2013 November 15 • Friday
Donald Westlake wrote a series of novels about a professional thief named Parker. Westlake used the name Richard Stark for these books and for a spin-off series about another professional thief named Grofield, who often works with Parker. (There's also at least one "Richard Stark" short story that has nothing to do with Parker or Grofield or heists.)
The definitive series of Parker novels were written in the 1960s and early '70s. Westlake revived the character in the '90s for another series of novels but too much time had passed. Parker after his twenty year absence was more greatly reduced than Sherlock Holmes after Reichenback Falls. I wasn't pleased with the new Parker books.
That's one stumbling block for Parker fans. The other is the film adaptations. The first one, Point Blank, is an excellent movie. It follows the book pretty closely but strikes me as more of a ghost story than a crime film, with Parker ("Walker" in the movie) as a vengeful spirit. Lee Marvin in the lead is great, though he is too lithe to be Parker, who is invariably described as large and hulking.
The other Parker movies usually miss the boat entirely. I haven't been able to bring myself even to watch Payback or Parker. Over the years, however, there was one film that seemed promising, a 1967 French adaptation of The Score, in which Parker and his crew rob an entire town.
I searched for this movie for years and got no closer than a press kit that I bought on eBay (and now can't find). A good friend of mine alerted me that Mise a sac (Pillaged) was playing at MoMA last weekend and I put it on the calendar with extreme prejudice.
I was very excited to see it. It did not live up to expectations. It followed the book closely but departed from it in ways that decreased suspense and softened up the toughness. Even worse is how it makes the plot much more conventional than it is in the book.
Parker is "Georges" this time and played by Michel Constantin, who is suitably not what I would call handsome. But once again the actor doesn't have the right physique for the role (much as Johnny Depp just wasn't tall enough to be Hunter S. Thompson, despite his fine performance in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).
The movie appears to have been made on a low budget. It's indifferently photographed and has very little in the way of a score. I remember some solo keyboard playing at the beginning and the end. Using a lack of music or sound in heist movies has paid off in films like Rififi and Le Cercle rouge but in Mise a sac it felt lazy or cheap more than an artistic choice.
Oh, well. But now I know!