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Extraordinary (& unorthodox) Western!
eltroll15 April 2005
This really is a masterpiece of film - and, unfortunately, largely unknown to the greater film-watching public in the United States. It is beautiful to watch, to listen to (with its soundtrack including both original work by award-winning composer Michael Conway Baker, of Canada, and the Chieftains), and to examine as a chronicle of the period that concluded the Wild West's grasp on the 19th Century and its reach for the 20th.

Bill Miner, the "Gentleman Bandit," was a historical figure whose long prison term for stagecoach robbery left him entirely unprepared (vocationally) for his release back into society - a society that was now devoid of stagecoaches, and beginning to discover the wonders of motorcars and moving pictures.

The 29-year-old director, Phillip Borsos (1953-1995), made this film tribute to the last outlaw of the Wild West and to the region that he lived in. While others might have gone heavy-handed and clichéd in such a production, Borsos' eye and ear both figure significantly in the film's direction, and its numerous examples of originality:

  • a senior citizen star (the late Richard Farnsworth - whose Hollywood career had started as a stuntman, in Westerns - playing Bill Miner as a thoughtful and kind gentleman) who even gets to look hunky;

  • a respectful treatment of an early 20th Century feminist (played by Jackie Burroughs);

  • cinematography that highlights the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, rather than some anonymous California desert;

  • a soundtrack that ISN'T Coplandesque (or Morriconesque);

  • a 'cowboy picture' where the hero gets the girl, but doesn't get vulgar or trite or even testosterone-driven; AND

  • an accurate look at the turn-of-the-century a hundred years ago in a landscape that hasn't entirely disappeared. Yet.

I have hummed the music from its tuneful soundtrack since the first time I saw it in its initial U.S. theatrical release, and have wanted to visit Kamloops, BC, ever since. If you can stand movies without gratuitous pyrotechnics or violence, don't let another day go by without checking out this film classic.
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A no-nonsense and credible depiction of a Western outlaw.
Agrippa32821 May 2005
Surely one of the most direct, honest and accurate depictions of life in the "Old West," the Grey Fox does not resort to violence, bluster or machismo to present its story. Instead, the film comes across as a story of a man whose life has gone wrong as the result of carefully thought out and well-reasoned choices, though nevertheless bad choices. This alone is particularly refreshing in a Western movie and makes the film a worthwhile experience.

The late Richard Farnsworth relies on his considerable skills as an actor and makes his character sympathetic and heroic, never losing sight that he is in fact a thief. The costumes, setting, dialog and yes, even the miserable weather are true to the historical period and makes the viewer feel as if they were there alongside the characters in this elegant story.

It's a wonderful film and a visual feast!
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Must Must See. One of the great westerns/films
jcronin-212 July 2004
I think this is one of the most flawless and beautiful movies of all time. The acting and casting is impeccable. What I particularly love is the script; so few words but when something is spoken each line has such weight and impact. And the music is amazing. What a brilliant idea, a western with Celtic (the Chieftains) music. The spirit and emotion of the music enhances every scene and is so fresh and unexpected and ultimately, right. And it's such a wonderful love story. Normally I wouldn't care about a romance between two older characters, but I root for these two characters in each and every scene. Richard Farnsworth was nominated for Best Actor and it is a shame he didn't win. Please, watch it if you haven't.
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The Best Movie Ever
quikzander30 January 2006
This is the only movie I have ever purchased. There are so many awesome things about this movie. The plot is unusual. The characters are originals. The music by the Chieftains is rich and adds so much to the movie itself. The photography of the Canadian countryside is outstanding. Be sure to notice the little boy who wants an orange. You will see him again. I love the Canadian small town settings. Best of all is just watching Richard Farnsworth. His character is so appealing. Mr Farnsworth is so natural that he doesn't appear to be acting at all. I just love this movie. It is my all time favorite. The combination of the unusual characters, the time and place, the appealing Mr. Farnsworth, along with music by the Chieftains creates a very special movie.
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Farnsworth: A Great Choice For The Role
ccthemovieman-12 November 2005
What's not to like about Richard Farnsworth? He was one of the few actors that received nothing but compliments during his acting days, an extremely likable "old man." Hey, few people every remember seeing this guy as anything but old, since he spent his younger days as a stuntman, rather than as an actor.

