Judge P.S. Colbert is certain there's some literary significance behind pairing these features together.
While not exactly poles apart—more like continents, say Antarctica and Australia—this pair of 1974 gangster flicks from 20th Century Fox were ostensibly aimed at the same target audience, though it's hard to imagine any substantial group of viewers coming to consensus about them.
99 and 44/100% Dead
Big Eddie (Bradford Dillman, Compulsion) has had enough of being small-fry, and so he's taking on "Uncle Frank" Kelly (Edmond O'Brien, The Barefoot Contessa) for the whole shooting match, which is getting so serious that Kelly has no choice but to call on Harry Crown (Richard Harris This Sporting Life).
"You're the best, Harry; I've known that always," Uncle Frank tells him. "There's nobody better."
On his way into town, Harry stops by the club—you know the one; all maraschino cherry lighting, groovy muzak, plush dark velvet wallpaper—and runs into Buffy (Ann Turkel, Humanoids From The Deep), the lissome third-grade school teacher with the toothy smile and a keen eye for detail.
"This is a rough town now, Harry. All the houses are tumbling down," Buffy tells him. "You don't have to have sharp ears to hear the bodies falling."
"Hey first-night-in-town," she asks, changing the subject. "Got a place to stay?"
Oh yeah, it's like that.
Chronologically speaking, 99 and 44/100% Dead! falls smack dab in the center of director John Frankenheimer's resume, a wildly uneven curriculum vitae that encompasses the brilliant (The Birdman Of Alcatraz) and the brainless (Prophecy). Sadly, this one leans towards the latter.
There are some bright spots visually, starting with a series of Roy Lichtenstein-ish pop art title cards, followed by a clever sequence documenting the cement shoe crowd gathered on the bottom of the East River.
But any good will engendered by the comic strip set-up is soon squandered by a forced, cynical "zaniness," and a parade of gun-toting paper tigers, like one-handed hired killer "Claw Zuckerman," played by Chuck Connors, once The Rifleman, now shooting blanks.
Practically everybody else is chewing the scenery, all alligator grins and flamboyant gesticulations, contrasted with Harris' performance, which seems embalmed. Particularly apt in this case, I guess.
Question: Why do these gangster guys always wear three piece suits and dress shoes when their jobs consist almost entirely of running through garment districts, shooting it out inside otherwise abandoned warehouses and falling to their deaths from roofs of multi-storied buildings? I figure their antiperspirant bills alone must cut something awful into their profit margins, right?
"The gangs are breeding like flies, there's cannon fodder being raised on every block," observes the unbeatable Harry Crown, betraying the lofty aspirations of screenwriter Robert Dillon (Bikini Beach, The French Connection II).
Psst! Mr. Dillon, your screenplay has been turned into an episode of Mannix, with more skin, more blood and dirtier words.
The Nickel Ride
But lately, Cooper's been having trouble getting his phone calls returned and he's noticing a distinct lack of respect coming from the boss' driver, Bobby (Richard Evans, Too Soon To Love), who ought to know better.
Is he being passed over? Is he being paranoid?
Boss man Carl (John Hillerman, Magnum P.I.) tells Cooper he's got nothing to be paranoid about.
"The only worry is the pressure," Carl says. "You're like a computer, and we can't afford to have it break down. We can't lose the key man."
But then, why has Carl suddenly saddled him with Turner, (Bo Hopkins, The Wild Bunch) the over-talkative Okie who shows up for his first day of work toting a shotgun?
Is he being paranoid…or prescient?
I much preferred this moody, character-driven essay of urban underworld politics from Oscar-nominated director Robert Mulligan (To Kill A Mockingbird) and Oscar-winning scripter Eric Roth (The Insider), both experts at inner-space exploration and the mapping out of complex and quirky personalities.
Such stuff is heaven for talented and intelligent actors, which The Nickel Ride has to spare, with the aforementioned being ably abetted by sterling ensemble work from Victor French (There Was A Crooked Man), Linda Haynes (Rolling Thunder), Lou Frizzell (Summer Of '42) and Mark Gordon (Take The Money And Run).
The Nickel Ride was originally marketed on the strength of Miller's breakout success playing Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist, and its box office failure might be due to the differences in the Karras and Cooper personas, or perhaps due to the fact that at the time of its release, the big screen seemed to be positively crawling with downbeat ballads of societal underbelly kings (Mean Streets and Fat City come immediately to mind).
The film is not without its flaws—some character's fates can be seen a mile off, and even at 99 minutes, the story feels a bit…stretched—though these are miniscule quibbles and should not discourage audiences looking for a unique and rewarding, albeit small-scale, cinematic experience.
Both features have been done extremely proud by clear-as-a-bell 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers, and the Dolby 2.0 Stereo is equally commendable, though the original trailers (offered as the solitary extra for each film) are of reasonably shabbier quality.
This economically packaged, sensibly priced two disc set makes for a good old fashioned Saturday night double feature, though I recommend you program the Frankenheimer film first. Maturer audiences are usually allowed to stay up later.
Guilty. Not Guilty. I've reported, now you decide!
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Scales of Justice, The Nickel Ride
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Studio: Shout! Factory
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Scales of Justice, 99 And 44/100% Dead
Perp Profile, 99 And 44/100% Dead
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, 99 And 44/100% Dead
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