Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Harry in Your Pocket


I believe some people are born with an inherent talent. Maybe it’s for math, maybe for music, maybe you’re a born runner or swimmer. And I think it’s the same with non-violent crime. (Violent criminals may be born, too, but it’s a case of born to be a psychopath.) People discover these talents in themselves, and they stick with them. Thus, a con man will probably not dabble in burglary, a forger will not try his hand at safe-cracking.

Harry (James Coburn) was born to be a pickpocket. Together with his older partner, Casey (Walter Pidgeon), they can pick you clean in half a second.

But the “dip” (the act of taking the “poke,” i.e., the wallet) works better if you have three or more. Very few picks work alone, which is a pretty good way to get yourself busted. What you need is a “steer,” which Walter does, first determining if the mark is likely to have a decent roll on him, then spotting the “kick” (where the poke is) and signaling to the “stalls” and the “cannon,” who artfully stumble into the mark, from several directions if possible, and lift the poke. Then, usually within a few seconds, the cannon passes the poke to someone else. That way, if the mark feels something missing quickly, the actual cannon can be searched, to no avail.

All that jargon is lots of fun, as is observing the many, many ways the picks have of distracting the mark. Done professionally, it is almost foolproof.

Harry and Casey need a bigger team, so they take on amateurs Ray (Michael Sarrazin) and Sandy (Trish Van Devere) and train them. There is sexual tension between Harry and Ray over Sandy, naturally, and Ray longs to move up from his position, and Casey agrees to teach him some of the other tricks of the trade.

The chief pleasure here is to watch the lifting. James Coburn is always a pleasure, too. And the setting are great: first Seattle, then Vancouver, B.C., and then Salt Lake City, a place that seldom gets into the movies.