Prime Cut (1972)
Prime Cut (1972)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.

Release Date: June 28th, 1972 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Michael Ritchie Actors: Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman, Gregory Walcott, Angel Tompkins, Sissy Spacek, Janit Baldwin, William Morey, Clint Ellison, Howard Platt, Les Lannom, Eddie Egan, Therese Reinsch




articularly cheery, virtually sarcastic music by Lalo Schifrin presides over the workings of a slaughterhouse, as cattle are herded, bathed, killed, and chopped up to be turned into hamburger patties and hotdog links, distributed by the Mary Ann’s Meats division in Kansas City. In the process, a human body finds its way into the production line, though it’s not immediately clear how or why. Curiously, the nude corpse provokes smirks, not dismay, especially from pudgy, sweaty, dimwitted Weenie (Gregory Walcott).

Meanwhile, versatile enforcer Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin) meets with gangster Jake (Eddie Egan) in Chicago to discuss investigating Mary Ann’s business – and the murderous practices that have led to the deaths of three of Jake’s assassins. Armed with the promise of a hefty chunk of money and four additional men – Delaney (Clint Ellison), O’Brien (Les Lannom), and Shaughnessy (Howard Platt), as well as trusty driver Shay (William Morey) – Nick heads to Kansas to straighten out skimmed funds ($500,000) and disobedient goons. Upon their arrival, they’re met with hostility and Mary Ann’s (Gene Hackman) latest gig – selling doped-up sex slaves at auction. “Cow flesh, girl flesh; all the same to me.”

Marvin is once again a no-nonsense, expressionless tough-guy, soaking up the violence, racism, and objectionable sights with barely a raised eyebrow. Along the way, he picks up (literally, from captivity in an animal pen) Poppy (Sissy Spacek), a potential romantic counterpart (who happens to be about 25 years his junior) – or just a brainwashed, manipulated woman who becomes fully dependent on her rescuer. As if to bolster Devlin’s machismo, and to highlight the disparity between powerful men and victimized women, Poppy spends her introduction in the nude, only to don a sheer dress through which her naked body is still entirely visible. “Prime Cut” doesn’t shy away from its salacious content (or its lack of strong female roles), going so far as to play romantic music when Weenie goes to rape Violet (Janit Baldwin), one of the orphan girls set to be auctioned off. There’s also former flame Clarabelle (Angel Tompkins), who may have figured out how to use the men in her life, but is no less of a victim to longstanding abuse.

Hackman is in top form, providing a nuanced, almost charming villain, who could be a fun, funny person to befriend, were it not for his flesh farm and his tendencies toward homicide. He also has plenty of ruthless killers at his disposal, contributing to bloodshed and adventure as Devlin becomes the hunted in a battle for his life. The abundance of antagonists, even when viewers might assume a total lack of motive, lends to a memorable wheat thresher chase sequence, which is vaguely reminiscent of Cary Grant’s sprint from a low-flying cropduster in “North by Northwest,” as well as to a rambunctious, impressively destructive showdown that spans from a sunflower field to a barn – unloading multiple magazines of bullets and demolishing plenty of scenery. “Prime Cut” is anything but a glamorous picture, yet it still possesses a cinematic grittiness and a satisfying resolution.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10