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STUDIO: Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME: 197 minutes
• Trailers for each film.
The Nickel Ride: A warehouse manager for the mob becomes more than a little paranoid when his boss asks him to break in some new muscle.
99 & 44/100% Dead: A gang war breaks out an alternate-universe NYC and Mafia Don Uncle Frank hires hit man Harry Crown to eliminate rival hood Big Eddie.
The Nickel Ride: Directed by Robert Mulligan, written by Eric Roth, starring Jason Miller, Linda Haynes, and Bo Hopkins.
99 & 44/100% Dead: Directed by John Frankenheimer, written by Robert Dillon, starring Richard Harris, Edmond O’Brien, and Chuck Connors.
Two obscure ’70s crime flicks from Robert Mulligan and John Frankenheimer have been saved by Shout! Factory!
This double feature of previously hard to find ’70s crime flicks from Shout! Factory is worth the price for The Nickel Ride alone. Directed by Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Other), it’s a slow-burning noir that’s as bleak as they come and that follows the most essential rule of the genre: you can’t win. The second disc is John Frankheimer’s 99 & 44/100% Dead. Made in 1974 right before his return to form with The French Connection II, 99 is a baffling, bizarro genre bender that feels like a bunch of random set-pieces strung together against a pop art background but with no real backbone.
Written by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich), The Nickel Ride follows mob “key man” Cooper (Jason Miller) as he slowly realizes his services are no longer needed. Cooper is in charge of securing storage spaces for the mob to hide their hot contraband. He’s working on a deal that will gain the mob a large of row storage spaces near a railroad station, but he can’t seem to seal the deal. In the past Cooper’s been able to grease the palms of the appropriate cops, but even they’re acting a little reserved towards good ol’ Cooper. He can’t seem to get a sit down with his boss, O’Neal, and when he’s asked to show the ropes to new guy named Turner (Bo Hopkins), a brazen cowboy with a motormouth, Cooper begins spiraling into paranoia.
Jason Miller (The Exorcist) delivers the understated performance of a lifetime as Cooper. His dialogue is economical while the way he carries himself is what really shows the growing fear and paranoia in him. His girl, played by Linda Haynes (Rolling Thunder), is a loving, trusting woman who reaches her breaking point during Cooper’s spiral. As the smart-mouthed cowboy Turner, Bo Hopkins (The Wild Bunch) is terrifying. He’s the smile first and shoot you later kind of scumbag.
This is grim noir at its best. From Cooper’s dilapidated neighborhood, to the local bar where he’s a celebrity, to the mountain retreat where Cooper and his girl flee, there’s a creeping death that slowly builds up from the first frame to the credits. The film is steeped in realism, which may turn off casual viewers. The cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner) is stunning at times in its use of sparse lighting. The bleakness of it all adds great weight to the tension and the noose slipping around Cooper’s neck. This is a superior crime drama that would fit perfectly on the shelves next to other bummers like Mickey and Nicky and The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
Then there’s 99 & 44/100% Dead. I have no idea what John Frankenheimer was trying to accomplish with this one. At times I had no idea what was going on, but I can tell you that Rchard Harris plays hit man Harry Crown – a bespectacled stone-face who brandishes dual ivory-handled pistols. He’s enlisted by Uncle Frank Kelly (Edmond O’Brien), a mob boss who’s looking to take out his rival, Big Eddie (Bradford Dilman). Caught up in the gang war is Harry’s pseudo-girlfriend and schoolteacher Buffy (Ann Turkel). Big Eddie’s secret weapon against Harry is Marvin “The Claw” (Chuck Connors), a one-handed beast of a man who utilizes prosthetic weapons like garden shears, a knife, and a bouquet of flowers.
The film starts out very promising with some poppy opening credits and goofball visuals of bodies with “concrete shoes” floating at the bottom of the East River. Harris provides some humorous narration about where to throw things that no longer have any use (corpses). It sets us up for a some madcap crime action, but the rest of the film hardly lives up to the initial promise. Nothing works in this film. Not the jazzy score by Henry Mancini, not the nonsensical action sequences, and not Richard Harris.
Harris’ stony character isn’t interesting in the least bit. He’s got all these quirky accessories like the huge glasses and the fancy 9mm pistols, but he just floats through the film without making an impact. I get the whole stone-faced hit man gig, but from the visuals and costume you’d think he’d be at least a little complex or interesting. Or even funny, for cryin’ out loud. All of the other actors phone it in as well, with the exception of Bradford Dillman (The Iceman Cometh) as the lisping hood Big Eddie. He manages to pull out a comic performance worthy of the film’s deceptive opening.
99 & 44/100% Dead is worth seeing at least once for its historical significance in Frankenheimer’s extensive filmography. Take your best guess at the film’s intention because I came up with nothing. Is it a satire? A comedic crime caper? A character study of a lonely hit man? Whatever it’s intended purpose, it falls flat on its face without reaching any goal.
Just but the double-disc set for The Nickel Ride.
Each film gets its own disc, with trailers being the only special feature on both.
Picture and audio are fantastic, although I would have appreciated subtitles because of the hushed voices in The Nickel Ride. I had to max out my volume for a few scenes.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars