REVIEW: 52 Pick-Up (1986) - ManlyMovie

REVIEW: 52 Pick-Up (1986)


Movie Review: 52-Pick Up (1986)
What to expect: John Frankenheimer, Elmore Leonard and Roy Scheider at the top of their game.

I think this film, which turns 30 this November, has been sorely overlooked for far too long. 46% on Rotten Tomatoes with only 13 reviews? And a 6.4 out of 10 on IMDb with less than 3,500 votes? Get outta here. This should have been an 8.0 at the very least. It stars Roy Scheider, an actor who instantly makes a movie better just by being in it. It’s produced by Cannon Films, which gave us the “Ninja”, “Death Wish” and “Delta Force” films, as well as “Cobra”. It’s co-written by the late Elmore Leonard, adapting his own novel here to good use. And it’s directed by the late, great John Frankenheimer, who needs no introduction. This film has four good things going for it, delivers them all confidently, and gets swept under the rug? Hollywood sure is a strange place.

Scheider plays Harry Mitchell, an L.A. manufacturer with a fancy car, a nice house, and wife Barbara (Ann-Margret) running for city council. Things are going good for them, so good, that Harry is having a little something (Kelly Preston, what a something) on the side. You can’t keep a good man down, it seems. So three crooks, led by the slimy pornographer Raimy (John Glover) decide to make an example out of him by blackmailing him for $100,000 with this little tidbit. It may ruin his wife’s political aspirations.

If this film were made today, our hero will spend the entire film wracked with guilt for disrespecting his woman, and probably go “confront his demons” by facing both his mistress and his wife with “shocking truths”, and with the thugs bookending the story with few appearances. Political correctness, see. Not here. The second those slimeballs turn their backs, Mitchell just straight out lays the truth to Barbara, who is surprised as the audience that he’d reveal it this early. You’d think that, with her already knowing, there’s no blackmail plot, no ransom. Nope, there’s still 100 minutes to go. That’s when Raimy and the blackmailers get really, really nasty; resorting to additional kidnapping and murder. Mitchell is not one to admit defeat, and brings the fight back to them by sowing the seeds of distrust in Raimy’s unstable cohorts (Robert Trebor and Clarence Williams III), risking Barbara’s life in the process.

This is film/neo-noir unleaded, where the normal everyman is faced with increasingly bad luck as the story progresses. Here, the noir factor is cranked up to eleven as Frankenheimer and Leonard present the underworld of the 80s L.A. porn scene as unclean, unglamorous, seedy and grimy as it can be; you’d want to take a clean shower after finishing this film. It works for the film, because Mitchell is a character who seems trapped, but remarkably uses plausible wit to outsmart his enemies. Because this film was written by Leonard himself, every line of dialogue is gold. When Scheider confronts Raimy in one of many times, he firmly says this immortal line: “There’s something about your face that makes me want to slap the shit out of it!”

Scheider, manly man and perhaps the most underrated actor of all time, has the look and presence of a true everyman in charge: quiet and understated, yet fully in command when needs be, and uses these qualities to great effect here, ultimately delivering a career-best. Glover, however, is a real surprise as a sociopathic, borderline over-the-top scumbag who is hell-bent on terrorizing the Mitchells. His performance is so good here, so deliberately slimy, it’s a wonder why Hollywood didn’t cast him as high-profile villains following this film. Bonus points to Williams in a scene where he breaks into the Mitchells’ home and gets caught, only to be served liquor by Harry as a means of tricking him, leading up to the film’s funniest line of dialogue. Yes, even in films as bleak as this, good humor can be found.

This is the kind of film sorely missed in Hollywood now, lean, mean and grainy thrillers that never get cute, featuring believable characters that you root for because of their flaws. Without spoiling anything, even as the final scene does admittedly get over the top, it is a scene of sheer crowd-pleasing catharsis, a righteous ending that films today need. Perhaps one of Cannon Film’s best entries, up there with “Runaway Train”, it’s a 80s gem that needs to be rediscovered and celebrated. At least one critic did back in the day: Roger Ebert, who gave this film the unsung praise it deserved.




  1. The Night Rider

    July 27, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Very interesting, I’d never even heard of this movie.

    • AlTeo

      July 27, 2016 at 11:34 am

      Just doing my part in making this movie less obscure, good sir.

      This came out on HBO Asia a long, long time ago. Heavily censored, yes, but already I felt the seediness and grimy atmosphere seeping in back then when I was a teen. Watched the uncut version a few years ago, and it’s a neo-noir treasure.

