Monday, May 30, 2016

Tracing Skip Tracer (1977)

Hey! Did I just dream this? Or did I really see this obscure bit of Canadian nastiness?

It was a bleak, decidedly non-glamourous, low-budget character study released in 1977 that did zip and was (mostly) immediately forgotten, featuring a cast of unknowns and starring David Peterson (who?) as John Collins, a low-key, taciturn debt collector "hero" prowling the streets of a gloriously seedy Vancouver, hunting down deadbeats.

Make no mistake -- Collins is no goody two-shoes. In fact, he's a cold, heartless son of a bitch.

Or maybe just an asshole, as a commenter on IMDB put it.

But however you put it, it's that trait that has made him the top skip tracer for GSC, a Vancouver loan company.

In the course of this fragmented and episodic little gem, Collins must deal with an ambitious young associate, viscious death threats, physical violence, and a suicidal debtor, not to mention severe job burnout. All this while vying for GSC's coveted "Man of the Year" award for an unprecedented fourth year in a row. And discovering that maybe, just maybe, he is human after all.

Yeah, it sounds like a downer.

And it is.

But oh, what a downer.

This is noir in its essence. No fedoras, no fancy lighting tricks, no smoke machines, no jaw-dropping camera work -- just a bleak, no-frills x-ray of a man's soul as he circles the drain.

Despite it's obscurity (it did very little box office during its short theatrical release in Canada, and it aired maybe twice on British television back in the early eighties), it continues to rate highly among those lucky few who have seen it. Peterson's performance as Collins has been praised as being "wonderfully sustained," and the film itself has been compared to everything from Across 110th Street and Superfly to On the Waterfront and, of course, Repo Man, while Collins' obsession with tracking down and collecting from one elusive skip has been likened -- I shit thee not -- to Ahab's quest in Moby Dick. Me? For some reason it reminded me of Drive, that Ryan Gosling flick from a few years ago, based on the James Sallis' book.

But whatever, Skip Tracer's got a pretty good rep for a cheap little flick that hardly anyone saw.

It's too bad it's not available on DVD. I saw it years and years ago on VHS, rented from some hole-in-the-wall Montreal video store back in the mid-eighties that seemed to have a lot of videos of dubious provenance. Yet it's haunted me ever since.

Was it as cheap-looking as I remember it? Was it as unapologetically morose and bleak? As creepy and unsettling? I'm almost afraid to find out, but I'd really love to know.

Alas, as far as anyone can tell, the film was never released on DVD or Blu-Ray. And of course, it never occurred to me, when I was updating this entry on Thrilling Detective, that it might be on YouTube.

Turns out it is. Now to see how much I've misremembered...


Blogger Guillaume said...

I need to find this one. The kind of flick they show on Movies4Men, where they have been showing some oddities, so you never know.

Must have been great to see Vancouver playing itself. I have recently watched Room with my wife. Great movie, but I thought it was odd that it was a Canadian movie, based on a Canadian novel... but set in the US and with American actors in the main roles.

12:05 PM, May 30, 2016  
Anonymous Rob Brunet said...

Thank you, Kevin! I've looked for this movie every once in a while since forever, having seen it, I think, on late night TV over 30 years ago, and before I knew my father had been a skip tracer himself when I was wee. I've told him about it more than once and now I know what I'll be giving him along with, I imagine, a favourite smokey brandy for his 80th coming up.

1:53 PM, May 30, 2016  

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