A few years ago, my wife went on a Roy Scheider kick. She would purchase or rent any movie with his name in the credits. So I saw a lot of his films. Many (Sorcerer) were stinkers; many were quite good. But the biggest surprise was 52 Pick-Up.
Elmore Leonard has had some very uneven treatment in Hollywood, especially in the earlier films made of this work. I don't know if he was tired of this, or if director John Frankenheimer knew enough to hire him, but in this case, he worked on the script and the result is a taut thriller.
Roy Scheider plays Harry Mitchell, a successful businessman who is having an affair with a topless dancer. But Mitchell discovers it's not all fun and games when a videotape is made. Alan Raimy (John Glover) asks for a ransom or the news will get back to the press, embarrassing Harry's wife Barbara (Ann-Margaret), who is a politician. Mitchell at first refuses, but when Raimy sends him a second videotape showing his girlfriend being murdered by Mitchell's own gun, he agrees to pay $52,000 (hence the film's title), and then sets in motion a plan to take down Raimy and his friends.
I don't have to tell you that Scheider is good; he's good even in the worst of films. But the most memorable performance is John Glover as Raimy. He's a man who is capable of anything and who never seems to worry about what others -- including the law -- might think. His Raimy is funny yet chilling and deserves to be amid the top movie villains.
Director John Frankenheimer keeps the action movie. He had had an interesting career, making such classics as Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, and Seven Days in May. By the time this film came out, though, he was in somewhat of a slump. This was a return to the taut thrillers he had made in the 60s, and a good one.
It's a fine movie of revenge and a crime gone wrong.