In 1986, John Frankenheimer – the director of The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds and French Connection II – made the unlikely career move of working with schlockmeisters Cannon Films. Adapting Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name, 52 Pick-Up’s union brought about the perfect blend of high calibre thrills and Cannon-grade trash.
Roy Scheider (Jaws, Cohen and Tate) plays a successful businessman whose life quickly falls apart when a compromising videotape of him and his mistress (Kelly Preston) becomes a tool for blackmail. Unable to go to the police without compromising the political career of his wife (Ann-Margret), he must take things into his own hands – and delve into a world of drugs, sleaze, pornography and snuff.
Co-starring Prince protégé Vanity and John Glover (who was described as “the best, most reprehensible villain of the year” by Roger Ebert), and featuring a host of cameos from the stars of the ‘Silver Age of Porn’, 52 Pick-Up has been described by Leonard as his favourite big-screen adaptation of his works.
Arrow Video releases John Frankenheimer’s 52 Pick-Up on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of about 1.85:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is delivered on a dual-layer disc.
The master is obviously an older one (provided by MGM to Arrow) and the image, despite some good points, leaves one fairly underwhelmed. Admittedly the film has a fairly dirty look with a generally bland colour scheme (though there are instances where colours pop, especially reds), and that probably doesn’t help, but looking past that there are still issues that look more related to the transfer and master themselves. Detail, though sharp and decent during most close-ups, is lacking in longer shots and there can be a faint fuzziness to the image, making the picture look flat and lifeless. Film grain is present but it just generally lacks definition itself, looking a little clumped. Black levels are weak, crushing out details, and there is some banding present in a few darker sequences. The source print also shows some damage: it’s not heavy by any means, but dirt and debris pops up here and there throughout.
Despite these issues the image can still look “fine enough” but all of these problems do compound to give it a flat, rather bland look. It doesn’t look like a digital monstrosity and is still better than I would have expected for the film, but the end result still doesn’t look particularly film-like at the same time.
(Note: this is a Region B release and North American viewers will require Blu-ray players that can playback Region B content.)
The disc comes with a serviceable if underwhelming 2.0 PCM stereo soundtrack. Range and fidelity are limited, best showcased in gunshots and explosions that don’t sound particularly impressive, fairly flat. But dialogue is clear and the surround presentation is immersive enough, thanks to the presentation of the very 80s Cannon-esque score, some ambient noise, and effects.
There doesn’t look to be a lot here but Arrow does provide some very fun special supplements featuring critics Doug Brod and Glenn Kenny. Hardcore Cameos is a sort of out-of-left-field feature but a fun one that compliments the audio commentary by the two. This 12-minute feature points out the cameos in the film by porn performers and it’s not just some fun little afterthought of a feature, but the two actually talk about the porn industry from a fairly academic perspective, at least from the perspective of the 80s video revolution.
The same subject does get covered to an extent in the commentary, though not as in-depth (but even then I realized part way through that the two probably talk more about Ron Jeremy than they do Ann-Margret). It’s a fairly academic track, but at the same time a very loose and fun one. Interestingly, as we discover later in the track, Kenny didn’t care for the film initially, and he shares his review from the time (the two also share the reviews by others, including Roger Ebert’s praise of it). He acknowledges his opinion has changed drastically over the years (saying his younger self was more ignorant) and he sees it as a very solid genre film serviced by some terrific performances and Frankenheimer’s steady direction. The two also talk about the actors and their careers while also offering a strong overview of Frankenheimer’s work, the origins of the film (which had actually already been made by Cannon Films years earlier), and Cannon Films. I was actually quite surprised by the track as I wasn’t expecting much (not sure why that is, though) but it may be one of my favourite tracks from this year. A very informative and energetic effort.
The disc also features a theatrical trailer for the film and early pressings come with a booklet featuring an essay by the Badlands Collective. I didn’t receive a copy of the booklet so can’t speak on it.
So, even if other areas of the release underwhelmed, the supplements really make this release worthwhile. The two features are both fun and informative, making up for the lack of much else.
The presentation is admittedly fairly average, though I do doubt anything better will come along. For what it is, the presentation is fine, just wish it looked sharper. But what will certainly attract fans are the two supplements, especially the excellent audio commentary.