99 and 44/100% Dead

Director: John Frankenheimer                 
Richard Harris, Chuck Connors, Edmond O'Brien

99 and 44/100% Dead is one weird movie. It's also a good indicator as to how excessive movies in the 70s got. I can't imagine anything like this being made by a major studio in the 90s. It's not a very good movie, but I can see that some people will find it watchable for its offbeat attitude and just plain strangeness. I must admit that though I found the movie a bit too sloppy and a bit too plotless, it certainly kept me watching, if only for the fact that I was curious as to what new kind of strangeness would come up next.

The weirdness starts with looking at the video box graphics. On the front cover, you see a still of a shadowy character holding a gun straight forward towards the readers of the box, with the sea behind him. Curiously, there's no such shot in the movie, but that's not what's crazy about it. It's the fact that at first glance, the character looks like Woody Allen! Of course, my surprise went away a few seconds later when I realized that the gun-toting character was actually actor Richard Harris. Actually, that's only slightly less silly. It's interesting to note that with his haircut and glasses, Harris in the movie greatly resembles Michael Caine.

After a pop-art title sequence, the movie opens with the members of one of a city's mafia gangs dumping a body in the bay, leading to a bizarre sequence underwater showing the bottom of the bay packed with the corpses and skeletons of both gangs' victims. A shootout breaks out shortly afterwards, and we learn that both gangs are involved in a bloody gang war in order to determine supremacy. Godfather "Mr. Kelly" calls the freelance Harry Crown (Harris) to help him win the war, while rival leader "Big Eddie" at the same time calls in another hitman, Marvin 'The Claw' Zuckerman (Connors), who uses various kinds of artificial appendages (claws, knifes, whips) to make up for the hand that Harry chopped of in the past. So not only is there bad blood between Kelly and Eddie, but also Harry and Marvin. This leads to shootouts between the gangs and Kelly and Eddie, in deserted sections of the city. Actually, you don't see many people other than the main during the course of the movie, which adds to the surreal feel.

There's really not much more to the movie in the plot department other than those shootouts. There is a love interest provided by Crown's former girlfriend, but she seems to be only in the movie for the expected scene when she gets abducted and tied to a bomb. It does lead to a tense sequence when Crown attempts to disarm the bomb, but then leads to the clichéd sequence of a stone-faced hero walking towards the camera when behind him there's a large explosion. At least we didn't get a scene of the hero deciding, "Is it the red wire or the blue wire?" Nor is there much conflict between Crown and Marvin, because the character of Marvin only appears for about 2 or three short scenes. (Connors does make the most out of this short appearance by giving an entertaining eye-rolling performance.) For the most part, we are waiting through shootouts and some confusing dialogue to the inevitable showdown, not really caring about the characters or their relationships with each other.

The movie does partially make up for some of these defects by, as I said before, being extremely weird. All the gangsters are dressed up in suits and hats, even when going out on kill missions. Harry and his girlfriend meet in a pop-art fashioned big fabric room filled with hot air. There are alligators in the sewers. Many scenes are played like cartoons, with little to no dialogue and comic book-like violence. In one scene, Harry stands naked in front of a mirror (waist up), and there's a suspiciously positioned green bottle on the dresser in front of him. All of this is played completely straight, which just adds to the strangeness of it all.

I indicated before that 99 and 44/100% Dead will be appealing to some people, but it will also infuriate others. The people who will be infuriated will more likely be the people who are expecting more standard storytelling and a stronger plot. Also, this isn't the kind of movie that's best watched all at once - if it is, it will seem like a comedian telling the same joke over and over. Commercial breaks or stopping for a break every 15 to 20 minutes while watching it on your VCR is probably the best way to watch it for those who decide to take a chance. Who knows, you might find it a gem, and watch it all the way through.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check Amazon for Richard Harris biography

Also: Didn't You Hear, Pushing Up Daisies, Completely Totally Utterly