Twentieth Century Fox studios had crime on its schedule when two major directors went into production in the mid-’70s. In the wake of The Godfather and The French Connection, flicks about underground empires were hot. Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) and John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) received the green light to explore the mobster world. They would approach outlaws from different tones and realities. Mulligan’s The Nickel Ride depicted the life of a low level hustler in service to a syndicate. Frankenheimer’s 99 and 44/100% Dead! paints a fantastical portrait of a high profile hitman. Neither film became a massive success in 1974, but gained a bit of cult following for different reasons. Now both movies have been brought together as part of Action Double Feature: The Nickel Ride & 99 and 44/100% Dead!.
The Nickel Ride features Cooper (The Exorcist‘s Jason Miller) as the man who sets up the warehouses for the Los Angeles mob. The gig gets him nicknamed “The Key Man” on the streets. Business is booming in the truck hijacking business. The storage facilities are beyond capacity. Top mobster Carl O’Neal (Magnum P.I.‘s John Hillerman) needs Cooper to find a larger space that meets all mobsters needs including beat cops that enjoy bribes. But Cooper can’t seal any real estate deals. He’s also doing his best to fix a pro boxing fight with a flaky boxer. After years of being a man who can get things done, Cooper’s hit a cold streak. The only thing good in his life is his girlfriend (Linda Haynes from Rolling Thunder). The worst thing to happen to him is Hillerman insisting a goofy cowboy (Bo Hopkins a.k.a. the Man Who Isn’t Jerry Reed in the Burt Reynold’s Movies) tag along with Cooper. Is the cowboy merely a flunky or does he have other plans for the Key Man? While it’s easy to compare the film to Friends of Eddie Coyle,The Nickel Ride is a lot more intimate as Cooper’s paranoia builds as his ability to make things happen collapses. Miller shines in the dirty role without battling Satan for screen time.
99 and 44/100% Dead! is a stab at a pop mafia universe. This is an alternate reality where crime is king. There’s a major turf war in the city. Uncle Frank Kelly (The Girl Can’t Help It‘s Edmond O’Brien) secures his territory by paying top dollar to get Harry Crown (Orca‘s Richard Harris). His rival in the fight is Claw Zuckerman (The Rifleman‘s Chuck Connors). He really has a claw for a hand. It looks like the contraption worn by Julius Harris in Live and Let Die. 99 and 44/100% Dead! is dream-like in its presentation. The plot drifts with much of the reality forgotten. Characters get as outrageous as possible on the screen. The harbor features a garden of disposed mobsters wearing cement shoes. There’s gators lurking in the sewer system. The fights get more outlandish. Richard Harris appears to be channeling his inner Michael Caine with his hair and swagger. This wasn’t meant to be a spoof of mobster films. It truly is its own fantasy which makes it quite peculiar and more engaging.
The Nickel Ride and 99 and 44/100% Dead! work fine as a double feature since they have similar themes yet completely different tones. The Nickel Ride goes for the gritty details of the Key Man’s life. He hangs out a dive bar. His office is unappealing. He’s viewed as a worker ant in the underground mobster empire. 99 and 44/100% Dead! glamorizes the life of a mobster hitman. He’s treated like royalty when he arrives on the scene. He hangs at discos. He gets to flaunt his bullet proof attitude in the face of danger. He’s a stud that’s beyond the law. The first film plays small while the second goes completely over the top. You’re not going to feel robbed that you watched the same movie twice.
The video for both films is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfers bring out both the gritty nature of The Nickel Ride and the unreal vibe of 99 and 44/100% Dead!. You’ll marvel at Richard Harris’ haircut. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono for both films. The sound mix between the bullets and the scores is fine.
Original Trailers are provided for both films.
Action Double Feature: The Nickel Ride & 99 and 44/100% Dead! revives two obscure mobster flicks from 1974. The Nickel Ride focuses on a man coming to the end of his career. How do you retire from a criminal business? 99 and 44/100% Dead is an over the top fantasy about a hitman in a turf battle. Together the films are a formable duo.
Shout! Factory presents Action Double Feature: The Nickel Ride & 99 and 44/100% Dead!. Starring: Jason Miller, Bo Hopkins, Richard Harris and Chuck Connors. Boxset Contents: 2 Movies on 2 DVDs. Released on DVD: November 22, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.
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