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Women Be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Control

Women be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Power by Delton Cox Washington-Post-critic Paul Attanasio calls the neo-noir 52 Pick-Up (John Frankenheimer, 1986), "so aggressively explicit that it might have been made for an audience of trained apes”, ultimately deeming it “unclassy” and “ridiculous”. I understand why Attanasio refers to the film this way. However, I would like to argue that 52 Pick-Up's “unclassy” aspects make it an unflinching portrayal of the “real” world of film noir – an intensified depiction of an already dangerous and corrupt world full of corrupt men hell-bent on control.

It's going to be a long drive home for Harry.


Women Be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Control

The “Real” World of Noir

Film noir was a genre already renowned for its dark and twisty plots, and gritty and dangerous atmosphere. Classic film-noir was subdued by studio influence and the Production code which hampered violence and sensuality on the big screen, until the MPAA developed the Ratings system. Films since then were artistically liberated to a high degree; the level of violence and sexual content in these films frequently fill up the screen. For neo-noirs, this liberation complemented the dark world of noir with frank honesty and excess, fulfilling what their ancestors have merely started. 52 Pick-Up is one such neo-noir: when stripped of all its violence and nudity to the bone, it is a wonderful re-creation of the classic hard-boiled 1940s noir. And yet, rarely has there been a noirish world as unflinchingly brutal and twisted as portrayed in 52 Pick-Up. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider), the protagonist.

Alan Raimy (John Glover), the main antagonist.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaa The Men of 52-Pick Up In the world of noir, men constantly seek control: of their lives, their lovers, money, investigations, and most especially of a sticky situation. They constantly thrive on it. It's a test of their masculinity – are they man enough to face this? Sam Spade 2

Women Be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Control

(Humphrey Bogart) from The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941) is a private eye who loves being one step ahead of the crooks. Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) from Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) is desperate to contain the spiralling situation he's gotten himself into. Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) of Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958) manipulates his way throughout the crime scene to get the desired results. These men of noir have been reborn in this film, in the forms of L.A. businessman Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider) and especially its villain, the reprehensible pornographer Alan Raimy (John Glover). Harry represents the central noir protagonist: the male victim – lured by sex and success. He is a successful businessman whose life comes crashing down on him due to his infidelity – a common trait in post-modern noir, which seems to represent 'yuppie' paranoia that, no matter how fortified or big the house is, it's still vulnerable: even his sports car just screams 'masculinity crisis' (Spicer, 2002). He is struggling to have control over his life. On the other hand, Raimy is a manipulative, sneaky homme fatale and pornographer who weasels his way through both villains and heroes to get what he wants. Raimy isn't the usual sociopath, though he is snake-tongued, charismatic, and assured of himself. He suits up whenever he meets Harry, as if it were a contest of style, and he manages to sweet-talk unfortunate women to their misfortune. He takes advantage of the trigger-happy Bobby Shy (Clarence Williams III) and the shifty and weak Leo (Robert Trebor) to his advantage, so that he would remain the sole victor in his scheme. The battle for masculinity is one of the cores of classic film-noir, such as The Maltese Falcon and Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) – who is the better man, really? aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa 3

Women Be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Control


Stripper Doreen (Vanity) prepares for a show; then threatened by villain #2 Bobby Shy (Clarence Williams III)

The doomed women of Harry's life – Cini's (Kelly Preston) dead body after her murder, and Harry's wife Barbara (Ann-Margret) menaced by Raimy.

The Women of 52 Pick-Up Attanasio: “...[the film is] nakedly violent and violently naked, tailor-made for connoisseurs of the female breast, and for those who can't wait to see women scared, strangled, shot and otherwise abused.”

Attanasio isn't lying: the film is shockingly misogynistic, and even by neo-noir standards. Gratuitous scenes of nudity and/or violence fill up the screen whenever women enter the scene. Explicit, yes. Pointless, no. It complements the film's raw and 'in-your-face' noirish atmosphere, setting out to complete the mood that their ancestors started with films like Double Indemnity and Detour. In a sharp contrast with the classic noirs of the 1940's, every major female character in the film becomes a female victim at one point or another. Women are brutalized, 4

