In this sleazy and irreverent crime thriller from Downhill Racer (1969) director Michael Ritchie, Lee Marvin plays Nick Devlin, a Chicago Mob enforcer sent to Kansas to collect a $500,000 debt from “Mary Ann” (Gene Hackman) – the owner of a slaughterhouse and the Mary Ann Meat Company who – with his loutish brother Weenie (Gregory Walcott) – has a lucrative sideline in drug dealing and white slave trading, and the disturbing habit of grinding his enemies into mincemeat.
Teenage girls are raised at a phoney orphanage for auction to brothels and bawdy houses. At one such auction, Nick befriends Poppy (Sissy Spacek in her film debut), a young thing bound for the meat rack.
While the engaging quirkiness initially comes thick and fast, Ritchie is unable to sustain the offbeat style for the duration. However, bloody bursts of violent action and great performances help this skewed B-movie through its rough patches.
Marvin plays his role with the poker-faced equanimity which characterises his style. Hackman, a less imposing screen presence but a more accomplished actor, is pushy and quick-tempered, flashing choleric to contrast with Marvin’s iceberg cool.
Director Ritchie has lifted a lot from Hitchcock: a frenetic chase through a country fair recalls the carnival scenes in Strangers on a Train (1951) and Marvin’s flight from a combine in a wheatfield parallels Cary Grant’s battle with the cropduster in North by Northwest (1959).
Though set in Kansas, the film was shot in the wheatfields of Canada.