Mary Ann, a Kansas City mob boss who ranches cattle and prostitutes, refuses to settle a debt owed to a Chicago crime syndicate. Hit-man Nick Devlin travels to the mid-west to teach Mary Ann a lesson.
In the striking opening sequence of Prime Cut, establishing the theme of human beings treated as agricultural products to be harvested, a slobbish hillbilly meat-packer (Gregory Walcott) in rural Kansas converts a mafia messenger into link sausages that are then posted to Chicago as a message to the mob.
Michael Ritchie, best known in the early 1970s for smart satires like The Candidate and Smile, almost disguises this bizarre, ultra-cool effort as an ordinary gangster movie. It has a cartoonish tone typified by the stereotyping of its opposing criminal factions – smart-suited, shotgun-wielding Irishmen from Chicago who look out of place in Kansas wheatfields vs dungaree-clad Waltons lookalikes with vicious pitchforks. Lee Marvin, as in Point Blank, is the brutal professional criminal blankly appalled by the over-the-top evil (and, worse, lack of business ethics) incarnated by Kansas City meat magnate Mary Ann, who tucks enthusiastically into plates of tripe (‘guts’) and harvests girls from orphanages who are hooked on heroin and kept in cattle pens for a livestock auction that leads to them being sold into slavery in a chain of brothels.
Sissy Spacek made her first bigscreen impression as Poppy, the girl Marvin rescues to get some leverage against the villains, and has a strange, waiflike presence – which pays off in a kicker that allows her to punch out an especially hateful baddie and free the next generation of orphan girls. Marvin’s stone-blasted face and underplaying contrast well with Hackman’s too-quick grin and line in corn-fed, self-justifying patter. Ritchie even delivers an impressive action sequence involving combine harvesters.
Imagintive and moving with a brace of compelling performances.