...

The Penalty (1920)

‘Fate chained me to evil, for that I must pay the Penalty’

Despite being crippled as a kid in a botched medical procedure, Blizzard (Lon Chaney) grows up to be one of the biggest players the San Francisco underworld.

The cops become suspicious of Blizzard when he moves some of the girls from his dancehall into his house to make hats. In an attempt to work out what he is up to, they send their best undercover operative, Rose (Ethel Grey Terry) to infiltrate the operation.

Blizzard takes a liking to Rose, giving her access to his private quarters. While he is away from the house, she tries to uncover the plot. But just as Rose starts to make some progress, Blizzard catches her red handed and his evil scheme goes ahead.

But Blizzard never forgot the man that put him in his predicament, Dr Ferris (Charles Clary). When he finds out that the Ferris’ daughter Barbara (Claire Adams) is looking for a muse for an art project, Blizzard makes sure he is chosen.
Once it is finished, Blizzard takes his revenge. He kidnaps Barbara’s fiancée and forces Dr Ferris into carrying out another questionable medical procedure. The operation leaves Blizzard a changed man, just not quite as he expected.

What I haven’t mentioned yet (but you may have guessed from the year) is that this is a silent movie. I know they are all the rage at the moment thanks to ‘The Artist’ but it’s just a coincidence that I ended up watching the next movie on the list last weekend. But don’t let that put you off. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what I’d make of a silent movie before I watched ‘The Penalty’ but I really enjoyed it. It’s hard to describe why but the whole experience just felt more poignant. Without the distraction of the dialogue, you’re forced to focus on the actual characters which makes you feel more involved in the movie.

This was also my introduction to Lon Chaney, one of the biggest stars of the silent era. Chaney was a pioneer in the use of make up on set which helped secure a reputation for playing tortured or grotesque characters. He was perfect for the role of Blizzard, who moved around on his leather-clad stumps with the aid of crutches. And despite the lack of dialogue, his facial expressions do a fantastic job of portraying the evil in his character.

Chaney starred in an amazing 160 films between 1912 and his untimely death from lung cancer in 1930. His filmography includes some of the classic horrors of the silent era such as ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’.

Watching ‘The Penalty’ was definitely an interesting experience but that’s why I took on this challenge in the first place. I highly recommend you watch it to broaden your cinematic horizons if nothing else. And it will also make you sound like a proper movie buff when others start fawning over more recent attempts at the silent genre.


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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 13/1/2012 2:12:30 PM   
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You'll be pleased to hear that The Penalty is currently a nominee in the Hall of Fame (a sub-forum near the top of the main page) and is generally being enjoyed by all who see it. Well, nearly all!

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ORIGINAL: Deviation] LIKE AMERICA'S SWEETHEARTS TOO. IT MADE ME LAUGH A LOT AND THOUGHT IT WAS WITTY. ALSO I FEEL SLOWLY DYING INSIDE. I KEEP AGREEING WITH ELAB.


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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 13/1/2012 2:25:38 PM   
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Thanks for letting me know.

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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 13/1/2012 3:41:39 PM   
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Great write-up of The Penalty, it exceeded all my expectations when I watched it for the Hall of Fame.

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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 13/1/2012 8:46:04 PM   
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quote:

ORIGINAL: Rebel scum

Great write-up of The Penalty, it exceeded all my expectations when I watched it for the Hall of Fame.


Thanks for the feedback, really appreciate it.


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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 15/1/2012 12:48:58 AM   
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quote:

ORIGINAL: Rhubarb

I wanted to see Borsalino for ages, but have never been able to find it, even online, where you just wind up with the sequel. So not surprised you found it hard to find it, the idea of Delon and Belmondo dubbed disgusts me, but it would be better than not seeing it at all.

You suck at looking up stuff, clearly - it took me about 7 seconds to find it in excellent quality, and in original French.

