Thursday, September 20, 2012

Harry in Your Pocket (1973)

          Nimble ensemble acting and sprightly direction give the character-driven crime picture Harry in Your Pocket humanity and vitality. Exploring the dynamics dividing and uniting a quartet of thieves who roam the U.S. and Canada, picking pockets and living in high style wherever they travel, Harry in Your Pocket is the only movie that Mission: Impossible creator Bruce Geller ever directed, and it’s a shame he never built upon the film’s promise. Particularly when he’s orchestrating tricky scenes, Geller displays great confidence with camerawork, performance, and storytelling. As a result, he creates a cohesive vibe in which every major character presents a surface of self-serving pragmatism in order to hide that greatest of weaknesses in criminal enterprise—compassion.
          Michael Sarrazin, his gangly masculinity as oddly appealing as ever, plays Ray, a small-time pickpocket plying his trade in a Seattle train station. His would-be victim, Sandy (Trish Van Devere), realizes he lifted her watch and then confronts him, but in so doing leaves her purse and suitcase unattended. When those items are stolen (by someone else), Ray feels responsible and offers to pay for her passage out of Seattle—just as soon as he fences loot for the necessary cash. So begins an offbeat romance, with Ray discovering vulnerability through his affection for Sandy and Sandy discovering a rebellious streak through her affection for Ray.
          Eventually, these two learn that a veteran thief named Harry (James Coburn) is looking for assistants, so they meet with Harry and his older associate, Casey (Walter Pidgeon). Harry’s a cocky crook prone to dictatorial declarations, but Ray accepts the humiliating work circumstances because he’s eager to learn from a master. Thus, Ray and Sandy become “stalls” responsible for distracting victims while Harry—the crew’s “cannon”—makes the “dip” (theft) and immediately deposits the “poke” (loot) into Casey’s hands. Because, you see, “Harry doesn’t hold,” and never keeping stolen goods in his hands for more than a few seconds explains why he’s never been arrested.
          Revealing the mechanics of a covert crew plays to Geller’s strengths, so he accentuates the effervescent rhythms of the movie’s script, which was written Ronald Austin and James Buchanan. Plus, the storyline ends up having a smidgen of emotional heft, because while Ray and Sandy grow into their new roles as first-class robbers, Harry’s icy professionalism is compromised by the development of personal connections. The pefectly cast actors dramatize these nuances well, because Coburn exudes macho standoffishness while Pidgeon radiates elegant likeability, with Sarrazin representing hotheaded youth and Van Devere adding grown-up sexiness. One could quibble that Harry in Your Pocket lacks the climactic payoff of a big heist sequence—the denouement is as understated as the rest of the picture—but the movie has abundant charms nonetheless, however humble they may be. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on

Harry in Your Pocket: GROOVY

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