So, he was a very good choice to portray a likable thief: Bill Miner, the last of the stagecoach and train robbers. "The Gentleman Bandit," I believe, was his label. This is a nice low-key adventure, with almost no bad language and the British Columbia and Washington state scenery is absolutely gorgeous. It would look great on widescreen DVD. What's the holdup? (pun intended)

The only bad news of this tale is the usual filmmakers' twisted message to root for a man who simply was a crook, nothing else. The film also - especially to get the younger audience - needs more action. It will be too slow for them, but I liked it, if for no other reason that I can listen to Farnsworth's voice all night. What a "cool" guy he was, and it''s always a pleasure to see him on screen.
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Real people, real situations, real... everything
c38200020 February 2006
No soap-opera writing. No clothes-tearing, overblown, wa-a-ay-too-dramatic acting. No smart-mouthed kids. No adam sandler. No *Pop Personalities*. No *SPECIAL EFFECTS*. No ad placement. No pre-digested, pre-ordained, pre-viewed politically-correct plot that everyone has seen at least 1000 times.

Grey Fox has much more than anyone expects to see in modern movies. Unknown actors (who REALLY KNOW how to act); spectacular photography; a REAL story line about REAL people.

You will be excited, hopeful, sad. You will weep. What more would you want in a motion picture?
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An undiscovered gem of a movie
dondutton4 July 2005
Bill Miner, the "Gentleman Robber" robbed stages and trains from Arizona to British Columbia. This is a beautifully photographed and lyrical telling of his later career, fighting the law and the law winning.... for a while at least. Richard Farnsworth handed in a great and totally credible performance as the laid back but cunning Miner and his love affair with most interesting woman in Kamloops. All the characters are the real thing... no Hollywood veneer here. Great pace and photography- get it with John Sayles' Matewan and have an authentic trip back into time. Its' a pity that Phillip Borsos didn't live long enough to put out a few more of these.
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Truly a masterpiece
mypoorjeep6 January 2008
After watching this movie for the first time I was spellbound by this story, and every year or two I have to rent it again. Reflections of an elderly man upon his mis-spent youth, yet, seems doomed to resume his criminal past despite having just finished a long prison sentence. The rugged Canadian scenery and quaint small towns are as spellbinding as the story, and are enhanced by the wonderful music of the Chieftans. The time period is beautifully, and accurately depicted, and adds to the allure of a very well told story.I would recommend this movie to anyone that likes a good western. The violence is not overdone and serves to remind us that there is nothing romantic about a life of crime.
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It's been released on DVD but...
skennedy-971-94000311 January 2018
There is a DVD PAL version available from the German manufacturer Schroder Media. Unfortunately the print they made it from appears to be a much-played 16mm print, complete with scratched-in cue marks, dust, grime, and the unsteadiest telecine work this side of Frankfurt. The footage itself is so de-saturated it looks like someone left the print out in sunlight. And the art work of the cover features a painting of a bunch of cowboys a' whoopin' n' hollarin' through town - but certainly doesn't come from this film. Save yourself the money and disappointment, and wait until Zoetrope Studios solves whatever copyright problems may be buzzing around it, and gives us a decent, ideally blu-ray, version of the film. And there's a "Making Of..." doc kicking around Vancouver somewhere.
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Title role in The Grey Fox is one of Richard Farnsworth's most compelling
tavm26 July 2008
When Richard Farnsworth died a few years ago, among the films cited were his Oscar-nominated roles in Comes a Horseman and The Straight Story, and his supporting roles in hits like The Natural and Misery. The Grey Fox rarely got a mention which is a shame because it's one of Mr. Farnsworth's most compelling as we follow his portrayal of the real-life stagecoach robber Bill Miner after being freed from jail and his attempts in living a straight life with his sister and her husband. But times have changed the last 33 years and so in the early 20th century, Miner goes back to his old habits and robs trains (he got the inspiration watching The Great Train Robbery), then poses as George Edwards in a British Columbia town with his cohorts in tow. He also later falls for a feminist who takes pictures...I'll stop there and say while Miner does bad things, he gets some admiration for the gentlemanly way he does them, hence his "gentleman bandit" moniker. If you're interested in western rarities and are a fan of Farnsworth, I highly recommend The Grey Fox.
