If you have a taste for really vile, totally degenerate bad guys, the late John Frankenheimer's neglected crime thriller 52 Pick-up may be the movie for you. Adapted in 1986 from one of Elmore Leonard's more perverse potboilers, it's a sleazy tale of sex and revenge in which a Los Angeles businessman (Roy Scheider) who loves his classic Jaguar sports car almost as much as he does his wife (Ann-Margret) becomes the victim of a blackmail plot after an ill-advised affair with a shady woman. You could watch movies for decades without finding an extortionist as low-down and devious as the slick sewer rat John Glover gives us here. Never mind the movie's several implausible turns of plot: Here is Frankenheimer in top form, orchestrating action sequences with the touch of a master and wallowing in sin like a man who knows the territory and is in no hurry to get out.
Frankenheimer, who died last year, is better known for classics like The Manchurian Candidate and The Birdman of Alcatraz (not to mention the most exciting car-racing film ever made, Grand Prix), but he was always at his best in the midst of crime and depravity. Some of the violence in 52 Pick-Up is as startling as a punch in the chest, but all of it makes perfect sense in the director's dark scheme of things. The film plays Friday, March 14, through Thursday, March 20, as part of the Starz FilmCenter's Great Directors Series. For information and showtimes, call 303-820-3456.
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