By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: They take people’s wallets
Ray (Michael Sarrazin) is an amateur pickpocket who has no luck trying it on his own. He meets Sandy (Trish Van Devere) who has just lost everything and the two decide to get into the pickpocket racket as a simple means for survival. They get hooked up with Harry (James Coburn) and his mentor Casey (Walter Pidgeon) who teach them the fine art of pickpocketing while preying on summer tourists in Seattle.
The film’s main selling point is the ensemble cast that work off each other quite well. Coburn is engaging and energetic as usual. It is hard to imagine him giving a poor performance and he can usually make even the dullest material interesting and his appearance here proves no exception.
Pidgeon is equally diverting as the elder member of the group. His career was already fading at this point and this ended up being one of his last performances. It is unique in the fact that his character suffers from a major cocaine habit and it is quite possibly the only time in film history where you will see a 77 year old main sniffing up the white stuff, which he does on several occasions.
Sarrazin, who unfortunately passed away last year, is dependable as always. I know female fans fell in love with his big, sad, baby blue eyes, but some critics lambasted him as being ‘boring’ and ‘transparent’, but I always have found him quite competent in dramatic roles in a nice, quietly understated manner.
Surprisingly though it is Van Devere who comes off best and practically ends up carrying the film. She was never given enough varied roles for me to ever formulate any real opinion of her, but here she does quite well. I liked her savvy nature and some of her snappy comebacks. Despite being surrounded by all men she handles herself with ease and even seems at times to intimidate them.
The only problem I had with her character is how she is introduced. She meets Ray at a train station and after talking to him finds out that he stole her watch. She goes running after him while leaving her luggage and purse unattended. When she is able to retrieve her watch from him she returns only to find that someone has now stolen her suitcase and purse. She takes this sudden predicament too much in stride and doesn’t even go to the police about it. Instead she decides to get into Ray’s life of stealing even though she has no criminal past. She even ends up going to bed with Ray later that very same afternoon even though I would think most people would be too stressed out for sex at a time like that let alone doing it with a stranger.
The film was done on-location in Seattle. Normally I always applaud films that are shot outside of the studio back-lot, but here it becomes almost a distraction. Director Bruce Geller seems much too preoccupied with capturing the scenery than he does in propelling the story. There is one segment that takes place in the middle of the film that deals with the four characters taking a very long, drawn out boat cruise that almost morphs into an advertisement sanctioned by the state of Washington’s department of tourism. It features very little dialogue and no character development and seems only done as an excuse to show the picturesque landscape. It even has them feeding the seagulls in slow motion, which really gets to be too much.
If the film fails anywhere it is in the fact that it is too somber and dramatic for its own good. I would have thought this type of idea would have worked well as a comedy, but instead everything is kept at a generally serious level. Yes, some of the tactics that they use to rob the people have amusing moments, but it tends to play itself out quickly. It sticks pretty much to the tried and true character driven formula that was trendy during that era, but also very predictable and downbeat. The music score has a depressing quality that I did not like and although on a technical end this film is passable it also unremarkable.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: September 23, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes
Director: Bruce Geller
Studio: United Artists
Available: Amazon Instant Video