There are good things in FINDERS KEEPERS (1984), Richard Lester’s penultimate fiction feature (there are good things in RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS too, but it’s overshadowed by tragedy on one side and its illustrious predecessors on the other). Lester has said that FK was the only movie he made as a hired gun, making it in theory even less personal than the SUPERMAN films, which he nevertheless managed to imbue with a lot of his personal style and attitude. In fact, FINDERS KEEPERS being a knockabout farce, on the surface it’s closer to classic Lester.
Michael O’Keefe and Lou Gossett play con artists, Beverley D’Angelo plays a potty-mouthed actress. The plot revolves around a coffin full of cash and there’s lots of action on trains, chases and other opportunities for the Buster Keaton influence to show itself, assisted by the flat landscapes and Lester’s planimetric, architectural framing (“That’s my thing.”)
Lester inherited the project from a friend, along with some of the cast, but he was able to drop a few friends into the proceedings — Brian Dennehy and John Schuck return from BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS and Pamela Stephenson breezes in fresh from SUPERMAN III. Ed Lauter’s bad guy is a stand-out — he’s a vengeful ex-accomplice, making his part of the film like a comic take on Peckinpah’s THE GETAWAY. Dennehy, playing a corrupt sheriff, is my other favourite — he’s a smart crooked man with a dumb family, and his seething fury at his lot in life and his chuckleheaded clan is pretty funny. His flaky daughter is played with wondrous tall awkwardness by Barbara Kermode, in her only film role. “Did you forget to take your anti-crazy pills?” asks Dennehy wearily, at her latest eccentric outpouring. This is a line you CAN use with your loved ones, I’ve found, but only if you’re sure you can get away with it. I told Lester when I met him earlier this year that I greatly enjoyed Kermode’s perf. “She was a local girl we found on location,” he said, slightly amazed. He also said that he hadn’t seen the film since making it. (It never played Edinburgh and I’ve only seen it on VHS. There’s never been a DVD.)
Barbara Kermode, you are a STAR!
Oh, and one other cast member deserves mention. It’s his first movie, and he’s playing Lane Biddlecoff, Dennehy’s dumbest nephew. Here he is ~
The kid is good, but Barbara Kermode really ought to have had his career.
At the climax of the film, Lauter kidnaps D’Angelo and hides out in an empty house. When they awaken next day, the house is in motion — being dragged across country by a truck, like the church in DELIVERANCE. D’Angelo becomes hysterical and starts screaming and Lauter, lacking any ready-made gag, in desperation rips off his toupee and stuffs it in her mouth, a grotesque but, too me, very funny act. Lester, who went bald at 19 and found it helped him get taken seriously by older authority figures, could never resist a wig gag, and here, quite literally, is a wig gag.
McKean and Gossett set off to rescue her and get the loot. Spoiler alert — this is the whole ending of the movie —
It displays the film’s strengths, I think — some genuinely clever visual gags, perfectly framed, and some rambunctiously stupid ones — and its weaknesses, which for me include Ken Thorne’s score. Thorne had been a regular collaborator and his Kurt Weill-influenced soundtrack for THE BED SITTING ROOM is marvelous. He got an Oscar for arranging and scoring A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (that chase scene scoring!). Here he seems out of his element. The selection of pop songs and their placement isn’t everything I’d like it to be either, suggesting that it was no longer something Lester felt completely at home with.
But the last shot — very Keaton, and specifically THE BLACKSMITH. There’s an elegiac quality which has nothing to do with the story but fits in very well with the film’s place at the twilight of the director’s career.