There are old movies I truly enjoy, and old movies that I don’t enjoy, and then there’s Harry In Your Pocket (1973), which is one of those old movies that I, well, kind of enjoyed not enjoying. The lure for me was the film’s Mission: Impossible connections: it was directed by Mission creator Bruce Geller, written by Mission scribes James D. Buchanan and Ronald Austin, and scored by the great Lalo Schifrin of Mission fame. Unfortunately, although stylish, it’s kind of an aimless movie without much of a point of view.
It opens with a sketchy cute meet between Ray (Michael Sarrazin), a rookie pickpocket, and Sandy (Trish Van Devere), a, well, female character, who meet in the Seattle train station when she catches him clumsily attempting to snatch wallets from unsuspecting passengers. For some reason, they hit it off, sleep together, and then follow up a tip that leads them into the employ of master thief Harry (James Coburn) and his right-hand man Casey (Walter Pidgeon). Harry enlists and trains the two rookies to be his “stalls,” creating the diversions which enable him to lift wallets undetected. The team of four plies their trade across the northwest, becoming a well-oiled machine professionally, while also growing to like each other. But Harry has his eyes on Sandy, and Ray wants to graduate to the next level, and pretty soon everyone’s ambitions get them into a heap of trouble.
Somewhere in the script of Harry In Your Pocket is the seed of a nifty little honor-among-thieves, crime-doesn’t-pay fable. But it never quite emerges from the stew of half-baked script ingredients that carry it from a sluggish opening to an abrupt ending. To make things worse, Coburn’s Harry and Sarrazin’s Ray aren’t particularly likable, undercutting Sandy’s romantic dilemma — she really shouldn’t be with either of these guys, let alone choosing between them. Fortunately, the film has fun with its pickpocketing montages and makes good use of its location scenery, following the team from Seattle to Victoria to Salt Lake City. Pidgeon is great fun as Harry’s coke-addled “steer,” an old-school crook with a code, and Van Devere outsmarts the script’s unconscious sexism with a feisty performance. And of course Schifrin’s film score contributes to a groovy, nostalgic atmosphere. Alas, it’s not a particularly satisfying affair, but there’s some retro appeal here, and the ending still kind of resonates, even though the journey doesn’t quite earn its crucial twist. There’s a reason you haven’t heard of this, but it’s not entirely without merit.