Meat is the metaphor, approved by Eisenstein and later seconded by Wiseman: Gangsters are thrown into the sausage grinder, nymphettes are doped up and kept in sow pens. Bucolic tyranny, barnyard capitalism. The grinning rural despot (Gene Hackman) lords over Kansas City, beef factory up front and drugs and prostitution in the back ("something up the arm, something to lick around the belly"). Heís been neglecting his debts with a Chicago crime clan, so an enforcer (Lee Marvin) is sent to collect and gets a pitchfork stuck to the side of his car for his trouble. "Country hospitality. Shit!" Michael Ritchieís direction is a svelte balancing act, a cool eye that allows the absurdities of a severed foot on the abattoir conveyor belt or the baby-faced mobsterís farewell to Mom to speak for themselves. Marvin crashes Hackmanís hamburger fÍte and scoops up Sissy Spacek, one of the local orphans kept naked and for sale in the hay; "I Dream of Jeanie" scores the city-slickerís gala dinner with the waif in the translucent gown, "When the Saints Go Marching In" underlines hog contests and turkey shoots at the country fair, viewed by the hero like an astronaut surveying an alien planet. The Ritchie deadpan gets a workout on the easeful surrealism of Robert Dillonís screenplay, sharpening ahead for The Candidate and Smile -- a cow-shaped fountain bleeds milk once it's shot-gunned, a malevolent wheat harvester gobbles up a limo and spits out a metallic cube (Stravinsky's bread-machine in The Rake's Progress). Gangster-movie conventions (or are they heartland values?) are pondered in the new decade: "Pig grease and fat and slop." This enchantingly perverse fairy-tale builds toward a sunflower meadow out of Van Gogh, and the image of machismo reduced to a psychotically stabbing wiener. With Angel Tompkins, Gregory Walcott, Janit Baldwin, and William Morey.
--- Fernando F. Croce