Certified Bad-ass

Prime Cut If they gave certificates for such things, Lee Marvin would most certainly be a “Certified Bad-ass”. Though he died at age 63 in 1987, Marvin is one of those guys who had always looked old, and made it work for him. Not unlike his contemporary, Charles Bronson, Marvin was a true man’s man. Tough when he has to be, sweet when he needs to be, Marvin could melt a woman’s heart and break a man’s face; all at the same time if the occasion called for it. Throughout his 35-year career Lee Marvin portrayed a number of memorable bad-asses like Major John Reisman in The Dirty Dozen or Walker in Point Blank. For me, his most memorable bad-ass role is perhaps Nick Devlin in the criminally under-seen Prime Cut (1972).

Prime Cut opened in June 1972 to little fanfare and inevitable obscurity. Lee Marvin portrays the aforementioned Nick Devlin, an enforcer for the Chicago mob who is sent to the farmlands of Kansas to collect a debt from Mary Ann, a gangster who runs his operation out of a slaughterhouse and specializes in human slavery. Mary Ann is a tricky individual and Devlin finds himself stalking his prey through barns, county fairs and cornfields. Did I mention that Mary Ann is male and is played by the one and only Gene Hackman? Prime Cut is not your average crime thriller to be sure.

Bad-ass Halfway through the film, Nick Devlin finds himself chased through a cornfield by Mary Ann’s goons and a harvester. In a moment slyly reminiscent of North by Northwest, we see Devlin desperately attempting to outrun the harvester, which looms ominously in the background, much like the plane that attempted to dive-bomb Cary Grant. Just in the nick of time, one of Devlin’s men runs a car into the thresher leaving the machine to digest the car in bales of twisted metal and glass. Later, following a shoot-out in a field of sunflowers, Devlin commandeers a truck and drives it straight through one of Mary Ann’s giant greenhouses, collapsing the entire thing.

What sets apart Prime Cut from your typical crime film is its colorful characters and refreshing change of scenery. Devlin is a fish out of water, a hardened man lost in the innocence of back-country Kansas cornfields. While he’s an enforcer for a criminal empire, he is a man of heart, as evidenced by woman he saves from Mary Ann’s slave trade and uses as “collateral.” Mary Ann, on the other hand, is a tough, brooding figure who uses the unassuming back country as his playground. For him, the human body is a currency in and of itself. He holes women up in cattle cages and auctions off their bodies to the highest bidders. He grinds a man’s flesh into sausage—literally sausage—and sends it to a rival as a message. Lee Marvin is certainly not alone in being a “Certified Bad-ass.” Charles Bronson, Yul Brenner, and Warren Oates hold similar status and Gene Hackman most assuredly reaches it in Prime Cut.

I look at today’s roster of actors and film fans, we have a severe lack of “Certified Bad-asses” in our day and age. The traditional action star is long gone. I’m interested to know who you think would rank as a “Certified Bad-ass” today. For me, guys like Jason Statham and Jet Li certainly have their moments of Bad-assery but don’t have that full package that guys like Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson had. So let’s hear it. Who is a “Certified Bad-ass”?

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