Sandy (Trish Van Devere) and Ray (Michael Sarrazin) meet cute at a train station when he awkwardly steals her watch, and her bags are stolen by somebody else when she’s politely going after him to get it back. Ray’s got a bit of bad conscience about the whole thing, and they hit it off as well, so he offers to give Sandy a couple hundred dollars once he’s sold off his other ill gotten gains.
They don’t only land in bed but sort of team up, following the small time
crime grapevine to a job opportunity. Harry (James Coburn) the suave yet cold
boss of a wire gang (a small team of dedicated pickpockets) is looking for new
partners, seeing as he’s only working with aged pickpocket – and his sole friend
- Casey (Walter Pidgeon) right now. Thanks to Sandy – who’d be convincing even
if Harry didn’t take a shine to her – Harry takes them on despite Ray’s dubious
talent and lack of a knack for his chosen criminal enterprise. It’s going to be
a learning experience.
Various factors – among them a developing love triangle, Ray’s overambition
and Casey’s love for cocaine – just might end up ruining a good thing.
Harry in Your Pocket’s director Bruce Geller is best known as
creator/writer/producer of TV shows like Mission Impossible and
Mannix and less for his only cinematic film as a director (he’s also
responsible for TV movie The Savage Bees but nobody’s perfect). It is
an unfairly overlooked little film, though I’m not exactly surprised by how
comparatively little seen Harry is, for the film’s copious charms
aren’t exactly on the obvious side.
This is a film, after all, you’ll compliment with adjectives like “quiet”,
“unassuming”, or “consciously small-scale and dramatically inconspicuous” which
is not an approach to filmmaking that will help many people notice a film. It
certainly doesn’t help the film either that Geller’s direction is not at all on
the flashy side – in fact, two or three scenes show his TV roots rather clearly.
There is, in particular, a pretty damn tacky scene of slow motion seagull
feeding to ignore, but if you do ignore these few moments of tosh, you realize
Geller is usually just stepping back to make room for his actors and their
characters, doing exactly as much as he needs to help them while otherwise
getting out of their way.
Which is obviously the right decision for a film this disinterested in
heightened drama or rather, one this interested in the small drama of human
interactions and the musical qualities of pickpocketing. The quartet of main
characters (the film not really features anyone else as more than objects for
the characters to work on) earns Geller’s trust well: Coburn is letting go of a
lot of his typical acting tics (I’ve never seen the man acting less with his
teeth), while Van Devere manages to effortlessly sell Sandy as an independent
woman despite her part in the love triangle (where the film to my surprise and
approval still doesn’t treat her as an object for the men to fight over but as
an active participant) so much that she dominates the audience’s sympathy for
much of the film. Sarrazin’s believably inexperienced, and Pigeon shows all the
dignities and indignities of age in a profession not made for old people (I mean
pickpocketing, not acting).
While the film slowly meanders through not much of a plot in which only a
handful of small scale dramatic things happen, it does so in the full knowledge
that actual people like you and me live and die on this small scale. The film
clearly wants its audience to let go of the crutches of melodrama without going
all arthouse on it. It works beautifully too for most of the time. I, at least,
found myself quietly enraptured by the proceedings, in sympathy with the
characters and actually touched by a quietly sad ending that even shows one of
the characters committing a quietly heroic act – on a human scale.