Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Ragman’s Daughter (1972)

          A peculiar hybrid of downbeat character study and upbeat romance, The Ragman’s Daughter tells the story of a British thief looking back on his younger years, which are depicted through extended flashbacks of his doomed affair with a beautiful girl from a higher social station. The story moves in peculiar rhythms, because very often when it seems as if the narrative is about to go down a dark road, tension gets diffused; the idea, presumably, was to capture the excitement that the thief and his girl felt when living in close proximity to danger, but the end result is that much of the picture’s running time comprises scenes without impact. (For instance, the lead characters do things like break into houses and stores, but their actions have few lasting repercussions.) Yet The Ragman’s Daughter isn’t as dull an experience as this description might suggest. First-time director Harold Becker, who later made such fine films as The Onion Field (1979), orchestrates visuals beautifully, arranging the equivalent of elegant still photographs to accentuate the gritty locations used for the production—Becker’s imagery lends such rich atmosphere that narrative turns feel less trite than they might have otherwise.
          Additionally, leading man Simon Rouse, who plays the thief as a young man, has a naturalistic style distinguished by jittery physicality. With his scraggly mop of long hair and his wiry build, he’s quite believable as a street punk who can’t believe his luck when he hooks up with a glamorous upper-crust beauty. Playing the girl is Victoria Tennant, who later achieved notoriety as Steve Martin’s on- and offscreen partner in the ’80s and ’90s. Although she doesn’t particularly wow in this, her debut performance, she’s so physically right for her role that her look conveys a great deal of meaning. Long and lean, with silky bands of bright blonde hair framing model-pretty features, Tennant epitomizes an unattainable ideal that could make any young man’s blood boil.
          Perhaps the most interesting question permeating the story is that of whether Tennant’s character genuinely loves her paramour or is merely toying with him for a lark. Alas, this rich vein is not sufficiently explored. Similarly, the dramatic conflict suggested by the movie’s title—how far a wealthy man will go to separate his little girl from an unworthy suitor—fails to generate much heat until the very end of the story. The biggest missed opportunity, though, involves the framing device. Although Patrick O’Connell has a strong lived-in quality as the middle-aged thief lost in memories of happier times, the revelation the movie delivers once the past and present storylines intersect is so disappointing and understated that it’s not much of a reward for watching the entire movie.

The Ragman’s Daughter: FUNKY

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