52 Pick-Up is a complicated and clever story from Elmore Leonard’s novel; the fact that Leonard had a hand in writing the screenplay probably accounts for much of the tasty dialogue and weird characters (it is, to say the least, closer to Leonard’s writing than the mess Burt Reynolds made of Stick).
This one’s about a businessman (Roy Scheider) blackmailed for his extramarital dalliance with a young “dancer” (Kelly Preston) by three very wacko villains (John Glover, Robert Trebor, and Clarence Williams III). Scheider can’t go to the police and come clean because that would mean the end of the political career of his wife (Ann-Margret).
So he has to take things into his own hands, with some satisfying results. It’s a good little thriller—though one might have expected, and occasionally gets, a bit more, considering that it was directed by John Frankenheimer.
Frankenheimer’s career is ripe for resurrection. Some of the films he made during the 1960s—most of all The Manchurian Candidate—are among that decade’s best. But he’s been wandering in the wilderness for years.
52 Pick-Up has just enough quirkiness to suggest that Frankenheimer still has it in him. And some of the early dissolving-marriage scenes between Scheider and Ann-Margret are exceptionally grown-up and tart, to an extent you don’t see much in movies these days. Before it surrenders to conventional plotting, 52 Pick-Up is an exciting film.
First published in the Herald, November 1986
The movie also features Vanity and Doug McClure, which is why you have to love the ’80s. This movie didn’t kick-start the Frankenheimer comeback, but it did indicate the talent was still there, and an upswing was coming.