So leisurely it frequently abandons momentum in favor of easygoing vignettes, this pseudo-Western starring Paul Newman and the incomparable Lee Marvin is notable as the last screenwriting credit Terrence Malick notched before launching his celebrated directing career. Although Malick is not the sole writer on the picture, Pocket Money strongly reflects his observational approach, most notably in the piquant dialogue of everyday American losers. So, for instance, when Newman boasts that “If anybody cheats me, I'm gonna hit him with a Stillson wrench and shove him in a coal hopper,” the line is not only resonant Americana but also an echo of similar wordplay in a previous Malick-scripted picture, Deadhead Miles (1972). As directed by unobtrusive journeyman Stuart Rosenberg, Pocket Money puts the delicate textures of Malick’s writerly voice front and center, albeit to the dismay of viewers who value a strong narrative over local color—even calling this movie “slight” would promise more substance than it actually delivers, although that’s not meant as a derogatory remark.
Newman and Marvin play contemporary cowboys whose guilelessness makes them easy prey for a sleazy rancher (Strother Martin, naturally), and the picture tracks the misadventures of the cowboys as they try to earn, cajole, and finally coerce money from their resourceful tormentor. The plot is insignificant, however, because what makes this sleepy piece interesting for patient viewers is the way the leads savor the homespun dialogue. Newman pours on the charm he perfected in his many Southern-fried hits of the ’60s, and Marvin displays the same gift for cornpone comedy that won him an Oscar for Cat Ballou (1965). Martin, though operating well within his self-described “prairie scum” comfort zone, complements the stars nicely as the villain, and M*A*S*H guy Wayne Rogers contributes an unexpectedly randy turn. So while Pocket Money generates very little excitement in the sense of traditional narrative, it offers lots of personality.
Pocket Money: FUNKY