The Nickel Ride (1974)


(director: Robert Mulligan; screenwriter: Eric Roth; cinematographer: Jordan Cronenweth; editor: O. Nicholas Brown; music: Dave Grusin; cast: Jason Miller (Cooper), Linda Haynes (Sarah), Victor French (Paddie), John Hillerman (Carl), Bo Hopkins (Turner), Richard Evans (Bobby), Lou Frizzell (Paulie), Bart Burns (Elias O’Neill), Mark Gordon (Tonozzi), Lee de Broux (Harry); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Robert Mulligan; 20th Century-Fox; 1974)
“It pulls no punches in telling it the way the syndicate operates!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Mulligan’s bleak film noir is a poignant characterization of a longtime old-fashioned neighborhood low-level crime boss for the syndicate, Cooper (Jason Miller), who is no longer in favor with the new “corporation types” running the organization and is heading for a fall he can’t prevent. It’s set in an inconsequential neighborhood in Los Angeles.

On his birthday the locals who hang out at Paddie’s bar give Cooper, someone they hold in high esteem, a surprise birthday party. But as soon as he leaves the party, his immediate superior, Carl (John Hillerman), pulls him aside in his chauffeur driven car to tell him the big bosses are not pleased he hasn’t yet concluded a deal for the “block” (an abandoned warehouse to be used to store stolen goods for the mob). To show him how much they are not pleased, they assign a talkative obnoxious hit man garbed as a cowboy, Turner (Bo Hopkins), to stalk him and continually mock him with false praise and politeness.

Meanwhile Paulie (Lou Frizzell), the manager of prizefighter Tonozzi, an old friend of Cooper’s, informs him that his fighter refuses to take a dive. After Cooper promises he’ll not let anything happen to Paulie–he can go out of town and buy that sporting goods store he always wanted–he learns that his antagonistic assistant, Bobby, roughed up the boxer and killed Paulie. In a moment of rage, Cooper belts Bobby around hard enough to send him to the hospital for some minor repairs. But this action further irritates the big boys, and they give Cooper a tongue-lashing through Carl– which he doesn’t appreciate.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

Cooper becomes even more paranoid that Turner was sent to take him out, and hopes he can conclude the deal over the weekend with another gang run by Elias O’Neill. He combines business with pleasure and takes his sweet girlfriend Sarah (Linda Haynes) along to his country retreat, but Elias fails to show up. Sensing this is the end of the line for him, Cooper vows not to go down without a fight like Paulie. He sends Sarah to Las Vegas, and then confronts Carl about a murder contract taken out on him. Carl denies it and tells him to remain cool, that they will work out the deal at a later time. Things soon come to a conclusion when the ‘Cadillac cowboy’ comes gunning for Cooper. The next morning a dead Cooper is sitting upright on the bench in front of Paddie’s bar and his huge key ring, holding the keys to the various warehouses run by the syndicate, falls from his hand to the street.

Jason Miller convincingly plays the doomed character with a brooding affection for who he is. The film succeeds as an especially harsh look at the big-city crime scene. It pulls no punches in telling it the way the syndicate operates!