HARRY IN YOUR POCKET. United Artists, 1973. James Coburn, Michael Sarrazin, Trish Van Devere, Walter Pidgeon. Music by Lalo Schifrin. Producer-Director: Bruce Geller.

   Bruce Geller is best known for his work on the television series Mannix and Mission: Impossible. He also directed one feature film: Harry in Your Pocket, an offbeat study of the lives and times of a coterie of high-end pickpockets as they make their way from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia, and eventually to Salt Lake City. Filmed on location, the movie defies easy categorization.

   With a prominent score by Lalo Shifrin, one that occasionally overwhelms what’s happening on screen, the film at times seems to be as much a musical as a crime drama. At the end of the day, the movie is best understood as a drama, even a tragedy. It’s a study of human frailty and character flaws, wrapped up in a package with the words “quirky crime film” written in black marker.

   The plot. Harry (James Coburn) is a pickpocket, living a luxuriously itinerant life on other people’s money and credit cards. Joining him for the proverbial ride is Casey (Walter Pidgeon), an aging pickpocket with a cocaine habit.

   They eventually join forces with Ray (Michael Sarrazin), an ambitious young pickpocket, and his girlfriend Sandy (Trish Van Devere). Soon, however, each of the gang’s personal flaws begins to take a toll on the group’s cohesion. Harry’s too rigid and is a womanizer. Casey has a drug habit and is ashamed that he is no longer as steady on his feet as he used to be. Ray is too ambitious for his own good and becomes increasingly jealous of Harry’s infatuation with Sandy. And Sandy. She’s the linchpin in all this. Even Harry says that he thinks she’s going to be trouble.

   While it’s not what I would call an excellent film, Harry in Your Pocket is a quite captivating work. It’s subtle and Coburn puts in a solid performance. It’s Pidgeon, however, in one of his last leading roles, that made the most memorable impression on me. Look for the scene in which he is instructing Ray on the “art” of being a pickpocket. He reminisces about the good old days before mugging, when pickpockets took their craft seriously and there was a code and honor in the “profession.”

   It’s that sense of melancholy and nostalgia that stayed with me. A product of the 1970s, Harry in Your Pocket could be easily interpreted as an extended cinematic metaphor for the generational divide in early 1970s American society.