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Elegy for a train robber
moonspinner552 October 2016
In the early 1900s, former stagecoach robber Bill Miner is released from San Quentin prison after 33 years and goes to live with his sister in Washington state; having no interest in manual labor, the now-elderly Miner turns to robbing the Northern Pacific Railroad. Critically-lauded historical drama from Zoetrope and United Artists Classics played the art-house circuit in 1983 and has slowly garnered a sterling reputation. Documentary filmmaker Phillip Borsos has directed the picture intelligently but not fluidly--or perhaps it's the editing or John Hunter's screenplay that leaves the narrative seeming like a connect-the-dots job. The film doesn't sweep the audience up or give it a rush; the train robbery sequences themselves are the weakest sections of the movie. Many of the supporting actors are ill-cast, not looking or sounding like boom town residents of the period, while a relationship between Miner and a lady suffragette doesn't have the blooming quality needed to flesh out the central character (why is he drawn specifically to her as opposed to the other women in town?). Borsos' work is careful and sensitive without being plodding (a plus); yet, aside from the handsome cinematography, the only reason to see the film is Richard Farnsworth as Miner. Farnsworth, who worked for years in Hollywood as a stuntman and supporting actor, finally got a starring role here, and he doesn't disappoint. Farnsworth doesn't turn Miner into a wily eccentric, as some might expect, with high-flown talk or eyes ablaze; instead, he's a confident and deep-thinking gentleman bandit who speaks in polite, even tones, his measured responses precise (when he talks--you listen, because you know he doesn't waste his words). Farnsworth also manages to show heart and depth in his wordless close-ups, so full-bodied is his performance, and it's a pleasure reading the thoughts in his weathered face. ** from ****
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Pursuit of a sympathetic train robber .....................
merklekranz2 November 2010
"The Grey Fox" is a very likable character, who just happens to rob trains. Richard Farnsworth plays the gentleman bandit who after serving 33 years in prison for stagecoach robbery, easily converts his talents to robbing trains upon release. Eventually fleeing across the Canadian border from Washington State, he tries to blend into a small mining town. Being an enthusiastic teller of tall tales, he is thoroughly convincing in his new life. The Pinkertons somehow track him down, and once again "The Grey Fox" is on the run. Though enjoyable, the movie is not without fault. The editing seems extremely abrupt, as if the film was originally much longer, and has been severely chopped. Another drawback is the EP VHS from "Video Treasures" in no way does justice to the magnificent Canadian scenery. - MERK
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One of the best westerns in the last 30 years
zpzjones12 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This IMHO is the best western movie to come out after Josey Wales and before Pale Rider. It's even much better than that much lauded Dance With Wolves. This is a sort of low key Canadian made movie and it offered Farnsworth arguably his best role as star. The story concerns one Bill Miner, a train robber, since the the Civil War days. He's been locked up in prison since 1868 and is released from prison in 1901 just in time to be delivered into the 20th century. Bill is thrilled and awed by what he sees in 1901. The first motorcars, the earliest motion pictures, the phonograph. They all tell of the future. Although a robber and convict, Bill is a soft hearted guy perhaps mellowed with age and the years spent in prison. But he can still take care of himself such as one scene in a barroom when a bully tries to threaten him and Bill breaks a large bottle over the thugs head and then pointing the muzzle of his revolver in the thugs face. Unable to make ends meet financially he meets with a loser criminal named Shorty and they get into robbing trains and stealing again. Bill & Shorty go into hiding and the Pinkerton detectives are hot on their trail. Shorty & Bill are caught in the woods after Shorty panics while routinely being searched by the Canadian Mounted Police. Bill however manages to escape and goes on the lam. He later meets up with a woman who is an opera & arts enthusiast named Kate(Jackie Burroughs). She plays some Caruso on her phonograph while painting outdoors. She and Bill become lovers. Another person Bill befriends is a young rookie Police Sergeant. The