Some directors have a gift for comedy. John Frankenheimer isn't one of them. A big fan of his early work ('The Manchurian Candidate,' 'Seven Days in May,' 'The Train,' 'Seconds,' 'The Iceman Cometh') and not so much of his later stuff ('Prophecy,' 'Dead Bang,' 'Reindeer Games,' 'Island of Dr. Moreau'-- although 1998's 'Ronin' is a happy exception), I found '99 and 44/100% Dead' a very amateurish attempt at an entirely superfluous genre: the gangster spoof. If you can, imagine a mating of 'The Sting' and 'Alphaville' infused with Keystone Cops humor and a swinging-sixties artistic sensibility (yes, it was made in 1974). The story is perfunctory and almost irrelevant, as are the characters serving it (even played by some big names including Richard Harris and Edmond O'Brien), so it's the aesthetic of the film that must work, and it doesn't. Just a jumble of half-baked ideas, gunfire and car chases. The widescreen presentation, however, is very nice, and there are numerous well-framed shots to ogle (the East River-bed 'graveyards,' for instance). Film rates 1 1/2 stars; picture and audio 4 stars.
The keeper of this set is a movie I hadn't seen or heard of before: Robert Mulligan's 'The Nickel Ride.' It's a quiet thriller-- a character study, really-- about a respected, aging mafia property manager ('The Exorcist''s Jason Miller) who discovers too late that his services have become obsolete to those who employ him. No surprise that this modest project flew under the radar, as it features no major stars and generates only a little heat in the action/suspense department (notoriety crib-death when you're released in the same year as 'Jaws,' 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and 'Dog Day Afternoon'); but performances all around are sensational, and the beaten-down '70s Manhattan mood (interrupted with great metaphorical impact in the second act by a bucolic-cabin-in-the-woods scenery change) evokes a compelling sense of time and place. Picture and audio are also first-rate. 3 1/2 stars for the film; 4 stars for presentation.