Before watching the movie:
What interested me in this movie was James Coburn. I think it was automatically recommended to me when I selected Bank Shot. I’m curious as to how a movie about building a pickpocketing ring can build tension, aside from the inner tension when the group doesn’t want to work together anymore.
From this poster, it looks more exploitative than I expected. But then, it was the early 70s, and I mainly know James Coburn from Our Man Flint and its sequel, a pair of somewhat exploitative James Bond spoofs.
After watching the movie:
At the Seattle train station, Sandy catches inept pickpocket Ray stealing her watch badly, but loses her ticket, purse, and briefcase chasing him. To make it up to her, Ray promises to help her get on her way. His fence can’t pay him much, but refers him to a recruiting “wire mob”. Ray and Sandy join experts Harry and Casey in a high-class pickpocketing gang, only stealing from rich marks, wearing expensive clothing to avoid suspicion. Harry really only wants Sandy, but she insists on staying with Ray. The four of them make a highly efficient team on the job. Off the job, Ray chafes under Harry’s rules and wants to learn to lift well for himself, Harry wants to cut in on Ray and Sandy’s tango, and Casey’s getting too old and coked for this business.
This was billed as a comedy. I didn’t find much levity. It starts out a bit silly between Ray and Sandy, and some of the theft stunts were funny (particularly the slow-motion tennis ball heist), but mostly it was just stringing out the inner and outer tension for a hundred minutes. I barely count the later amusement as even comic relief. Meanwhile, a lot of the interpersonal drama doesn’t seem to develop or escalate so much as it keeps getting repeated until something shifts. Probably a good 20 minutes of this movie would not be missed.
The director or cinematographer has an almost distracting obsession with mirrors. It seems like there are at least a dozen moments in the movie where a shot involves a mirror. Sometimes it’s narratively useful, sometimes it’s just trying to be more visually interesting than it is. It’s never necessary, and bordering on excessive.
Even if it’s not funny, the pickpocketing operation itself is enjoyable to watch. Then when the story starts really moving in the last twenty minutes, it becomes a decently compelling drama. Walter Pidgeon as Casey really makes things watchable once the plot gets going. It’s just unfortunate that those things account for such a low percentage of the overall movie. At least my fears that James Coburn wouldn’t actually have major screentime were inaccurate.
Watch this movie: as a very 70s (melo)drama about a small crime gang.
Don’t watch this movie: with caffeine in your system.