young man, new to his job, tells Bill that the whole town is after Bill Miner. The only thing is that the sergeant doesn't recognize Miner & the older guy he has befriended as being one and the same. Great character study here. Finally, Bill is caught by those unceasing Pinkerton detectives and is led to the train station and to jail in a flamboyant manner for the whole town to see. This scene harks back to those seen in the old time westerns even as far back as to silent film westerns. At the end of the movie, actually behind the rolling of the credits, we see & read that Bill has gone missing or has escaped out of prison as of 1907. We're left wondering if Bill died in the Canadian Wilderness or somehow made it to Europe on the arm of an attractive lady. Quite possibly his lover Kate. Great Story. Nicely shot
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a mini masterpiece
rorybiggadike1 January 2011
It's hard to add to the praise of this film others have already stated. A beautifully paced mix of poignancy and action plus a belated realization of reality by a hero from 'another age'. The 'Western' genre the actors and direction and the entire movie production shows film goers is so different and so compelling it shows up the Sergio Leone 'blockbusters' as merely comic book fantasy stories. Maybe because of the films Canadian connection it was never widely accepted as a genuine' western' in the US and consequently received little publicity. Don't be misled.... if you can get a copy you will find an absolute treasure. Why it was never released on DVD is quite astonishing.
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Great film, but do the math...
johnce27 July 2003
This is a well-acted, well-produced film about a nineteenth century stagecoach robber forced to adapt himself to the dawn of the twentieth century. But am I the only one who has trouble with the math at the beginning of the film? We're told Bill Miner committed his first robbery in 1863 at age 16, committed 26 more robberies in the next 18 years, then served 33 years in San Quentin and was released in 1901. That just doesn't work. If the first two statements are true, he went to prison in 1881 and served 20 years before his release. If the last statement is true, he went to prison in 1868 after only a five year career as a robber. The real Bill Miner was born in 1847, committed his first robbery in 1866 at age 19 and spent most of the rest of his life serving various prison sentences (including a 21-year stint from 1881-1902), punctuated by daring but frequently unsuccessful robberies. Liberties must be taken with the facts to make a good movie, but there's no good reason for not using the factual dates in this case. Richard Farnsworth is perfectly cast as the "Gentleman Outlaw," the dark and misty environment of the film works perfectly, and the transitional period of the turn of the century is one of the most fascinating eras. Bill Miner was a complex and controversial figure, more interesting in many ways than better known outlaws like Jesse James or Billy the Kid.
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A great period piece about the Northwest at the turn of the century
stevehaas29 October 2002
Many would consider this movie to be slow moving, and I couldn't argue with the judgment, but it is this flow which makes this movie for me, and makes it believable. Bill Miner is not a lovable character, he is very human. He knows how to do one thing, he does it well, and he realizes that this occupation is his life. He is willing to sacrifice everything for this, and he almost does.
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Not really a Western, but it's a darned good ride!
AnnieLola23 December 2016
I hadn't seen this since it was first out in theaters, so all I remembered was that it was very good indeed! Well, that, and the beautiful Pacific Northwest and Farnsworth's charm. It was released by Video Treasures in '88; it's interesting that this same VHS edition is still apparently the only video available, and I don't recall seeing it in the TV listings, though it may well have been aired. Anyway, I got a good deal on a slightly used copy on eBay and settled in to view it. For a nearly 30-year- old VHS tape this copy has held up well and is watchable, despite the fact that the nice folks at Video Treasures were a bit too thrifty with tape and put it out at LP speed-- very unusual, and completely baffling to our more advanced VCR. In fact we couldn't get a picture at all until we switched to an older unit that could resolve the tracking. The visual quality isn't too bad, considering (at least on a small screen)-- though let me add my voice to the chorus of DVD voters. Also the original festival runtime of 110 minutes has been whittled down to a stated 92, and without the leader, FBI warning and tracking frame it's even less. So what are we missing?

