Plot Against Harry, the
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Nominated for 6 Independent Spirit Awards including Best Picture, THE PLOT AGAINST HARRY is the eccentric cult comedy classic that was presumed lost for twenty years until it resurfaced to triumphant festival screenings and rave reviews. With its retro go-go boots and long black Cadillacs, this "astounding and often hilarious spectacle of the late 1960s" (The Nation) was wildly praised by Roger Ebert as "a wonderful oddball comedy...Two enthusiastic thumbs up!...I loved it from beginning to end!" Written and directed with a snap-crackling wit by Michael Roemer (Nothing But A Man), THE PLOT AGAINST HARRY plays like a brilliant cross between a poignantly realistic John Cassavetes film and a prime-era Woody Allen comedy. The film follows the uproarious rise-and-fall of Harry Plotnik (Martin Priest), a once-notorious Jewish gangster who finds his numbers racket slipping away after his release from prison. Under pressure from well-meaning relatives, Harry makes an erratic effort to go straight, triggering a series of humiliations and petty disasters. Unable to fit into either the criminal or civilian worlds, Harry becomes uniquely and irresolutely heroic--a modest, modern-day Job fated to be the butt of an endless stream of small-time cosmic jokes. DVD Features: Special "Making Of" Featurette with Director Michael Roemer and Cinematographer/Co-Producer Robert Young; Filmmaker Biographies; Interactive Menus; Scene Selection
An early delight of American independent cinema (before there was American independent cinema, really), The Plot Against Harry is proof that failure is not necessarily the final word. Shot independently in 1969 by the collaborators of Nothing But a Man, writer-director Michael Roemer and photographer/co-producer Robert Young, Harry couldn't find a distributor and was quickly forgotten. In 1989, Roemer took another look at the movie, submitted it to a couple of film festivals, and suddenly found critical acclaim and a respectable release.
In retrospect, it now looks like a cinematic cousin to Philip Roth's Goodbye-Columbus, with its middle-class Jewish milieu and observant humor. Harry (Martin Priest) is a mid-level mobster whose racket has weakened during his stint in prison. Newly out, he tries to piece together the business, or possibly go straight, meanwhile reconnecting with his ex-wife and the two daughters he barely knew. Nothing seems to work--it's almost as though there's a plot against him.
As a curio, Harry is choice. It's easy to see how the movie had trouble in 1969, however; the style suggests an in-the-streets documentary, rather than a culture comedy. (An opening sequence in the jailhouse looks like the beginning of a grim prison exposé.) This bizarre approach actually gives the movie much of its appeal today, however, as does the relentless eccentricity of the supporting cast, many of them non-professionals; Harry's henchman Ben Lang should've had a wonderful career as a good-natured goombah. --Robert Horton
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The film begins as Harry is being released from prison after a nine-month stay. His chauffeur immediately tells him some of his numbers runners have jumped ship and his gambling flotilla is in danger of sinking. They pick up a couple of his lieutenants who speak Spanish (which Harry doesn't understand) and they more or less ignore him. Harry quickly learns that they and his other runners think of him as washed up. Meanwhile he runs into a couple of his ex-wives and discovers that he has grandchildren. Now a rather unusual mid-life crisis ensues for Harry. He wants to give up the rackets and become an upstanding member of the community, to attend weddings and bar mitzvahs. Just how difficult that is and what transpires form the comedic story of the film.
Director Michael Roemer who also wrote the script uses authentic New York/New Jersey lifestyle details from the sixties (contemporary to him and therefore without the strained or flashy, obtrusive effect we often encounter in period piece movies) to spin his tale. There is a documentary feel to the film overlaid with light-hearted irony. The camera work is amateurish at times and the abrupt cuts lend a kind of jumpy, somehow authentic feel to the story. This can be seen as a satire of gangster films with the warm-hearted and gentle Harry as a kind of anti-Al Capone.
Bottom line: wryly original.