Running Time: 98 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Richard Harris (RED DESERT, UNFORGIVEN, ORCA), Chuck Connors (THE RIFLEMAN, TOURIST TRAP), Bradford Dillman (THE AMSTERDAM KILL, THE ENFORCER), Edmond O' Brien (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, THE WILD BUNCH), Ann Turkel (HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, DEEP SPACE), Tony Brubaker (FRIDAY FOSTER, famed stuntman for everyone from Jim Brown in THE RUNNING MAN to Carl Weathers in PREDATOR and ACTION JACKSON), Zooey Hall (HIT!, THE WORLD'S GREATEST LOVER). Music by Henry Mancini (THE PINK PANTHER, CHARADE, LIFEFORCE). Written by Robert Dillon (PRIME CUT, FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER, 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS, FRENCH CONNECTION II).
Tag-lines: "Everyone is dying to meet Harry Crown."
Best one-liner: "That suit- you look like a white popsicle."
99 AND 44/100% DEAD. A purity of death. A standard by which we become hardened, brutalized, and numb. Under the watch of a tattered American flag, this film's cyclical violence begins and ends with a macabre underwater graveyard which pendulates between looking genuinely macabre and looking like some outtake from THE GOONIES (or PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN?).
"Losers, all of them losers..." pontificates Richard Harris' stone-cold killer, Harry Crown. And are they losers because of the precise longitude and latitude of where they've ended up? Losers because of the anonymous, ignoble manner in which they've died? Or losers because we're all fated to be, just as soon as we embrace that extra 56/100 of a percent? "A cigar doesn't care who smokes it," riffs Harris. Just as a corpse doesn't care when a fish gobbles up its eyeballs?
Showing as a part of this year's 'William Lustig Presents' festival at the Anthology Film Archives, John Frankenheimer's 99 AND 44/100% DEAD is a much maligned film, and one that hardly sees the light of day outside of $100 VHS sales and oddball repertory screenings.
It's truly an oddity in form and substance, from the Roy Lichtenstein-style credits to Henry Mancini's "whistlin' honkeytonk meets cool driving horns" score to its crimewave-war zone/ Anywhere City, U.S.A. setting to its cartoonishly nihilistic viewpoint to its off-kilter melodrama– this movie is a runaway train, and its final destination is clearly cult movie greatness. It's THE STONE KILLER meeting YOJIMBO in a DICK TRACY comic strip.
A car soars off of a pier, and, before splashing into the bay, spectacularly explodes.
There're giant alligators in the sewers. A man accidentally leaps down an open elevator shaft. A bomb is set off by an errant fly.
A man runs at a car, about to fling a bundle of dynamite straight out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. The car revs its engine, and proceeds to semi-comically chase the man down a sidewalk.
A peculiar, artsy, inflatable naked woman serves as a meeting place for two couples who exchange stilted, deadly serious dialogue worthy of a sad sack Harlequin romance.
Ann Turkel (a late replacement for Jacqueline Bisset) is a sleazy dance hall gal, Richard Harris' main squeeze (they married in real life), and a third grade teacher who drives a school bus in a ridiculous chase that is probably the second best school bus chase scene of the 1970's (after DIRTY HARRY).
Richard Harris is a brutal, nonchalant, disdainful, cigar-smokin' individual who strolls away casually from explosions, years before it became an unbearable cliché. He offhandedly plucks the feathers from Ann Turkel's outfit as if it causes him great annoyance. He wears rockin' 70's suits and at one point what appears to be a priest's cassock. His hair appears horrifically molded into the shape of Michael Caine's in GET CARTER. Is this intentional? It's anybody's guess.
Harris' sidekick is a likable, sort of poor-man's Roman Polanski and wearer of so-called 'white popsicle suits,' played by Zooey Hall.
Finally, Chuck Connors is 'Claw Zuckerman,' the sort of man who can somehow steal a movie right from under Richard Harris.
He terrifies the men and the ladies alike, and his redunkulous set of eccentric arm attachments is worth the price of admission alone.
By the time you get to 'wine opener' and 'S&M whip,' you know you're in for something special. I've specifically outlined my love for Chuck Connors elsewhere, but this is truly a remarkable role for him- equal parts proto-Willem Dafoe and Bond villain- and you kinda wish he had more screen time.
The legendary Chuck Connors WILL SNIP YOU IN DA NUTS
And I've neglected to mention that there's no ambient sound– and the Foley guys had a field day. Great swaths of silence are punctuated by the deafening snaps of Richard Harris' eyeglasses being unfolded.
At first, this is puzzling. The dialogue is tinny and most of the sounds are ear-splitting, jarring, and metallic– a train screaming down some rusty tracks, a car's squealing tires as it turns a corner, or the impossibly long ricochets of a bullet volley. When Turkel helms the schoolbus, we're entreated to the most down n' dirty, screeching, unpleasant sounding car chase ever mixed. But it's a particular choice, this distressing aural aesthetic- it's as if Frankenheimer outsourced it to the Looney Tunes' own ACME corporation! (And, in fact, a "Sound by ACME" credit would have really made my day.) But you adjust to it. You hear the deafening snap of Harris' glasses and, perhaps like Pavlov's dogs would've- you ready yourself for the rain of bullets that will follow!
One of the most curious crime films to emerge from Hollywood in the 1970's, 99 AND 44/100% DEAD certainly has more in common with a bizarro Seijun Suzuki flick (BRANDED TO KILL or YOUTH OF THE BEAST), than the high-profile crime sagas which were sweeping up the mainstream accolades (like THE FRENCH CONNECTION or THE GODFATHER). And in the end, I can only choose to embrace its rich strangeness and screwy élan. A little over four stars.
6. BLIND FURY (1989, Philip Noyce)
7. HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951, John Farrow)
8. HIGH SCHOOL U.S.A. (1983, Rod Amateau)
9. DR. JEKYLL AND MS. HYDE (1995, David Price)
10. MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (1997, Clint Eastwood)
11. 1990: BRONX WARRIORS (1982, Enzo G. Castellari)
12. FALLING DOWN (1993, Joel Schumacher)
13. TOURIST TRAP (1979, David Schmoeller)
14. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973, Richard Lester)
15. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, John Carpenter)
16. TOP GUN (1986, Tony Scott)
17. 48 HRS. (1982, Walter Hill)
18. ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003, Robert Rodriguez)
19. TALES OF THE CITY (1993, Alastair Reid)
20. WHITE LINE FEVER (1975, Jonathan Kaplan)
21. 99 AND 44/100% DEAD (1974, John Frankenheimer)