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Two interesting near-misses in a decent double-bill,
This review is from: 99 & 44/100% Dead & Nickel Ride [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
With its pop art title sequence and stylish opening tour of the river bottom graveyards where gently swaying gangsters, molls, wannabes and union bosses are weighed down by concrete galoshes as mob war rages on the docks above them, 99 and 44/100% Dead aka Call Harry Crown never manages to turn into the kind of comic book pastiche of gangster movies it clearly wants to be. Robert Dillon's script has the makings and throws in surreal touches like sewers full of alligators happily co-existing with tramps, Bradford Dillman's extwovewted mob boss who can't pwonounce his `r's or Chuck Connors' hitman with a claw for a hand complete with a suitcase full of multi-purpose attachments, but it never goes far enough, leaving the film an underdeveloped action movie with deliberately one-dimensional characters who aren't quite colourful or iconic enough to cut it. As the bespectacled and underdressed out-of-town enforcer called in to save old-school mobster Edmond O'Brien's bacon, Richard Harris gives it his best despite a spectacularly bad haircut but too often leaves the impression that they wanted Michael Caine but he was busy that month. Aside from the opening and part of a bridge shootout John Frankenheimer's handling of the action scenes isn't vigorous or imaginative enough to compensate for the other failings. Only the film's trailer and Henry Mancini's score really seems to really get the idea, giving it a kind of straightfaced tongue-in-cheek urgency at times while playing it cool and mellow at others. Even as a bit of a misfire there's enough that's quirky and stylish enough to keep you watching without getting bored, but it's easy to understand why this vanished almost without a trace after failing to find an audience in 1974. Still, at least it worked out for Harris: he married his leading lady, Ann Turkel. Well, maybe not - they divorced eight years later...
Unlike some of Shout Factory's recent double-bill DVDs, the picture quality benefits from having each film on a separate disc, in this case offering a decent but unexceptional 2.35:1 widescreen print (wrongly listed as 1.78:1 on the packaging) with original trailer and one TV spot as extras.
Directed by Robert Mulligan, written by Eric Roth and starring Jason Miller hot off The Exorcist, which bizarrely led 20th Century Fox to try to sell it as a horror movie in the print ads, The Nickel Ride is a superbly acted character piece in crime movie clothes that's just a little too naturalistic and observational at times to grip. Miller is a key man for the mob, a middle management figure managing the warehouse space for their stolen goods, but space is running out and so is his bosses' patience in his plan to buy a block to turn it into a Grand Central station for hijacked merchandise.
Making little noise in the US after its Cannes screening eight months earlier and pretty much disappearing off the face of the Earth ever since, it's not too hard to see why this never found an audience either: it's a downbeat, low-key movie that's more about the mundane day-to-day side of crime than a gripping thriller. It doesn't help that it seems so busy observing these characters in their convincingly natural habitat that the film's nearly two-thirds over before Miller's paranoia mounts until he suspects that talkative good ol' boy Bo Hopkins, who's been foisted upon him to learn the ropes, is actually there to kill him and that every meeting will be his last. Miller is excellent as the neighborhood fixer who gets more done with a quiet but firm word than others do with violence, and John Hillerman gets to step out of his usual snobbish typecasting to play a mob middle-man, but good as the performances and dialogue are and despite Mulligan's fine location work, the film never quite shakes its theatrical feeling en route to its inevitable conclusion.
Jordan Cronenweth's cinematography isn't always well served by Shout Factory's DVD, which sometimes flattens out detail in some of the darker shots, but it's an otherwise acceptable 2.35:1 widescreen transfer with the original theatrical trailer the only extra.