Admittedly, I have a distinct penchant for films that clamored out of the turbulent 1970s. Even more so for those of the crime variety that may have rattled some, even while they entertained those of us who were lucky to catch them first-run. One such forgotten gem, which recently Kino Lorber brought back to high-definition glory, was Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut (1972). A poetically violent Midwest tale of misdeeds with enough off-beat humor and style that helped define what was unique about this era of cinema in the first place.
The film contained not only a cast of movie titans, including Lee Marvin at his coolest, Gene Hackman chewing scenes as only he can, along with Sissy Spacek’s superbly ethereal cinematic debut, but featured another captivating opening title sequence. Main titles that essentially set in motion the story’s nasty rivalry between big city Chicago and their Kansas City crime cohorts. With murder and meat processing part and parcel of the opening salvo aimed at the audience. What can I say, it was the ’70s.
The sequence follows “Weenie”, the brother-henchman of “Mary Ann” (Gene Hackman), the late and wonderful character actor Gregory Walcott, as he “processes” his opposite number through their Midwest slaughterhouse. A fascinating, even if it’s a bit off-putting (well enough to make one go vegan), segment of how frankfurters are made, with unforeseen ingredients. From whole cow to finished product, all as the bold titles move laterally across the screen and are cut in two…to a bone-trimming sound effect.
Much like the film itself, cinematographer Gene Polito adeptly lensed the efficiency of the meat-packing alongside title designer Don Record‘s clever credits, bringing it all to a “…higher level narrative function – setting the tone, establishing the mood and visual character of the film”, as Li Yu described in her 2008 film title thesis. What made it all strangely palatable, though, was Lalo Schifrin’s rapturously divergent theme, which seemingly kicked in through the loudspeaker as the scene entered the guts of the operation:
The wickedly trenchant title sequence a pluperfect onset to Michael Ritchie’s satirical ’70s mayhem that made the crime and corruption depicted on the wheat-strewn homeland as American as county fairs, apple pie, and of course, hot dogs.