Paperback Hero Peter Pearson

This year’s Canadian Open Vault is a 1973 curio with Keir Dullea, star of 2001, and those accustomed to his austere performance there are in for a rude shock. The defiantly shaggy movie features him as Rick "Marshall” Dillon, a small-town Saskatchewan ne’er-do-well who is content to drink, screw and be the star of the local hockey team. That hockey gig is where he gets most of his cachet and he’s happy to freeload off of it, though the man is having trouble with sometime girlfriend Loretta (Elizabeth Ashley) and college-educated woman-on-the-side Joanna (Dayle Haddon). There’s obviously something going on when a Canadian movie uses such American iconography for its protagonist’s identity and sure enough, irony rears its head when the hockey team folds and Dillon is wrenched from the hero role that makes his self-image possible. There’s a modicum of complexity, as we both sympathise with Dillon’s plight and chide him for being such an unregenerate prick, but mostly the film is an amiably clumsy rampage across a small prairie town as we watch the decline and fall of a narcissist. I can’t say that the film is a rousing success, but as CanCon it’s probably essential, and I must admit getting an illicit thrill hearing the outdated Canadian slang and seeing a fecund rural sensibility that our country hasn’t been linked to in years. It’s markedly similar to the roughly contemporaneous (and largely superior) The Rowdyman, and the two films form a diptych of wasted youth turned head-in-the-sand adulthood that would be a great topic for a Canadian Studies term paper. It’s not perfect, but it’s an interesting time capsule nonetheless. (Toronto International Film Festival Group)