(Your faithful blogger is away this week. I thought it would be fun to run some golden oldies. For current microblogging from the road, follow the Twitter feed on this page or at @joesview on Twitter.)
Many Elmore Leonard novels have been brought to the screen – with mixed results – but my favorite adaptation is one very few people have ever heard of, let alone seen.
The 1986 John Frankenheimer drama, “52 Pick-Up,” suffered the misfortune of being produced and distributed by the Cannon Group, a long-forgotten company that specialized in Chuck Norris action pictures and pop-culture-fad movies about things like break dancing.
The Frankenheimer version of the Elmore Leonard novel is a tough and rather nasty look at the intersection of high life and low life in Los Angeles two decades ago. It’s a crime drama that packs an unusually strong emotional punch.
The late Roy Scheider gives one of the best performances of his career as an industrialist, married to a rising politician (Ann-Margret), who has been having an affair with a pretty young actress (Kelly Preston), new to L.A., who is falling into the porn/prostitution underworld.
A porn director/pimp (played with ferocious force by John Glover) decides to blackmail the businessman with a hidden camera video showing Scheider having sex with the actress.
When the man says “no” and finally confesses to his wife about the affair, the blackmailer ups the ante by killing the mistress and pinning the murder on the businessman.
When Scheider tells his wife about the affair, the result is one of the best acted scenes to be found in any 1980s Hollywood movie. Scheider’s nervous guilt turns to pain as he watches his wife react to the bombshell revelation (Ann-Margret is simply sensational in this scene).
It was clear watching “52 Pick-Up” that Scheider didn’t care if we “liked” the man he played, but he takes us so far into the character’s dilemma that the empathy factor is strong (when the industrialist is shown a tape of his mistress’ murder, we can see that the man is both horrified by what happened to a girl he cared for and terrified that he has walked right into a trap that will probably destroy him).
“52 Pick-Up” was one of the very few good movies produced by Cannon and it opened and closed almost simultaneously.
For many years, Frankenheimer was vocal in his pain over the mishandling of the film and the fact that his co-workers Scheider and Glover and Ann-Margret had some of their best screen work go unseen.
“52 Pick-Up” is a lost gem worth searching out.