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New Video presents
The Plot Against Harry (1989)

Harry Plotnik: Tony, I've been subpoenaed.
Tony: You know nothing, you say nothing. You know something, you take the fifth.
Harry Plotnik: Tony, you don't want me to talk, you gotta help me.
Tony: What is that, a threat? I though Jewish people are supposed to be smart.

- Martin Priest, Nicholas Ponzini

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: April 25, 2005

Stars: Martin Priest
Other Stars: Ben Lang, Maxine Woods, Henry Nemo, Ellen Herbert, Jacques Taylor, Jean Leslie, Sandra Kazan, Ronald Coralian, Max Ulman, Margo Solin, Jeanette Wilkins, Jose Oscasio, Nicholas Ponzini, Paul Zayas, Shirley Ann Davis, Hollis Culver, W. Harris, E. Setrakian
Director: Michael Roemer

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:20m:12s
Release Date: April 26, 2005
UPC: 767685967737
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-B+B C

DVD Review

It's tough to empathize with a distributor when they choose a throwaway piece starring, say, Mariah Carey or Britney Spears for release over an intelligent film. However, the bottom line is of utmost concern in their business and if a movie is doomed to box-office failure, there's little reason for them to stick their necks out for it. Such was the fate of The Plot Against Harry when it was screened for distributors back in 1970, when it was deemed unfunny and too radical for the American public to appreciate it. At that time, perhaps, the studio executives were right, but 20 years later the film hit the festival circuit and now lives on as a cult classic.

Harry Plotnik (Martin Priest) is a low-level racketeer for the mob, just released from a brief stint in prison. His faithful chauffeur, Max (Henry Nemo), drives him around the old neighborhood, but things are no longer in Harry's favor. While at one time he was successful, the dynamics of the city have changed and the Jewish hood now needs a Chinese restauranteur to translate his Hispanic lieutenants' reports. Even worse, the mob boss and his son, Tony (Nicholas Ponzini), are no longer interested in supporting Harry, opting instead to put their money behind a new man.

The ever-changing world of crime is contrasted by Harry's overbearing sister, Mae (Ellen Herbert), who interrupts him while sleeping with a prostitute. That's the last time Harry will ever have to worry about that happening, however, because he learns that his heart is enlarged and he won't be able to engage in sexual activities anymore. Things certainly seem to be reaching an end for him until he gets into a car accident with none other than his ex-wife, Kay (Maxine Woods), ex-brother-in-law Leo (Ben Lang), and estranged, pregnant daughter Margie (Sandra Kazan). Soon, Harry decides to use his money to buy his way back into his family, attempting a normal life as a middle-class caterer.

The film is truly an oddball comedy. There are few scenes that are likely to elicit a laugh (I recall only laughing out loud onceŅand even then, it wasn't a hard laugh), but the humor is quite avant-garde in that respect. Harry is severely antisocial, so much so that his other daughter's future in-laws keep wanting to photograph and interview him as a sociological study. The comedy is, I think, meant to imitate the antisocial tendencies of the characters. None of the characters, not even Harry's family, seem to have any social grace and they attend circumcisions and telethons out of a sense of obligation, never because they see the event as a worthy cause. So, although I barely laughed while watching it, nary a second went by where I wasn't captivated by its dry humor.

Writer-director Michael Roemer's handling of the film mirrors the exacerbated and unenthusiastic life of Harry, creating a slightly pathetic tone and somber vision of reality. It is in this vision of hell, where the cosmos seems to conspire against Harry, that the humor arises. The movie runs 80 minutes in length, though it feels like only 20, and is filled with a freshness. The cinematography, shot in black-and-white documentary style, is quite earthy with its use of locations and seemingly spontaneous compositions. Not a single frame seems pre-planned, which is part of the success of this movie. While watching it, you truly believe things are unfolding before your eyes.

The humor may be off-putting to those accustomed to the usual Ashton Kutcher fare, most likely because it is comprised of subtle observations about society and cultures noted by the script and performances. The cross-cutting between Harry's intermingling with the criminal element, eventually leading to his testimony in the Senate, and attending religious ceremonies is quite astute. Actor Martin Priest pulls off the role with apparent ease, walking through all these different events with the look of a zombie. A large part of the film's success is in the faces of its cast. None of these people look like an actor; each really seems to be the character they are playing.

By the time the film heads into its conclusion, I suspect every audience member will have come to love or hate it. My comedic inclinations are eclectic and wherever there's an oddball comedy, you can bet I'll be around the corner, sneaking a peak. However, The Plot Against Harry is not just a curiosity item, but also a clever, restrained character study of a man who cannot, or will not allow himself to achieve the American dream. And a damn funny one at that.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is rightly gritty. Contrast and detail are good, and depth is strong enough to create a nice film-like look. A bit of dirt and scratches appear, but it's tough to think of this film being pristine.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Contrary to the back cover art's labeling, the sound mix is a mono track and not a stereo surround mix. To be honest, I prefer it as a mono mix, due to film preservation issues and the tone of the film being more rightly suited by such a mix. Dialogue is crisp and clear, with ambient sounds filling in the soundtrack nicely.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. The Plot Against Harry: A Look Back—an interview with writer-director Michael Roemer and cinematographer/co-producer Robert Young.
Extras Review: The only major feature with this set is a video interview/discussion between director Michael Roemer and cinematographer/co-producer Robert Young, The Plot Against Harry: A Look Back (33m:26s). Their collaborations prior to The Plot Against Harry are briefly covered and then the two discuss in great detail the research and other prep work that went into making the film. Some parts are more interesting than others, such as Roemer meeting with prostitutes, but the most worthwhile material here comes from the two men discussing their own failings on the project. Strangely enough, what they see as failings, I find to be their greatest accomplishments. In addition to this feature there is a biography of both men available on text cards.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

It's interesting to think that The Plot Against Harry could very well never have been available to the public, but thankfully Roemer followed his instinct in 1989 and sent it off to the Toronto Film Festival where it created a buzz that has led to this current DVD. The image and sound are fittingly understated and the bonus interview feature gives a nice background to the film. Highly recommended.

 


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