Paperback Hero (1973)

paperback hero

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Big fish small pond.

Rick (Keir Dullea) is a hockey player living in a small town on the western plains of Canada. To pass his time he imagines he is a gunslinger in the old west and makes himself the self-imposed marshal of the community.  Outside of Sheriff Burdock (George R. Robertson) the other townsfolk considered it an amusing and otherwise harmless quirk. Then Rick learns that his hockey team will be disbanded and he will be without a job. He is given an opportunity for employment in nearby Saskatoon, but he refuses it feeling that he will lose his ‘mystique’ in the bigger city. Slowly the strains and pressures of his situation start to get to him and eventually it culminates in an old fashioned gunfight right in the center of town between him and the sheriff.

If the film gets one thing right it is in the recreation of small town life. Filmed on-location in Delisle, Saskatchewan director Peter Pearson gives the viewer a wonderful and vivid feel of the town. Just about all the sections of the hamlet are captured including the inside of abandoned buildings, trailer homes and farms as well as a couple of nice bird’s eye shots. The remoteness and flat wheat laden terrain brings to life the region in an almost stunning clarity. Having grown up in a small town not too terribly far from the Canadian border I can say that this film hits-the-mark in its portrayal of people in the Nordic region. All the little dramas that can go on between people locked in a remote local as well as the scenes done inside a dark and dingy bar that many times can constitute as the place to go for a ‘night-on-the-town’ is amusingly well played-out.

However, despite having the right flavor the film lacks direction. It was hard for me to get into this because all the scenes were random and not connected together by all that much. The plot is thin and made up if anything by a series of vignettes.  The main character is brass, egotistical, deluded and arrogant. He treats women like they are his property. He beats up one and considers it minor because her bruises are only the ‘size of a quarter’. He talks about getting turned on by one woman while making love to another and then is surprised when she gets upset with him. Having a film built around such an unlikable character is not entertaining or interesting especially when we are given no history to why he became the way he is.

Dullea does well in the lead and shows a lot more emotion and panache than one might expect from him especially when compared to his most famous role as the rather robotic Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is always fun to see Elizabeth Ashley and here she plays one of Rick’s love interests, but her role is small and rather thankless though she does get shown in a long and explicit nude scene.

My favorite was Dayle Haddon as the alluring Joanna. Haddon has retired from the acting profession years ago, but was at one time a fashion model and she looks gorgeous here. The scene that takes place in an abandoned house where she tells Rick off and shreds his deluded ego while doing it in a quiet whispery tone is the movie’s best moment.

The segment showing a big hockey brawl where fans jump out of the stands to get involved and even the ref gets bloodied is fun. I also liked the part where Rick takes Joanna on car ride through the wheat fields. The camera is hooked up to the bumper of the car so the viewer gets an up close experience of watching the wheat thrash before them at high speeds. The standoff at the very end in the center of town is also interesting, but the film takes too long to gel and the main character is such a turn-off that it hurts the good points and ultimately makes this a misfire.

The movie also features the Gordon Lightfoot’s song ‘If You Could Read My Mind’, which is a great a song, but it has been played so much on lite-rock stations that instead of getting the viewer more engrossed in the movie it instead takes them out of it. The film works hard to create a gritty appeal and for the most part succeeds, which is why having a long segment with the song played over it doesn’t work and I would have left it out.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Pearson

Studio: Alliance Film Distribution

Available: VHS, YouTube

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