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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 15/1/2012 2:06:12 AM   
Rhubarb


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Miles Messervy 007


quote:

ORIGINAL: Rhubarb

I wanted to see Borsalino for ages, but have never been able to find it, even online, where you just wind up with the sequel. So not surprised you found it hard to find it, the idea of Delon and Belmondo dubbed disgusts me, but it would be better than not seeing it at all.

You suck at looking up stuff, clearly - it took me about 7 seconds to find it in excellent quality, and in original French.


You sure its not the sequel?


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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 16/2/2012 2:15:51 PM   
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Time for another update, this time its number 16, The Funeral (1996) starring Christopher Walken and Benicio del Toro among others.

The Funeral (1996)

‘If I do something wrong, it’s because God didn’t give me the grace to do what’s right’

Set in 1930s, The Funeral deals with the events surrounding the death of Giovanni ‘Johnny’ Tempio (Vincent Gallo), an aspiring communist and the youngest brother of a New York crime family headed by Raimundo ‘Ray’ Tempio (Christopher Walken) and Cesarino “Chez” Tempio (Sean Penn). Ray is convinced that rival gangster Gaspare Spoglia (Benicio del Toro) is responsible for Johnny’s murder because Johnny had been sleeping with his wife. But Ray’s henchmen eventually find the real killer who initially claims to have killed Johnny for raping his girlfriend but eventually admits that it was an act of revenge.

If it sounds like I’m giving most of the plot away, don’t worry. The movie opens with Johnny’s body being brought back to his family home while the story behind his murder, and why Ray might have suspected Spoglia, is given is a series of flashbacks. The search for his killer takes place in the background of the wake.

The funeral boasts a pretty strong cast. As well as the three heavyweights mentioned above, it also stars Annabella Sciorra and Isabella Rossellini. Despite this, the movie felt very flat to me. I’d even go as far as to say that it came across as ‘made for TV’. Penn’s portrayal of the volatile Chez was impressive though and he won the best supporting actor award at the 1996 Venice Film Festival for his performance.

On that note, The Funeral turned out to be fertile hunting ground for whoever cast The Sopranos and not just for Annabella Sciorra. John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco in The Sopranos), features as one of Ray’s lieutenants. Edie Falco (Carmella Soprano) only has one line introducing a trade union boss but at least that’s one more than Joseph R. Gannascoli (Vito Spatafore) who only features for a split second.

The movie has two saving graces though. Firstly, the way the story is told is quite unique for the genre. I enjoyed the way it used flashbacks to build the story around Johnny’s murder. And secondly, there is a major twist in the tale. I won’t say any more but it is quite unexpected, especially for the gangster genre.

As you can probably tell, I’m a bit torn by The Funeral. On the one hand, it deserves credit for its unique take on a gangster story. It’s just a shame that director Abel Ferrara didn’t manage to get stronger performances out of his cast. On balance though, I would recommend checking it out for yourself rather than making a decision based on my views of the acting. Just don’t make it a priority.



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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 3/4/2012 8:10:21 PM   
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Just posted a review of the movie ranked number 15, Noose. Another one that I was a little disappointed by, come on empire don't let me down after such a strong start!

Noose (1998)

‘When the cops gonna learn, huh? This town don’t talk’

Bobby O’Grady (Denis Leary) is a Boston criminal answering to gang boss Jackie O’Hara (Colm Meaney). When Bobby’s cousin Teddy (Billy Cruddup) is released early from prison, rumours that he ratted on the gang seem to be confirmed and Jackie punishes him accordingly. Despite the fact that Teddy was family, Bobby accepts that he has to respect the code of silence amongst the local community and gets on with stealing cars. However local cop Hanlon (Martin Sheen) is on a one man crusade to break this code and eventually persuades Bobby’s Irish cousin Seamus (Jason Barry) to take a trip down to the station with him. Despite Seamus keeping his silence, Jackie once again metes out his punishment, leaving Bobby disillusioned with the Boston underworld. But when he goes to tell Jackie that he needs some time away from Boston, Jackie’s cherished code of silence ends up costing more lives.

