American Playhouse: The Plot Against Harry

Perhaps you remember the background of this film: Shot in 1969 by director Michael Roemer, The Plot Against Harry was never seen theatrically until 20 years later, when it opened in a limited release to great acclaim.

Now American Playhouse brings this amiably eccentric film to a wider audience. It’s about, as one character describes him, ”a two-bit racketeer,” Harry Plotnik (Martin Priest). Harry is just out of prison and tired of the extortion racket — he’d like to go straight, but no one will give him a break. The movie is a shaggy-dog story about Harry’s attempts to find something else to do with his life.

Harry is almost literally offbeat: The movie has unexpected rhythms-one scene will bump along until it begins to seem improvised; the next will cut off before it seems finished. Filmed in black and white by Robert M. Young, who went on to direct movies such as Dominick & Eugene and Short Eyes, Harry is a marvelous time capsule of ’50s New York, with vivid scenes filmed in barbershops, subway stations — even a dog obedience class.

The Plot Against Harry is a gentle comedy — it doesn’t have conventional jokes or big laughs; its humor derives from the deadpan face of Priest, whose sleepy-eyed stoicism crosses Buster Keaton with Lenny Bruce. B+

American Playhouse: The Plot Against Harry
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