52 F*ck Up


Real Corinthian leather.

Fiona was feeling fragile so I made her watch John Frankenheimer’s 80s Elmore Leonard sleaze-fest 52 PICK-UP (a Golan-Globus Production). Hey, it’s kill or cure.

When it was over, she summed it up nicely: “The End. And everyone felt dirty.”


The movie seems designed either as a future trivia quiz question (“What movie features Ann-Margaret, Vanity, and Ron “Porn Hedgehog” Jeremy?”) or else to put a nasty taste in the mouth which will still be palpable when our cities are dust in the wind. But HEY it does have a hilarious, creepy, and eye-popping perf from John Glover (the Donald Trump parody guy in GREMLINS 2) as the very bad bad guy (you can’t do that kind of thing to Kelly Preston and maintain the audience’s warm sympathy) and it also features a wacky shot-reverse-shot sequence destined to live in infamy.


Glover’s business partner threatens him —


— and Frankenheimer obligingly serves up a shot taken from the viewpoint of Glover’s penis. This has fascinating implications. It encourages one to read every low-angle shot (and there are plenty) as being taken from the vantage point of Glover’s penis. Who knows, perhaps the whole film is a dream sequence passing through the slumbering mind of Glover’s penis. It would certainly account for a few of Frankenheimer’s filming choices, which might otherwise be inexplicable from the director of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and SECONDS.

It might not be going too far to speculate that Frankenheimer’s entire 1980s output might have been a dream in the eye of John Glover’s penis. His mutant bear horror movie PROPHECY becomes, for the first time, genuinely frightening when considered in this light.

11 Responses to “52 F*ck Up”

  1. James S. Says:

    This was, for a time, one of the best Elmore Leonard adaptations out there. Then Get Jackie Out of Sight happened and that really changed the standard. To be a true adaptation they should have cast someone physically weaker in the lead like Charles Durning. The story is one of a man rediscovering his masculinity when threatened. Roy is excellent as always though

    I think the squalidness works, even the of-it’s-time synth score adds to the whole sleazy LA feeling.

    I think Clarence Williams’s performance is the most underrated here, his eyes and breathing managing to upstage John Glover’s smile. I also love that sordid moment at the climax where Glover says “That’s awful white of ya sport”

    On top of being a rapist/blackmailer/kidnapper/pornographer/murderer he’s now also a racist.

  2. I can see how a less athletic lead would have helped the film feel meaningful. Frankenheimer’s output of this period is startlingly empty, so I guess it’s in keeping that Scheider plays it with little sense of an arc. There IS a sense of the white middle class fighting back against sleazy reprobates who are ethnically and sexually “other,” and the sense that Scheider invites this by screwing around outside the family unit. Fairly Reaganite in its implications.

  3. Neo-noir nasty. Would make a charming double-bill with Apted’s THE SQUEEZE.

  4. hm, i remember CAT CHASER having its moments, and i’ll always have a soft spot for the melon-vengeance classic MR MAJESTYK.

    and of course the westerns are their own deal – 3:10 TO YUMA and THE TALL T and JOE KIDD…

  5. The Squeeze reeks of sleaze and squalor, but it’s GREAT. I think it earns its nastiness. 52 Pick-Up’s creep factor seems to extend from beyond the movie: it’s really leering and horrible!

  6. Both films have a case of the Michael Winners. I prefer the Frankenheimer but that may just be because I’m a Roy fan.

  7. Lovely leathery Roy is always welcome. But I like Keach too, and he’s extraordinary in The Squeeze. And there’s greater filmmaking skill and care in both movies than you’d find in Winner product of the era.

    Recently watched The Mechanic. Quite brilliant for the first half or so, then degenerates into mayhem-by-numbers. The writing is terrific, though — Winner’s hamfistedness is subsumed by a good script.

  8. But does John Glover’s penis have a thick Baltimore accent?

  9. If it does, can it be long before John Waters hires it?

  10. chris schneider Says:

    I only saw this on network tv, which means that most of the sleaze was missing, but … I do love this film. And it’s co-written, for the record, by a very good West Coast playwright named John Steppling.

    And you do know, don’t you, that there’s another adaptation of this same Leonard novel, THE AMBASSADOR? Featured Rock Hudson in one of his last acting roles. Directed by J. Lee Thompson, with Robert Mitchum and Ellen Burstyn and Donald Pleasance.

  11. I think seeing an uncut version might transform the movie, actually. There’s just so MUCH sleaze that it must have some vital role in Frankenheimer’s conception of the film, whatever that is.

    Didn’t realize The Ambassador was the same thing. Really tricky lining up the two casts and imagining how that would work…

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