Women Be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Control

left for dead and/or traumatized by the time the film is over. This is no accident: as a result of two males' hot pursuit of control – the women unfortunately become caught in the crossfire. Even in the film's beginning, the audience discovers that Harry is an adulterer. The women are already being manipulated, objectified and scrapped aside. The men do it because they think they have the power to. Attanasio, however, is too appalled at the treatment of the females in this movie to get the big picture – nobody wins in the end. Of course, the hero and his wife successfully outsmart the villain, but Harry loses his car, a large sum of money (presumably leading the end of his business as well) and is left with a drugged and (implied) raped wife. There is a limit to how far man can go, and the more they pursuit power, the more collateral damage they put upon others. Especially if it's a battle of masculinity between Harry and Raimy: as a result: Cini his mistress (Kelly Preston) gets terrorized and murdered; Doreen (Vanity), Cini's friend, gets threatened; and Harry's wife Barbara (Ann-Margret) gets drugged and raped. The rest of the women in this movie are scantily clad if not gyrating heavily for Raimy's camera. In a film where men rule, women most certainly will have to pay the price. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaajjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aThe Men out of Control aaa


Women Be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Control


Roger Ebert: “[52-Pick Up]... also isolates the key ingredient in [Elmore] Leonard's best novels, which is the sight of a marginal character being pushed far beyond his capacity to cope. In 52 Pick-Up, there are three such characters, and by the end of the movie they are all desperately confused and frightened.”

Backlighting, lack of lighting and tight, claustrophobic framing (noir trademarks) are present in this scene where Harry is horrified at watching Cini's murder. The source of light is coming from Raimy.

Roger Ebert’s passage as above brings to mind two scenes from the film: Harry watching the brutal murder of Cini, and Harry later talking to Leo in a bar. In this scene, the filmmaking trademarks of noir are present – plenty of backlighting and shadows; low and ominous angles of the villains, tight and claustrophobic close-ups of Harry's horrified face. The blocking of Harry and Raimy – where 6

Women Be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Control

Harry shown at a lower angle than Raimy, who smugly narrates the scene, shows that Harry has lost control of his life, and has now hit rock bottom. Raimy, however, is never shown at a lower angle than Harry, he is shown as this high and mighty person so full of evil and control, that Harry cannot do anything (at the moment) but watch horrified, at his lack of control to solve his predicament. The second scene involves the third character described by Ebert in his review – one of the villains, Leo (Robert Trebor). He is paranoid about his predicament because he think nobody would actually get hurt in one of Raimy's schemes. It is a scene that is inspired from the classic-film noirs – a bar scene, where the two males converse about plot-related topics; and Harry is visibly calm and composed as opposed to the shivering and sobbing Leo, who feels as if the end is near for him. This scene shows Harry in total control of the situation, in a flip of the switch compared to the previous scene, having successfully manipulated two of the three villains against each other in order to get all three of them. He is prominent in the film's blocking and framing, while Leo is shown at a low angle – small, confused, fearful.

Leo (Robert Trebor) tears up in front of Harry, who doesn't budge an inch.

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Women Be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Control

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaA Bleak World 52 Pick-Up is ultimately an old-fashioned film, with dialogue and plot revived straight out of a 1940's film noir, and hybridized with 1980's excess of sleaze, violence and sex. However, audiences had grown accustomed to the blockbuster-driven film industry of the late '80s, and/or were presumably disgusted by its horrifying treatment of women and seemingly glorified portrayal of masculinity. The sleaze and violence serve a point to the film's real message: it doesn't matter whether she's a good-bad-girl (Doreen) or independent career woman (Barbara); when you get mixed with a battle of masculinity, there is no place for women. This is the bleak, noirish world of 52 Pick-Up, made by men (Frankenheimer and writer Elmore Leonard) for men showing a twisted world ran by twisted men, for men – and there will be no winners, just evil and its survivors. For filmnoir, this is about as raw as it gets.

She's going to need more than therapy and rehab to make her forget this predicament.

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Women Be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Control aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Bibliography:

“Film Noir” by Andrew Spicer, Published 2002 by Longman - Chapter: Neo Noir 2: Postmodern Film Noir (pg 149 – 167) Roger Ebert's review for the Chicago Sun- Times (published 1986): AID=/19861107/REVIEWS/611070301/1023 Paul Attanasio's review for the Washington Post (published 1986):


Women be Damned: 52 Pick-Up and the Male Quest for Power  

An exploration of the neo-noir film 52 Pick-Up (John Frankenheimer, 1986) and its central theme - men hell bent on control.

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