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Thread: THE GREY FOX (Philip Borsos 1982) repertory, Kino Marquee (May 29)

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    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE GREY FOX (Philip Borsos 1982) repertory, Kino Marquee (May 29)



    A quiet gem from a while back

    This is a 4K restoration of a film from 1982. But it seems more old-fashioned than that. It should: it takes place at the turn of the last century. It's about Bill Minor (Robert Farnsworth), a stagecoach robber who went to jail in 1870 for, all told, 33 years, and when he came out of San Quentin it was 1901. There were no longer stagecoaches to rob, but though he was no longer young, he still had the urge.

    You know what a grey fox is. Farnsworth, as Minor, is a cool, sexy old man. He had mainly been known in Hollywood as a stunt man. He may remind you of Sam Eliot, but he's more real - his hair is thinning, and he has lots of wrinkles, for instance. You may also remember Robert Redford in what he said was his swan song, the 2018 The Old Man and the Gun, about Forest Tucker, another real person more recently in time, a gentlemanly crook who robbed banks. Farnsworth looks more real than Redford too, and isn't quite so superannuated. He's tall, broad shouldered, has a big swaggering mustache, and has a twinkle in his pale blue eyes. Bill Minor is quiet and gentlemanly. After he gets out of jail he goes to stay with his sister in Washington state for a while but he's not happy panning oysters, or any other ordinary thing. He sees The Great Train Robbery in a movie house, and knows what he's going to do now: rob trains.

    Why should you pay to view this movie online? It's beautiful, it's quiet, and it's flavorful. The makers were Canadians. Do they do period better than we do? It would seem so. Everybody looks effortlessly right. It probably helped that Philip Borsos, the 27-year-old director, making his first feature, had made a number of acclaimed documentaries already, getting an Oscar nomination for one of them.

    Pauline Kael wrote a good review of The Grey Fox when it came out for The New Yorker. As she often did she blows away the competition, in this case Canby and Ebert. She simply gave The Grey Fox more of her time - her lengthy, detailed review does it maybe even more than justice. See Kael's enthusiastic description early on: "There may never have been photographs of trains more exultant than the shots here of the old Northern Pacific steaming through mountain forests." As she says, this "rolling beast" makes "its own cloud formations." So much steam! I was also impressed by a Cadillac driven (or piloted) by a rich character that must have been one of the first motor vehicles ever made. How they got permission to take it out of the museum, I don't know.

    I said there was flavor. Kael also notes the photography by Frank Tidy, who shot Ridley Scott's The Duellists, "has the most lovingly photographed rain since McCabe and Mrs. Miller, a film she had championed. "And there are wonderful scenes with snow on frozen dark-green grass." And then as she says, Farnsworth himself is "a superb camera subject." In the 4K restoration, the color looks splendid.

    Read Kael's whole August 8, 1983 New Yorker review if you can (issues of the magazine from the beginning in 1925 are all in facsimile online, or her short form of it). I can't do what Canby and Ebert couldn't do. I'm giving you a few highlights though, in case access to the review eludes you. Kael says the screenwriter, John Hunter, stays pretty close to historical accounts. As the story gets going, Bill Minor enlists Shorty (Wayne Robson), an "idiot," as someone calls him - "a stumpy little boozer," is Pauline's description - to rob a train. Minor didn't "take orders from anybody," and preferred to take unthreatening assistants. After a moderately successful train heist with Shorty, the two of them hole up in British Columbia, in the town of Kamloops. Minor has become a folk hero there known as The Gentleman Bandit, though he's pretending to be somebody else. He befriends the local constable, Sergeant Fernie (Timothy Webber), who admires him, and when he knows who he is, is probably ready to hide him from Pinkerton's men, who are searching for him for the Great Northern railroad.

    Minor also charms and is charmed by Kate Flynn (Jackie Burroughs), a suffragette and "free spirit" of a certain age who's a photographer. Kael finds Burroughs, a celebrated Canadian stage actress, initially "a little irritating, as if she's trying for the mannered spunk of Katherine Hepburn but it's slipping down to Cloris Leachman." A great line, and I think this is true of her first scene or two, but then fades away, and she's herself. Kael admits grants that Burroughs quickly won her over nonetheless, perhaps because of "her big, toothy, sensual smile." Obviously, as Kael points out, there's an undercurrent of sexuality in Farnsworth all along: it's essential for him to earn the name of "fox."

    What's enjoyable about The Grey Fox, apart from all this and more you'll discover (or read about in Kael's review), is a unique calm, a confident pace - there's something unhurried and "Canadian" about it that isn't like any film you'll see today. With its period flavor, it has charms Redford's nice but somewhat forgettable swan song can't achieve. And it's got those magnificent steam trains and the snow and drenching rain. Kael concludes Borsos is "an inspired image-maker, and the film manages to be an art western without making you hate it." She does point out that the film leaves big gaps and doesn't tell us how Minor got to be so gentlemanly.

    The Grey Fox, 110 mins., debuted at Taormia, and opened in Canada Dec. 1982. It's listed on IMDb as opening in the US in Mar. 1983; why if so, Kael's review appeared in Aug. I don't know. The publicity from Kino Lorber herald's its release "in New York at Film Forum, L.A. at American Cinematheque, Autry Museum, Laemmle, Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Portland & more!" but what this means under the pandemic is you can designate them when you rent it from May 28th on Kino Marquee.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-26-2020 at 06:26 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Ottawa Canada
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