      • Mucho Macho

        July 27, 2016 at 12:30 pm

        Another great job sir.
        I have this movie on DVD. I am a fan of Roy Schreider and this is one of his very best and of course 1 could never go wrong with Ann Margret.
        Underrated movie for sure. This was 1 of those movies that would always play on cable frequently back in the day. However through the years it has kind of disappeared, however not long ago I was channel surfing and I stumble upon it in one of the movie channels.
        I was happy to see it back on the tube. Hopefully members of the younger generation caught it.

      • jim

        July 27, 2016 at 1:51 pm

        Excellent review..Jim approves..Roy Scheider directed by John Frankenheimer from a book by Elmore Leonard..What more do you want.? If you like this (and I do) then you’ll love Cat Chaser (1989)

        • AlTeo

          July 27, 2016 at 4:31 pm

          Thanks for the recommendation, Jim! Heard of this, directed by Abel Ferrara, so it should be something seedy and good.

    • jim

      July 27, 2016 at 1:51 pm


  2. ColonelBobi

    July 27, 2016 at 9:54 am

    I’m pretty sure I have this somewhere but never saw it….or maybe I just have the book. I have a bunch of Leonard’s on my shelf. Nice review man, I agree Scheider is severely underrated. I liked him in everything I’ve seen him in aside from Jaws 4. The Seven Ups is another of his gritty classics that gained little plaudits. And Sorcerer. Now that is a manly movie!

    • AlTeo

      July 27, 2016 at 11:36 am

      Seven-Ups and Sorcerer are great stuff, I’ve also enjoyed him in All That Jazz, a movie that may not be in Manly Movie’s league, but fantastic performance from him nonetheless. Earned him his lead Oscar nomination, too.

      • ColonelBobi

        July 28, 2016 at 2:45 pm

        I never saw All That Jazz, he plays a ballet dancer right? Hmm maybe one i’ll get the wife to watch and let me know how it is. Gotta keep my manly rep intact here 😉

    • Mucho Macho

      July 27, 2016 at 8:09 pm

      Scheider’s character was dead by “Jaws: The Revenge”
      Jaws 4 is a great bad movie movie😜

      • ColonelBobi

        July 28, 2016 at 2:43 pm

        My bad I meant Jaws III. I forgot it was his son in Jaws 4. Cheers Macho

        • Mucho Macho

          July 28, 2016 at 4:59 pm

          Yes!!. part 4 was “Jaws vs. The Last Starfighter ( Lance Guest )”
          Part 4 was also “Jaws vs Solo ( Mario Van Peebles )”
          & also it was “Jaws vs Alfie ( Michael Caine )”
          😀Jaws 4 needs more love…Fuck Sharknado🎬

          • ColonelBobi

            July 28, 2016 at 11:29 pm

            Haha Van Peebles was cool as the reggae guy. Pretty sure he ended up as lunch though. I saw III at the movies with crappy red & green 3d specs. Watching it today though you realise how bad it is.

          • Mucho Macho

            July 28, 2016 at 11:47 pm

            Hahahaha. I used to like Jaws 3 so much when I was a lil kid.
            Van Pebbles was indeed lunch for the shark.
            There are bad movies and then there are great bad movies.
            The last two Jaws movies were so fucking bad they were fucking great,
            especially part 4

          • ColonelBobi

            July 30, 2016 at 1:11 pm

            I agree with the so bad it’s good ethos and yes it does apply to Jaws III but I must respectfully disagree about Jaws IV. It falls in the so bad it’s goddam awful category man! 😉

          • Mucho Macho

            July 30, 2016 at 5:05 pm

            It’s okay …I know it’s an acquired taste, I mean we’re talking about a God Awful movie here. You know what is another God awful movie that is also a part 4 that I like?
            “Superman 4: the Quest for Peace”
            Everything you bad you can say about it I know… and yet when I was a kid I used to fucking love it knowing of course how bad it was.
            Nuclear Man Rules!!! ( I will be hiding in shame now 😧)

          • ColonelBobi

            July 30, 2016 at 7:37 pm

            Oh lmao my missus loves that one though she is a Superman nut. I think I only ever saw it once, never really liked Superman that much.

          • Mucho Macho

            July 31, 2016 at 3:55 am

            It was made by Cannon films & right before production began they cut more than half the budget. They had to get rid of a lot of stuff they wanted to do and the stuff that they were able to do some look very unfinished, like some wires still visible in some shots.
            But for God knows what reason, I like it even more than part 3.
            It’s 80s cheese-fest fun

  3. Jimmy Smith

    July 27, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Solid review for a great movie. I just picked up the blu-ray a couple of weeks back and love it for the many reasons you have listed. You just don’t get a solid thriller like this anymore. One of Cannons best for sure as an actual movie and not because its so bad its good. Sorcerer was a fine, fine film and is highly recommended for all fans of this site as many have pointed out it is a great manly movie as well as this.