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An early Leonard crime novel gets a gritty film treatment

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Elmore Leonard movies—52 Pick-Up
Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret in 52 Pick-Up, a 1986 movie based on a novel by Elmore Leonard.

Elmore Leonard movies—52 Pick-Up

It was with great sadness I learned of Elmore Leonard‘s passing yesterday (Aug 20, 2013). In honour of my favourite crime writer, I’m setting out to watch and review movie adaptations of his work. First up: the 1986 adaptation of his novel 52 Pick-Up.

I wasn’t expecting much from 52 Pick-Up. The John Frankenheimer-directed film is relatively obscure. But it features a screenplay co-written by Leonard (based on his 1974 novel, which is actually “52 Pickup” and not “52 Pick-Up as per the movie title) and excellent performances.

The leads, Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret, are believable. The supporting cast is also strong. John Glover is magnificent and scary as one of the bad guys. Clarence Williams III (The Mod Squad) turns in a stellar performance as a killer. And Robert Trebor, as the weak link in the trio of creeps trying to blackmail Scheider’s character, is terrific. He is especially powerful in a scene where he breaks down in front of his supposed victim. Even the beautiful Vanity (yes, Vanity of Prince fame) shines in a scene in which she fears for her life. Heaps of ’80s-style nudity and a scene featuring porn stars Ron Jeremy, Amber Lynn and Sharon Mitchell add a touch of sleaze.

The script is tight, the story unpredictable, Scheider is the proto-Leonard-protagonist, cool but not too cool). The suspense builds steadily into a satisfying conclusion. This is one of the best adaptations of Leonard’s work I’ve seen and I strongly recommend it.

Elmore Leonard movies 52 Pick-Up movie poster
Scheider’s character hardly uses a gun. He doesn’t need to.
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