Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Harry In Your Pocket (1973)

One of the most unusual and unjustly forgotten crime films of the 1970s, Harry In Your Pocket is a pickpocket procedural and the only feature film directed by Bruce Geller, one of the creators behind Mission: Impossible and Mannix.

The film begins with a meet-cute between thief Michael Sarrazin and his victim, Trish Van Devere. After she realizes he stole her watch, the two of them quickly reconcile and team up to become partners in crime, which leads them to pickpocket ringleader James Coburn who hires the young couple to be part of his team with Walter Pidgeon. What follows is essentially a how-to guide of their multi-person schemes, from the distraction to the pick to the pass.

Instead of grand scale crimes like those detailed in Rififi and Plunder Road that are inherently epic and cinematic in their scope, Harry In Your Pocket has no spectacle to exploit. A finger heist film, its central fascination is never meant to be seen in the first place. The film smartly builds suspense by focusing on the coordination of the team and the interplay of its agents.

Harry In Your Pocket is also a short-con narrative. Unlike most heist films which focus on do-or-die long cons with a big payoff, there's nothing all that glamorous or romantic about swiping wallets and watches. While they are seemingly living a life of luxury in fancy hotels and nice clothes, it is all part of their act. The sad reality of the short-con is that they're stuck in a rut, and there's no big payday at the end of their journey.

Coburn, as always, is top-notch. His effortless charm is equally at home in westerns, war pictures, spy spoofs, crime stories, comedies, and just about any other period or contemporary story one can think of. The more I watch him, the more he rivals Steve McQueen for the title of "the King of Cool." No offense to McQueen, of course, but Coburn has a coolness all his own, a combination of lanky grace, silver-haired style, and inimitable voice that combines a western drawl with fast-talking sophistication. Truly one of a kind.

The film is now available in a gorgeous blu from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bad Man's River (1971)

If you've seen Horror Express (that amazing Trans-Siberian bigfoot-alien-zombie train ride from Hammer studios) you'll have some idea of the manic genre shape-shifting eccentricity that director Eugenio Martin brings to the western in Bad Man's River. I had seen a crummy, badly cropped, and faded budget label release of this movie a few years ago, and it was an incoherent, boring mess. Thankfully, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has released a pristine Blu Ray that restores the pictorial beauty and visual wit of Martin's direction, which allows viewers to enjoy a fuller understanding of just how marvelously weird Bad Man's River truly is.

Set during the Mexican Revolution, Bad Man's River begins with Lee Van Cleef and his gang successfully robbing a bank. While celebrating on a train, Lee meets Gina Lollobrigida, falls in love, marries her in a whirlwind courtship, and is promptly robbed and institutionalized by his new bride. After being released, Lee takes up with his old gang, and is contacted by his now-bigamous wife who hires Lee to destroy the Mexican army's supply of weapons as part of a ruse to get them to buy more arms from her new husband, James Mason. Lee takes the job, but soon finds that Gina is just as crafty and duplicitous as before.

Much like Horror Express, Martin veers the film deftly between different moods, embracing both the savage and slapstick extremes of the Spaghetti western genre. Some critics have said the joke-y music feels out of place, I would disagree and say that it rightful situates the film's lighthearted mood, folkloric narrative, and verse-chorus-like structure that keeps coming back to Gina and her double-crossing beauty.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Savage Dawn (1985)

Savage Dawn is a teched-up cousin to those AIP biker movies like The Savage Seven. Lance Henricksen is a Vietnam vet visiting his wartime buddy George Kennedy, who may be retired and wheelchair-bound but still considers himself the best weapons manufacturer alive. A local bar's yearly brawl to discover the toughest man in town draws a biker gang who quickly dominates the fight and then proceeds to terrorize the whole town. Henricksen is seemingly the only man capable of fighting back, but having seen too much violence he refuses to get involved. But as the gang begins terrorizing his friends, he is pushed too far, and he and Kennedy begin plotting their revenge. Savage Dawn takes a B-western invasion scenario and injects it with straight-to-video eccentricity, over-the-top action, one-liners, 80s-fashion, and a synth rock 'n roll soundtrack. What keeps the film from complete stylistic decadence is its terrific fight choreography (that isn't obliterated by close-ups and fast editing like it would today) and the great desert location photography, as well as its ensemble cast that includes Karen Black and the Fifth Chapter motorcycle club.
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