Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin) is a veteran enforcer for the Chicago mob. His latest assignment has taken him out of the city and sent him to the farmlands of Kansas. Nick is the third enforcer to be sent to Kansas, all to collect a $500,000 debt from a local crime boss named Mary Ann (Gene Hackman). The first one ended up floating face down in the Missouri River. The second was chopped up into sausages at the local slaughterhouse. Nick might have better luck because he once had an affair with Mary Ann’s wife, Clarabelle (Angel Tompkins).
When Nick tracks down Mary Ann to demand the money, he discovers that Mary Ann and his brother Weenie (Gregory Walcott, best remembered for his starring role in Plan 9 From Outer Space) are running a white slavery ring. Kidnapping girls from a nearby orphanage, Mary Ann and Weenie keep them naked and doped up in a barn. One of the girls, Poppy (Sissy Spacek, in her film debut), looks up at Nick and says, “Help me.” Nick takes Poppy with him, claiming that he’s holding her for collateral until he gets the money.
The main attraction here is to see two iconic tough guys — Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman — fighting over Sissy Spacek, who is only slightly less spacey here than in her breakthrough role in Badlands. In Prime Cut, the ruthless Chicago mobster turns out to have more of a conscience than the rural good old boys who work for Mary Ann and Weenie. Nothing sums up Prime Cut better than the scene where Lee Marvin, wearing a black suit, and Sissy Spacek are pursued through a wheat field by a thrasher that’s being driven by a roly-poly farmer wearing overalls. Prime Cut is both an exciting crime film and a trenchant satire of both the American heartland and the type of gangster movies that made Lee Marvin famous.