I was slightly disappointed with Noose. Contrary to the other movies on Empire’s list, the plot lacked originality, dealing once again with that most familiar of gangster genre themes, loyalty. But in this case, there was a distinct lack of a new or different angle which is a shame because I’m left feeling that this was another missed opportunity, similar to ‘Kill the Irishman’.

Noose’s only saving grace, in my opinion, was the dialogue, especially at the start of the movie. At times it flowed so seamlessly that I could have sworn that the actors were adlibbing. And you have to give a lot of credit for this to the cast, especially Denis Leary. But then again, anyone who has seen Leary’s infamous stand-up routine about cocaine would probably agree that it wasn’t a huge stretch for him.

I couldn’t recommend Noose and as hinted at earlier, I’m not sure how it crept into Empire’s list, especially at number fifteen. Even if you ignore the recurring theme, I felt that the plot was lacking something which the explosive finale doesn’t quite make up for. Not one to add to your collection, I’m afraid.

Please note- this film is alternatively known as Snitch and Monument Avenue

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RE: Top 20 greatest gangster movies you've never seen (... - 26/6/2012 7:56:17 PM   
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Well its been a while coming but here is my review of number 14 on the list, the bizarre Prime Cut.

Prime Cut (1972)

Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin) is an enforcer for Chicago’s Irish mob who is sent to Kansas City to collect an outstanding debt from slaughterhouse owner Mary Ann (Gene Hackman). When Devlin and his crew show up at Mary Ann’s farm they find, Mary Ann dismisses the Chicago mob as a fading power but tells Devlin to show up at the local fair the following day for the money. Meanwhile, a slave auction is taking place. Devlin and his crew are leaving, one of the young girls being auctioned off, Polly (Sissy Spacek), appears to beg Devlin for help so they bring her with them. Devlin takes pity on Polly, buying her nice clothes and taking her out to dinner. At the fair the following day, Mary Ann refuses to hand over the payment. A scuffle breaks out and Devlin and Polly get separated from the rest of the crew. They make a getaway on foot through the local field but have to be rescued by the rest of the crew from one of Mary Ann’s henchmen driving a combine harvester. On their way back to the hotel, the crew drop Devlin off at the local marina to speak to Mary Ann’s wife Clarabelle (Angel Tompkins) in the hope that she will persuade her husband to pay up. While he is there, Mary Ann’s cronies catch up with the others and kidnap Polly, leaving Devlin no alternative but to head back to Mary Ann’s farm to try to rescue her and deal with Mary Ann once and for all.

I have to say, Prime Cut is unquestionably one of the most surreal films on Empire’s list and having read back over the synopsis above, I’m not sure that this comes through. Its a cross between Mean Streets and Deliverance. The human auction that’s taking place at Mary Ann’s farm is bizarre. The pens that would usually hold livestock are instead filled with naked and sedated young girls. It turns out the girls sleep in a big green house, amongst the foliage. And Mary Ann’s cronies are all stereotypical farm hands, a bunch of blonde haired rednecks who seem to be a law unto themselves. But by far the most eccentric part of the film sees Mary Ann’s brother trying to stab Devlin with a sausage.

This was my first exposure to Sissy Spacek and I have to admit, I was smitten. I’ll admit that this was initially based on her killer body but she puts in a pretty powerful performance as Polly. Spacek’s portrayal of the naive, young damsel in distress, who is completely oblivious to her plight was her first credited role and essentially launched her career.

I have mixed feelings about Prime Cute. One of the things that I like most about Empire’s list is that it features movies that look at the gangster genre from a unique angle. And Prime Cut definitely does that. But on the other hand, the movie is let down by a pretty limited plot. But it’s not like anything else I’ve ever come across in the genre so I’d be inclined to recommend it for novelty value if nothing else.

_____________________________

Read more about the gangster movie genre at my blog:

www.debonairfilmclub.com

Debonair Film Club- the definitive guide to the gangster movie genre

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