Roy Scheider is married to Ann-Margaret who is running for city council. Unbeknownst to her he’s been having an affair with young Kelly Preston.
Scheider’s affair begins to cause him a headache when three criminals blackmail him. They have a videotape of him and his mistress and they want a hundred grand to keep it hush hush. Scheider decides not to pay and the situation escalate. They come back to him now with a videotape not of him and lover in bed together, but of her being killed with his gun. Now they want a hundred grand a year for the rest of his life or they’ll frame him for her murder.
Schneider finds himself navigating a world of seedy sex shops and criminals in an attempt to outsmart and placate lead blackmailer John Glover by turning the table on him and try to end their scheme once and for all.
Director John Frankenheimer films an Elmore Leonard novel and it turns out to be a successful pairing. 52 Pick-Up has a great cast, a simple but escalating tense-filled story and a terrific main villain in Glover who’s one of the slimiest, amoral characters that you would hate to deal with.
The story unfolds at a nice riveting pace. It’s a gritty hardboiled tale that somehow feels somewhat out of place when I think of it coming from the mid-1980’s. It’s looks and feels like a film that would come out of the 1970’s crime era of movies to me for some reason.
There are some wonderful scenes. Scheider’s confession to a devastated Ann-Margaret about his affair with this young 22-year-old. “Our marriage has lasted 23 years. That’s longer than she’s been alive.”
Scheider catching the most violent of the blackmailers Clarence Williams III in his home and planting seeds of doubt in him with whether Glover is playing him as well. Williams confronting Vanity with a teddy bear (that’s right) to find out exactly what she has told Scheider.
I have to mention Vanity who didn’t get to make many films but who I had a huge crush on during this time. She looks stunning in this as usual and I thought was pretty good in a dramatic role. Based on her performance in this she could have parlayed into more serious acting roles.
The most unsettling scene is Scheider being made to watch the execution tape of Preston by the three. It’s pretty harsh and Glover’s flippant narration over it makes it even more disturbing. The stinger moment at the very end of the scene is nice surprise.
With all the good the film has, it’s Glover who’s the real standout. He’s deliciously evil, smart and looks to be relishing every dastardly deed and line he gets to do. I’ve seen Glover in a lot of stuff through the years, but this has to be one of his best and most memorable roles.
It’s something of an underrated gem. That’s especially surprising since it was made by Cannon Films, which were notorious for low-grade schlock throughout the decade. 52 Pick-Up stands out as a well made crime thriller, it’s got a bit of neo-noir vibe and I don’t hear it talked about as often as it probably should be.