POCKET MONEY shortchanged moviegoers back in 1972, exiting theaters muttering they should have just tossed spare change at the nearest Hare Krishna instead of spending 102 minutes supporting the producers of this starved burro. Two big, dependably charismatic stars—Paul Newman and Lee Marvin—, several top-notch supporting players, the director of Cool Hand Luke, a script by Terry—later Terrence—Malick, photography by László Kovács, a music score from Alex North, title tune sung by Carole King: all that talent on the hoof and the results could not be more deceased than the proverbial Mr. Kelsey and his legumes. If you’re too young to know what that means, rest assured: you’ll find out.
Out of money, bank payment coming due and ex-wife needing alimony, cowboy ‘Jim Kane’ (Newman) takes an offer from a couple of sketchy types (Strother Martin and Wayne Rogers) to cross into Mexico and round up some cattle there for some quick change. Jim’s honest, but not the brightest bulb in the cactus patch, and his laid-back buddy ‘Leonard’ (Marvin) isn’t a poster boy for success, either. The drive becomes a stall that finishes in a dip.
Newman and Marvin aren’t bad, and it helps a little to have character actors on hand like Martin, Hector Elizondo, Gregory Sierra and Matt Clark, but the wispy material is so threadbare and director Stuart Rosenberg’s handling so limp that whatever the idea was behind the story evaporates like mist in a drought. Scene after scene takes a joke set-up and sees it fizz flat: those familiar with—and usually impressed by— Terrence Malick’s following career as a director know his strength lies in visuals rather than dialogue: the script perishes. Rosenberg’s aimless direction—he’d recently helmed WUSA another dud for Paul,—and the truly curious “That’s it?” editing from Bob Wyman (Rosemary’s Baby, Sometimes A Great Notion) deliver the kill-shots.
Shot in Arizona, New Mexico and further down in Chihuahua, Mexico. In small roles are Fred Graham, Christine Belford, Kelli Jean Peters and Richard Farnsworth. Made for $2,444,000, the stars pulling power managed to bring in $8,800,000, ranking it 45th for the year. *
* For some reason, the moribund livelihoods of modern cowboys were given a movie micro-scoping in 1972—Steve McQueen in Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner, Richard Widmark in When The Legends Die, Cliff Robertson as J.W.Coop, and James Coburn in the saddle for The Honkers. None of those world-shakers, but they’re all chewier than the uncooked biscuit Pocket Money.
Newman did better with the older West that year in The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean, as well as directing wife Joanne Woodward (and their daughter Nell Potts) in the downbeat drama The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Meanwhile, Marvin marked time with the bleak crime pic Prime Cut. Pocket Money was the next-to-last appearance of tough-looking Fred Graham, who’d started in the business back in 1934: he logged 276 films as a cast member and 213 as a stuntman. Terrence Malick’s career as director launched the following year with Badlands.