I wouldn't really call this a Western, since the Far West was never quite like the Old West; the picture is just set in old times away from the big cities. No one wears a cowboy hat. You'll find no cheap thrills, no gratuitous gore or gross-outs, no glamorization of Miner's career. The robberies aren't shown as lighthearted capers, just realistically uncomfortable --and sometimes unsuccessful-- crimes, committed with the aid of a couple of pathetic losers the Gentleman Bandit managed to recruit. The man had a degree of charm and persuasion that made him a folk hero, and Farnsworth is so likable in the role that one can readily understand Miner's popularity. While he was no altruistic Robin Hood (in fact he was a definite sociopath, and his handwriting reveals an extreme degree of narcissism), later in his career he gained much of his popularity through having robbed wealthy companies that were perceived as themselves robbing the public.

In 1992 a book about him came out: "The Grey Fox: the True Story of Bill Miner, Last of the Old Time Bandits" by Boessenecker and Dugan. It's always nice to get the documented facts, and this supplies plenty. One prominent fact is that Miner was bisexual. For a man who spent half his life in prison it was pretty much a necessity to be with men while inside; he seems to have mostly kept to women when out, though he was known to recruit young accomplices by seduction. Probably any film treatment nowadays would include some of this to portray him more accurately, but "The Grey Fox" only focuses on his doings after his final release from San Quentin (almost 20 years for this stretch; he'd been in before).

He did in fact escape from the Canadian prison-- a few days after convincing the deputy warden's daughter that he sincerely regretted his past acts and was content to end his days in prison, as a humble penitent. No romance was ever suggested here, but it definitely demonstrates his colossal nerve and ability to feign sincerity. He did live it up on his booty, and it was in Denver that he had what appears to be his last romance with a lady-- Bill was a charmer at any age! And he never changed his ways, so once the money ran out he got into fresh trouble, this time in the South, where in 1911 he received his final conviction. It somewhat spoils the fun of the movie's ending to learn that Miner, still well-liked, died in a Georgia prison in 1913 after two escapes and recaptures. Perhaps most of us are better off not knowing about that...
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"You're not worth killing."
SteveSkafte25 September 2012
It's hard to describe the weight of silence. The early 1980s was a strong time for that feeling on film. Frank Tidy's cinematography here is somewhat reminiscent of what he did on Ridley Scott's "The Duellists". It's a world where the most meaningful things seem to happen on foggy mornings, during rain storms, and on cloudy days. It's a very dark film, this one. Not so much for its content, but for its visuals. It's muddy, damp, and late in the season.

The story itself is full of hope and longing. Everywhere you turn, there is sadness and joy, and the grand dark feeling of emptiness that fills a late Autumn day. Richard Farnsworth creates a character with a pained and gentle humanity. Bill Miner isn't some angry old man. He's the most calm and collected individual in any given scene. It's a depiction with far more truth and beauty than you would ever expect in the story of a train robber. Farnsworth got far too few chances at a stunning starring role, but this may be the best he ever had. He's something of a wonder to behold. Most of the other performances are adequate, but unspectacular. Jackie Burroughs stands out, though. She is deeply alive and engaged throughout.

Phillip Borsos never really got the chance to direct a film this good again, but his grasp of atmosphere turned "The Mean Season" and "Bethune" into something much better than they would have been in the hands of most. What he did here, at the age of 27, is both admirable and life-changing. The depth of understanding he displays about the human race is valuable, and I'm well-pleased to have had the chance to experience it.
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a leisurely crime spree
SnoopyStyle23 February 2021
Bill Miner (Richard Farnsworth) is a 19th century stagecoach robber known as The Gentleman Bandit. After 33 years in San Quentin, he is released in 1901 into the modern world. He tries to go straight but can't escape his own nature. After watching 'The Great Train Robbery', he starts robbing trains and ends up in Canada where he falls in love with photographer Kate Flynn (Jackie Burroughs).

It's a slow leisurely crime spree noted for Farnsworth's congenial nature. The story is a little disjointed. I'd like a smoother flow but the movie is more interested in its easy tone. It ends in a rather fun enjoyable third act. It could have been improved with a better sidekick. A bit of fictionalization could give him an admiring young fan as his companion in crime. That would be a better gang than his actual gang. At last, the movie insists on using the real characters.
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Fiahm20 October 2020
I first heard of The Grey Fox a number of years ago, when I decided to look into some of the films made by Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope film studio - it put out a number of real gems, like The Escape Artist, Kagemusha and Koyaanisqatsi, as well as a bunch that missed the mark a tad, but for some reason I never got round to watching this one till now.

It's the (relatively) true story of the aged stagecoach robber Bill Miner who, released back into a changing world after decades inside in 1901, takes up trainrobbing and finds himself up in Canada, with a new name and a new romance.

This, of course, isn't anything all that new, really just a lesser attempt on the same ideas of Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid and other films with a sprinkling of Unforgiven thrown in. One of its main weaknesses is that it tells too much and doesn't show enough - we don't get to see hardly any of Miner's life, and there are no real action scenes to speak of. On the other hand, there is a great deal of beautiful photography, a heavenly soundtrack of Irish music by The Chieftains, and Richard Farnsworth gently twinkling in the lead role.

