52 Pick-Up (1986) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

52 Pick-Up is a twisting, sleazy crime story. It was made in the 80s, but it's an 80s film only by averaging it out. Thematically, it's typical of a 90s film made from an Elmore Leonard story, like Get Shorty or Jackie Brown, filled with corrupted protagonists and colorful villains.  Stylistically, however, it's an old-fashioned John Frankenheimer production in the manner of early 60s Hollywood.

The basic storyline of 52 Pick-Up is good. It is complicated enough to be intriguing, but not too complicated to be comprehensible. Three baddies from the sex trade arrange a sexual relationship between a successful businessman (Roy Scheider) and a beautiful young hooker (Kelly Preston), then secretly tape all their sexual activities. Being both psychotic and in the adult film industry, they edit the footage into a little story and show their film masterpiece to Scheider, demanding substantial blackmail in return for the tape. Scheider refuses to pay, electing instead to tell his wife (Ann-Margret) about the affair, thus negating the value of the revelation.

Hoo-boy, the baddies are really not happy with Scheider's decision, so they up the ante with a bigger blackmail scam. They proceed to break into Scheider's house and steal some clothes and a gun. They then use Scheider's gun to kill the hooker who has been pretending to be Scheider's mistress, and they record the entire frame-up on film so they can show it to Scheider. ("I used two cameras. I was quite proud of that film.") This time they significantly increase the retail price of the tape, presumably to cover their lavish production values and because they can't exactly put it on the market at Sundance.

At that point, Scheider knows that he is screwed.

  • He can't go to the police for two reasons (1) because he thinks he'd be implicating himself in the murder, and (2) because his wife is running for assistant D.A., and it would destroy her career.

  • He can't go on a Charles Bronson spree of violent revenge because he's not a tough guy. He's a suburban husband battling against violent lowlifes.

  • His only possible solution, therefore, is to out-smart the baddies and turn them against one another.

John Frankenheimer was once considered an A-list director, but that was twenty years before he made this film. That point may be best illustrated by the dates attached to the four Frankenheimer films which are rated the highest at IMDB.

  1. (8.39) - The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  2. (7.76) - Seven Days in May (1964)
  3. (7.57) - Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
  4. (7.56) - The Train (1964)

Frankenheimer had some major failures toward the end of his career, when he was in his 70s and still at it. We're talking real bad - late night monologue material like Reindeer Games and The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Compared to Frankenheimer's best and worst work, 52 Pick-Up is about in the middle of the road both in terms of chronology and quality.

To his credit, Frankenheimer, who was 56 when he made this film, did a pretty good job of running with the young guys and modernizing his approach. The villain is suitably creepy and over-the-top in the modern fashion, and some of the violent acts are shown explicitly. Mr. Psycho makes Scheider (and us) watch his mistress being snuffed on film, for example, accompanied by a tawdry narration. Of course, one cannot get into the Psycho Bad Guy Hall of Fame merely by snuffing a guy's mistress and making him appear to be the killer. Mr Psycho also shot Scheider's wife full of heroin and raped her, pretty much just for his own amusement. The director showed the wife being shot full of horse, but cut away when the bad guy removed his shirt. I suppose a truly modern film would have shown the rape, but Frankenheimer backed off in that case, perhaps in deference to the dignity of Ann-Margret.

All in all, 52 Pick-Up has a good story put together by a director who was once considered one of Hollywood's major players. It has a deliciously creepy baddie, over-the-top dialogue, and lots of nudity. It even features a cameo by film legend Ronald J. Hyatt, or as he is more commonly known, Ron Jeremy. The editing and music sometimes seem old-fashioned for a film from the mid 80s, but it's not a bad genre flick. Not bad at all.



This film is not available on Region 1 DVD. The link to the left leads to a VHS tape which was issued in 1989, and is now out of print, though it can still be purchased from Amazon's marketplace.

There is a German Region 2 DVD, however. It has no features of note, but it has audio tracks in four different languages, and subtitles in several European languages, with the capability to show two sets of subtitles at a time, if decired. Just to try it out, I listened to the film in French, and watched subtitles in Spanish and German. The German Region 2 DVD info (in English) can be found here. The U.S. distributor's home page can be found here. If you are thinking of buying DVDs from outside your region, read this first.



  • Kelly Preston - buns and breasts in two films-within-the-film.
  • Vanity - breasts and a mini bikini bottom, then an upskirt wearing panties.
  • Various sex industry professionals appear nude or topless at parties. These exposures include breasts, buns, and brief pubic clashes. The most famous of these is probably Amber Lynn, who shows her breasts.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 3.5/4.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Solid, if dated, genre flick written by Elmore Leonard, directed by John Frankenheimer.

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