The Paul Newman Collection: Pocket Money Review

Pocket money is something Jim Kane (Paul Newman) could certainly do with. He has a bank loan that’s due, along with his alimony payment. He’s imported some Appaloosas from Mexico only to find that four of them have the equine equivalent of the clap. They’re destroyed and the rest of the horses are put in quarantine. So Jim takes an assignment from the shady Garrett (Strother Martin) to buy some cattle in Mexico. Once there, Jim hooks up with his old pal Leonard (Lee Marvin), whose plans are always big but which never work out. And it soon comes clear that the Mexican cattle dealers are more than a match for them.

Pocket Money is a very sunny film. So much so, that the atmosphere somehow leaked into the celluloid: this is a film you sense can’t be bothered to be very energetic. It’s not unpleasant to watch, but this latter-day comic western is a languid film that ambles along amiably for an hour and a half and then stops. It’ll pass muster though it’s by no means overwhelming.

The original novel by J.P.S. Brown was called Jim Kane, but the film’s title was changed to emphasise the fact that this is a two-handed star vehicle, made at a time when (male) buddy movies were thick on the ground in Hollywood. Lee Marvin doesn’t appear for twenty minutes, but he gets equal billing – note the contractual arrangement of the credits, with Newman’s name to the left of Marvin’s, but the latter slightly higher. These roles are hardly a stretch for either man, but they do their star thing and coast along on their natural charisma. Strother Martin was one of the best character actors of the 1970s and he effortlessly steals every scene he’s in, with his slightly queeny performance as the villain of the piece, speaking in a voice oddly reminiscent of Truman Capote’s at times. Laszlo Kovacs’s camerawork is another plus, and Carole King’s title song is worth a listen.

Auteurists will pay most attention to the script credit, as this is one of only two feature writing credits for Terrence Malick (or Terry Malick as he is here) before he became a director himself. (The other is the now-obscure Deadhead Miles from 1972. He did uncredited work on Dirty Harry and Drive, He Said as well.) You’ll have to look very hard for any obvious Malickian preoccupations or any foreshadowing of the four films he has directed to date. There are some smart lines in the script but no real laughs, and the film doesn’t overcome the objection that neither Malick nor director Stuart Rosenberg have ever displayed much flair for light comedy. Malick, incidentally, has an uncredited bit part as a workman.

Pocket Money will appeal more to fans of the two stars and has enough points in its favour to make it worth a look, but it’s likely to leave audiences unfulfilled.

Pocket Money is only available as part of the seven-disc Paul Newman Collection released by Warners in the USA. It is not available separately. Like The Young Philadelphians, it is not included in the UK release of the box set. Pocket Money is encoded for Regions 1, 2 and 3; unlike the others in the set it is not encoded for Region 4 as well.

Kovacs’s camerawork has a soft look, likely to the use of gauze or similar and maybe intended to protect the stars who were both the other side of forty-five when they made this. That’s faithfully rendered in this anamorphic transfer. The aspect ratio is 1.78:1, opened up slightly from the original 1.85:1. There’s a light grain, but it’s not displeasing, and the colours seem bright enough to me.

The soundtrack is the original mono, and once again there’s very little to be said. Dialogue is clear and well balanced with the music and sound effects. However, the sound level seems to be mixed unusually low on this DVD; I had to turn it up more than usual. There’s no dubbed alternative this time.

The only extra is the trailer, rather darker than the feature and showing some scratches and spots. It is in anamorphic 1.78:1 and runs a rather lengthy 3:09.

Pocket Money comes over as one of the fillers in this worthwhile box set, though whether it’s a reason to buy the US version over the UK version is up to you. The audiovisual side is certainly up to scratch.

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