Sunday, February 14, 2010

Harry Tracy

(William A. Graham, 1981)
The early scenes are impressively light and funny as they lionize turn-of-the-century outlaw Bruce Dern as laconic proto-beatnik - thrown into relief by sidekick Michael C. Gwynne, a frustrated artist with a taste for adventure and no moral code whatsoever. Things clip along nicely from holdup to holdup and escape to escape, right up to the moment Gwynne starts going sour. His character transition is way too abrupt and totalizing, and his departure severely decenters the film - Dern shows no rapport at all with proxy sidekick Helen Shaver, playing an unnecessarily vacuous nice girl with little to do or say. Gordon Lightfoot has more energy and timing than you'd expect playing the lawman on his trail, but he doesn't have much to do either - he needs more face time with his nemesis and less riding around. It's a lucky thing Dern is so good because the film peters out a half hour before it ends. His charm may provide a rationale for his status as living folk hero, but it doesn't add much interest or tension to his meandering interactions with the starstruck common men, which reduce the movie to wispy echoes of "Bonnie and Clyde" well before he meets his predictably tragic end.

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