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The Under 700 Club: The Gentleman Bandit (1981)
First time on television!
The Under 700 Club: Reviews in under 700 words for movies with less than 700 logs on Letterboxd (log count as of this publication: 18)
When I was a kid, staying with my grandparents in the summertime, my grandma and I had a daily ritual: lunch (maybe some Spam and cheese sandwiches), an episode of The Waltons at noon, and then naps on her blue and white checkered couches.
As a result, I grew quite a fondness for The Waltons. And as readers of this site may know (since I wrote about it in March), my grandmother passed a few months ago. I've wanted to revisit Walton's Mountain, but I've been afraid to actually watch the show for fear of an emotional swell.
The plan: watch other movies and shows with those actors instead. Tickets have been purchased for the To Kill a Mockingbird National Tour with Richard Thomas and I've been looking for other options as well.
Always on the hunt for hidden gems for this column, I stumbled upon The Gentleman Bandit, a 1981 tv movie starring Ralph Waite - Daddy Walton! The problem? It's damn near lost media, basically impossible to find other than the occasionally outrageously-priced VHS tape. I asked around in the back-alleys of the internet and would like to thank a will-go-unnamed good samaritan who tracked it down for me.
So that's over 200 valuable words on why I watched this movie, so what is it? How was it?
The Gentleman Bandit follows Reverend Pagano (Waite), a priest working in the Maryland-Delaware area. When a series of crimes are committed by a gentleman wearing a hat and coat that suspiciously look like those worn by the Father, all evidence points towards him, from his need for money to his hat and coat to witness identification. He says he's innocent - but is he?
He hires a young Jewish lawyer (Broadway director Jerry Zaks, known for everything from The Music Man to Little Shop of Horrors), the only person foolish enough to take his case, especially considering Pagano doesn't have any money - that's why he's suspicious!
Is he guilty? Well, I would say watch and find out, but it's pretty hard to watch. I won't spoil it regardless, just in case it randomly appears on a Blu-ray docket (unlikely), but the slightly fuzzy tv/VHS rip I watched will keep you guessing until the end. A quick Wikipedia browse will reveal what happened to the real-life inspiration (also named Bernard Pagano), but that's of course no guarantee as to how the movie will turn out. Regardless, it's a neat idea for a movie and courtroom dramas often work well when you have no idea how the hell the guy's gonna get off.
Rounding out the cast you know is Estelle Parsons as a parishioner that believes in Pagano's innocence and raises money through potlucks and fundraisers to pay for his legal defense. The real star is, of course, Ralph Waite, who plays Pagano with a pleasant demeanor, likable and believable. It was nice to see him playing a Walton-adjacent character, a man who knows what good is and tries his hardest to live it. I felt a particular desire to see him get away with it, for obvious reasons.
It was also nice to see him and remember Spam sandwiches and nap-easy couches. Not everyone will feel those feelings if they get the chance to watch The Gentleman Bandit, but it's an interesting watch regardless. Hopefully you can watch it sometime soon. Pair it with a Bloody Mary for Grandma.
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