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THE GREY FOX

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a largely forgotten film that deserves to be seen, and western fans looking for something interesting they haven’t seen before should give it a whirl. Although it earned a VHS release in 2002 it’s never been on DVD, but now Kino Lorber has given it a gorgeous Blu-ray/DVD release, a 4K restoration that captures the gorgeous widescreen cinematography in a way VHS tape never could. My review was published on June 10, 1983, in the Deseret News.

 

“The Grey Fox” is an excellent film that is likely to be overlooked by summer audiences who want razzle-dazzle escapism — but you won’t be able to find anything better to spend your movie dollars on.

 

“The Grey Fox” is the true story of aging outlaw Bill Miner, who has been in prison more than 30 years when he’s released from San Quentin in 1901. His crime? He robbed stagecoaches, making himself something of a legend.

 

But now there are no stagecoaches, and Miner’s more than a little out of step with the industrial revolution. He just can’t seem to settle down and take to civilized life.

 

      

 

Richard Farnsworth, Jackie Burroughs, 'The Grey Fox' (1983)

 

And when he sees his first movie, the silent classic “The Great Train Robbery,” he sees a way to return to his old profession.

 

Train robbing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, however, and Miner, traveling from Washington state to the wilds of untamed Canada, finds his life more than a little complicated by his need to commit crimes.

 

“The Grey Fox” is a simple story, following the minor exploits of a criminal who is decidedly less exciting and charismatic than Butch & Sundance. But the film is told in such a beautiful way that the story and characters almost take a backseat to the visuals.

 

Almost.

 

In the hands of veteran actor Richard Farnsworth (nominated for an Oscar a few years back for his wonderful turn in “Comes a Horseman”), Miner comes alive. He’s a real, flesh-and-blood human being, and though we may not condone his actions, it’s hard not to sympathize with him and come to feel for him.

 

Farnsworth underplays the role and brings charm and warmth to the entire film.

 

      

 

Can robbing trains really be that different from robbing stagecoaches? Richard Farnsworth intends to find out in 'The Grey Fox' (1983).

 

Shot in such a way that every frame looks like an exquisite photograph, the landscapes of British Columbia and the state of Washington are emphasized but never overwhelm the project. In that way, “The Grey Fox” brings to mind “The Black Stallion,” “Days of Heaven” and “Heartland.”

 

Somehow the stunning cinematography is not the least distracting, though it is undeniably mesmerizing, and just adds to an already thoroughly enjoyable picture.

 

The period is captured perfectly, the relationships here are fully drawn and believable, and it’s also good to see a film that portrays an older man with such respect. Fully three-dimensional, completely human, he falls in love, makes mistakes and has regrets.

 

The Irish folk music that occasionally laces the score is a very nice touch and the film never hints that it is an independent film with a modest budget.

 

Rated PG for violence and profanity, “The Grey Fox” is a very satisfying picture, and excellent example of the craft of moviemaking, and another to savor and return to.