It's a small film, that doesn't really add up to all that much in the end, but it's a nice journey all the same, and the (fictionalized?) ending made me smile.
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"Hands Up!"
lavatch27 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Produced under the auspices of Zoetrope Studios in 1982, "The Grey Fox" offers an unforgettable character portray of the real-life Bill "The Gentleman Bandit" Miner. This is a rare instance of a film western that actually strives to recreate the historical West and the gritty people who inhabited it.

Stunt man and character actor Richard Farnsworth is perfect as the historical Bill Miner, who, starting in 1863, robbed stage coaches for eighteen years, then spent thirty-three years incarcerated in San Quentin penitentiary. When he was released on June 17, 1901, he must have felt like Rip Van Winkle in awakening to a new world.

A stroke of genius on the part of the filmmakers was to incorporate footage of Edwin Porter's silent film "The Great Train Robbery." The dawn of the railway era coincided with the time Miner spent in prison. After he serves his time, he is enthralled by the Porter's film that fills him with ideas for adapting his skills to the robbing of trains.

As opposed to focusing on action scenes, the stroke of genius of the filmmakers is to develop extended placid scenes where Miner is hiding out in Canada, laying low after one of his train robberies. In a small community outside of Calgary, Miner becomes a fixture in the town and even strikes up a romantic relationship with a liberated woman, photographer Kate Flynn.

Of the many detailed portraits of small characters, one of the most memorable is that of the local Mountie, who takes a liking to Miner and even shields him from the authorities, including the Jean Valjean of Pinkerton agents stalking Miner from the United States. Another touching relationship is that of a little boy who looks up to Miner and offers him an orange at the time of his arrest at Monte Creek.

The film played loose with the historical facts of Miner's life, especially in the ending. But the greater achievement of the film was to capture a world in transition with an old way of life giving way to modernity.

"I've got ambitions in my that just won't quit," Miner quietly informs his sister before setting off on his new life as a railroad thief. Miner always had a way with words. After all, it was Gentleman Bill Miner who coined the expression "Hands Up!" prior to robbing poor, unsuspecting stagecoach passengers.
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A Leisurely Romantic Western?
ProfessorFate22 November 2012
A very different kind of Western, "The Grey Fox" is set mostly in Canada, moves at an unhurried pace, and stars a senior citizen. Richard Farnsworth didn't make the jump from stunt man to actor until he was well past leading man age, but he was wonderful in films like "The Natural", "Misery", and "The Straight Story". This, however, has to be his best performance. He exudes subtle grace as gentleman train robber Bill Miner, who gets out of prison and is forced to adapt to a world that has passed him by. There's also a very sweet romance between Miner and a feminist photographer. My favorite part of the film is a montage of their courtship set to Miner singing "Betsy From Pike". I also loved the Irish music by the Chieftains, which seemed to fit perfectly with the lovely Canadian scenery. It will be too slow for most audiences, but if you love small independent films that don't pander to teenage moviegoers, this gem will be right up your alley.
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So Slow
jasarthur10 January 2008
More of an art film than a western. I bought this partly for the soundtrack, which the Ebay seller claimed was by the Chieftains, my favorite Celtic music group. It had one song by the Chieftains, which I already owned on compact disc, and it was repeated three or four times throughout the movie. Of course I was very disappointed. And the terribly slow pace of the action, made even less bearable by Alvin Straight, I mean Richard Farnsworth's John-Deere-at-top-speed acting, nearly put me to sleep. Good film for a rainy day. If you nod off, you won't miss much. Apart from that, it's a dark, sepia-toned movie sure to depress. This was billed online as a rare treat and hard to find. Well, you can find the copy I donated to the Brentwood Public Library.
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Richard Had Gravitas
OracyMovie19 February 2004
Yeah, I agree that shooting the guard was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. But what the hell, he deserved it for being so anal. We are not really worried about the Hollywood spin - - we're not gonna' call up the guy's family. It's just movie BS. I love it. I also think he was dead right to threaten the guy's life and so on. That made my day. He stood up for Shorty, and that's what counts. Don't sell Shorty short. Great movie. Don't expect Christian charity.
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