The Plot Against Harry

Writer-director Michael Roemer’s only well-known feature previous to this was the skillful Nothing but a Man (1964), about the experiences of a black couple living in Alabama. The Plot Against Harry was shot in black and white in 1969 but neither completed nor shown until 1989. A delightful, offbeat comedy, it follows a sad-eyed, small-time New York numbers racketeer named Harry Plotnick (Martin Priest) who has just emerged from prison after many years. Finding that life has passed him by, he gamely tries to buy his way into middle-class respectability, though his wife despises him and he’s a total stranger to his kids. In the course of conducting business, he passes through a picaresque succession of locations and noisy events — bar mitzvah, fashion show, dog-training session, and an endless stream of parties — yet the movie’s pace is leisurely, the humor quiet and affectionate, in striking contrast to the brassy world Harry moves through. Beautifully shot (by coproducer Robert M. Young, a director in his own right) and featuring a wonderful cast of unknowns (including Ben Lang, Maxine Woods, Henry Nemo, Jacques Taylor, Jean Leslie, Ellen Herbert, and Sandra Kazan), this is both a lovely piece of filmmaking and an exquisitely detailed portrait of a milieu and period, like a time capsule recently opened. (JR)

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