Pocket Money

1972, Movie, PG, 102 mins

Review

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Attempting to relive the days of the early United Artists (a company formed by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and others), Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, and Dustin Hoffman formed First Artists, and this was their premier offering. It wasn't as terrible a movie as the first reviews of it indicated, but since so much was expected, anything less than brilliance was a letdown. Newman mugged and grimaced in an attempt at comedy, and Marvin's underplaying was lethargic, as though he were a graduate of the Robert Mitchum School of Dramatic Arts. Newman is an easygoing cowboy operating on the Texas-Arizona border. His bad luck follows him around like a black cloud over his head, and his current problem concerns a herd of horses he's brought to Tucson from Mexico. The animals have been quarantined for several weeks, and he needs money to pay back debts to the bank, and to pay his alimony. While in Tucson he ambles into a bar and meets Rogers (an old acquaintance he should have forgotten), who tells him that his boss, Martin (a rotten cuss if there ever was one), needs someone to squire 200 steers from Mexico into the US for Martin's rodeo supply business. Newman's uncle, Graham, has been burned by Martin before and alerts his nephew, but Newman, desperate, accepts the assignment. Newman gets pocket money from Martin with the promise that he will later receive his expenses, fee, and a bonus when he makes the delivery. Newman can't do the job alone, so he contacts promoter Marvin, who is flat broke because his latest fly-by-night ploy has failed. Marvin, seeing Newman overpay for the herd he is to take back from Mexico, is surprised to see that Newman is far more slow-witted than he'd thought. Newman's pocket money is depleted, but Rogers arrives with a check, post-dated, that Newman will have as good faith. He can cash it once he brings the steers to Chihuahua. Having been through the quarantine problem already, Newman knows the area is filled with insects and the herd is in danger, but Rogers says it's all been taken care of and that money has changed hands to allow the steers to get through unstopped by the authorities. Newman and Marvin now learn that their Mexican foreman, Elizondo, has sold the animals' feed and set them out to graze off the land. A few of the cows have since gone off on their own and Newman is livid. Elizondo owns the pens where the cows are staying and his father is a heavyweight in the town, but that doesn't stop the angry Newman from going after the man. A fight ensues and Newman is tossed into jail. Marvin sells Newman's small truck to raise the needed money for la mordida" ("the bite," which is the Spanish equivalent of a bribe) to spring Newman. Needless to say, Martin's check bounces, then the cattle are slammed into quarantine, and when Martin finally does arrive, he won't make good on his check, claiming that by the time the animals are released he won't have anyone to sell them to. Marvin and Newman threaten Martin with mayhem, but he still won't come up with the money. Since neither man is really tough, they don't whack Martin around and eventually walk out of Martin's hotel room after having tossed the motel's TV set through the window. They make their way to the local railroad station and hope to hop a freight and make it back to the US without anything else happening. A couple of good jokes and a superior performance by Martin are all that distinguish this feeble attempt at capturing the same audience who loved Newman in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Rosenberg's direction is pedestrian. leave a comment

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