Tag Archives: Zale Dalen

Skip Tracer (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Highly motivated debt collector.

John (David Petersen) enjoys his job working for a collection agency and going after people who are delinquent with their loan repayments. He has achieved ‘Man of the Year’ honors at the company and is motivated on attaining that title again. Brent (John Lazarus) is a young trainee who’s having a hard time getting the hang of it. He asks John for guidance by following him around and observing how he gets things done. John is reluctant at first, but eventually agrees. However, as their partnership evolves John starts having second thoughts about the ugly side of the business.

I worked briefly in the bill collecting business and can say first-hand this film gets it right. Director Zale Dalen must’ve worked in it himself in order to recreate it so accurately and what makes this film so good is the way it reveals the business to those who aren’t familiar with it to the extent that it’s like you’re not viewing it, but instead visiting it. The script smartly stays away from jazzing-up the storyline for the sake of drama and keeps everything on a believable level, which makes the graphic ending all that more startling. Even though it was made 45 years ago it’s still quite accurate to what could easily occur in collections offices today with the only difference being that there would be computers on the desktops now versus typewriters.

Petersen, in his film debut, is excellent, I’ve personally known people just like his character and their obsession with rising up in the company overshadows everything else even if it means becoming a complete jerk. What I didn’t get, and the one element that hurts this otherwise strong film, is that he lives in a rundown apartment and drives a beat-up car. If money is his drive and he’s won Man of the Year honors then I’d think he be living in a far ritzier place. Having the company demote him by taking away his office didn’t jive either. This seems like the type of guy who’d be arrogant enough to walk out of a company that didn’t show him the respect he felt he deserved and with his debt collection skills he could easily find another position at another collection agency, so watching him put up with the abuse from his boss undermines the character.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s shocking ending is strong and comes as a complete surprise, but I wanted to see more of a transition to the character. He essentially walks away from the job and down the street, but no idea where he ultimately ends-up. I would’ve preferred seeing him begin a new job, something that was much different than bill collecting, in order to make the transition complete because what’s to say he doesn’t just get another job, especially if his experience is in that area, that isn’t much different than the one he left? Keeping things as wide-open as it does isn’t as satisfying as seeing him working some lowly position even at lower pay, which would hit-home to the viewer that no matter how bad things were now we’d know he’d still never go back to his old ways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This is one of the better films to come-out of Canada when it tried to jump-start its fledgling movie industry back in the 70’s. For his efforts Petersen won the Best Actor award at the 1977 Canadian Film Awards and Dalen won it for Most Promising Newcomer. The film also manages to achieve the amazing feat of making Vancouver, one of the rainiest and gloomiest cities in the world, look sunny and inviting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Zale Dalen

Studio: International Film Distributors

Available: Blu-ray