The Grey Fox
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 91 min
Mercury Films Inc.,
Grey Fox Pictures Inc.
After spending thirty-three years in California’s San Quentin State Prison, the infamous – and now very elderly – American stagecoach robber Bill Miner (Richard Farnsworth) is released into the early years of the twentieth century. He moves to Washington State where he lives with his sister and earns a living picking oysters. After seeing Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery, Miner decides to take up robbing trains. After a couple of false starts, he finally meets with success, then crosses the border into Canada with his loot.
Going by the name George Edwards, Miner hides out in the mining town of Kamloops, British Columbia, where he passes as a prospector and establishes himself as a solid citizen by doing some horse rustling and befriending Sergeant Fernie (Timothy Webber), the local North West Mounted Police officer. Miner is pursued by an American detective from the Pinkerton agency (Gary Reineke) who is suspicious of him, but the detective’s efforts are foiled by Fernie’s reluctance to cooperate with an American.
Miner meets and falls in love with Kate Flynn (Jackie Burroughs), a radical feminist and photographer. Their relationship makes him consider changing his ways, but before moving east with her, he decides to rob one more train. He and his partner Shorty (Wayne Robson) are captured by the NWMP and, after one hung jury, they are convicted and sent to prison.
Phillip Borsos’s first feature marked the emergence of a major new talent. The Grey Fox is arguably the most successful feature film debut in the history of Canadian cinema. It was widely praised by Canadian and American critics and won seven Genie Awards (including those for best film, best director and best supporting actress). More than two million viewers tuned in for the film’s first broadcast on the CBC. Farnsworth (who won a Genie for best foreign actor) gives a terrific performance as the gentlemanly bandit.
A mythic vision of the “peaceable kingdom” of the Canadian West, the film also offers revisionist commentary on the mythology of the Hollywood Western and its heroes while staying remarkably faithful to the source material: the film is based upon the true story of American train robber Bill Miner, who staged Canada’s first-ever train robbery. Much of the film’s dialogue is verbatim, taken from court transcripts and testimonies of the time; most of the locations used are those where the actual events took place; costumes were scrupulously recreated; the gun used in the film was Miner’s own.
The Grey Fox was identified as “a culturally significant film” by the AV Preservation Trust through the 2001 Masterworks programme, and was re-released in the winter of 2002 by the Toronto International Film Festival Group®’s Film Circuit.