Film: Dirty Tricks (1981)

August 19, 2017 | By

Film: Poor

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Comedy / CanCon

Synopsis: A professor, a reporter, the mafia, and many, many idiots are after a signed document alleging George Washington was a British stooge.

Special Features:  n/a




There may have been an earnest effort to successfully translate Thomas Gifford’s novel “The Glendower Legacy” to the big screen, but perhaps by being a classic CanCon tax shelter production, that earnestness was severely diluted, with the final product being a dismal attempt at wacky comedy and political commentary.

Gifford’s story has a student dying whilst trying to hand over evidence to his professor that reveals George Washington as a traitor, accepting stooge money from Britannia a few years after the American Civil War. The fragile document is wanted by Freddie Mercury twins sent by a rival professor, plus a ‘street smart’ TV reporter, the Italian mafia, and the FBI who join the epic chase in the finale.

Elliott Gould (The Long Goodbye) plays Prof. Chandler, an American History expert at Harvard; Kate Jackson (Charlie’s Angels) is the snotty reporter and very lame love interest; Arthur Hill (The Andromeda Strain) rival Prof. Prosser; Alberta Watson (The Keep) and John Juliani are the Mafiosi with a steady supply of Lincoln Continentals; and brothers Michael & Martin McNamara the buffed Freddie Mercury clones who use karate and surrounding objects to neutralize whomever has the sacred document.

Montreal’s McGill University doubles for Harvard, and parts of the city sub for Boston, and the film’s rather elegant lighting was designed by cinematographer Richard Ciupka, who would make his directorial debut two years later with the cult slasher Curtains (1983). Hagood Hardy’s cheeky military theme fits the characters and story quite snugly, but much of the score is tied to the endless back and forth chases that pad the film’s running time as Chandler runs about town with the document, ultimately giving audiences a lengthy tour of McGill but adding nothing to the tension.

It’s not that the performances are weak nor the workmanlike direction by Alvin Rakoff ruins the film, but there’s no memorable characters nor amusing dialogue, forcing the lead actors to act wacky and exaggerate expressions as they leap & bound and drive off madly. With little chemistry between Gould and Jackson, the already stale banter just tumbles to the ground. Watson wields a pistol, Juliani wears a broad hat to show he’s a made man, and the Freddie Mercury clones retain aviator glasses as they ease into backgrounds and pose menacingly. Mavor Moore has a small role, and Nicholas Campbell (Da Vinci’s Inquest) is the doomed student who discovers the damaging letter and pays with his life.

Rich Little appears in the opening scenes as a commercial author but disappears for long stretches, and most likely the third-billed actor / impersonator was cast to ensure the film had enough Canadian talent points to enable the producers to write-off their dollars instead of make something of merit and lasting enjoyment. Canadian-born Arthur Hill undoubtedly secured points, but his role is somewhat more substantive, and his decades as a prolific character actor add gravitas to an otherwise meager apologetic villain.

For Jackson, Dirty Tricks offered a rare film role after her lengthy tenure on Charlie’s Angels, but after the drama Making Love (1982) she returned to TV for the successful series Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1983-1987) where superior material showed off her comedic skills. Gould had struck CanCon gold with the rare gem The Silent Partner (1978), but his film career as a leading man was soon to be replaced with TV work and smaller supporting film roles.

Rakoff’s career is filled with high and low points, working heavily in TV when he emigrated to Britain, and among his handful of feature films, Hoffman (1970) is one of his best, showing a director who could tackle odd characters and keep the mystery of a peculiar tale hidden until the timing was just right.

One can argue than when Canadian producers called, he recognized the crap factor tied to a paycheque, and in spite of some Hollywood heavyweights larded into the casts, Rakoff wasn’t able to do much when the scripts dealt with a Nazi concentration ship – Death Ship (1980) lacking a coherent ending – or a hospital forced to evacuate when an entire city was ablaze in the laughable City on Fire (1979). Sadly, Dirty Tricks seemed to have killed his film career, although a return to TV yielded a diversity and quality of material he deserved.

Dirty Tricks was part of a trio of productions initiated by Filmplan International, which included Gas (1981) and Funny Farm (1983), the latter unreleased for 2 years. As is typical of most CanCon films that did get a minor if not perfunctory theatrical release, the film remains unavailable on DVD, and older accessible sources included VHS releases and cable TV broadcasts (such as the HBO airing archived on YouTube).



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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