Created by Zale R. Dalen
“He’ll be sure you pay–one way or another!”
— tagline on the VHS edition
Hey! Did I just dream this?
JOHN COLLINS is the low-key, taciturn debt collector “hero” of Skip Tracer, a bleak, decidedly non-glamourous, low-budget Canadian character study released in 1977.
Make no mistake–Collins is no goody two-shoes. In fact, he’s a cold, heartless son of a bitch.
Or maybe just an asshole, as a commenter on IMDB put it.
But however you put it, it’s that trait that has made him the top skip tracer for GSC, a Vancouver loan company.
In the course of this fragmented and episodic little gem, Collins must deal with an ambitious young associate, viscious death threats, physical violence, and a suicidal debtor, not to mention severe job burnout. All this while vying for GSC’s coveted “Man of the Year” award for an unprecedented fourth year in a row. And discovering that maybe, just maybe, he is human after all.
Yeah, it sounds like a downer.
And it is.
But oh, what a downer!
This is noir boiled down to its essence. No fedoras, no fancy lighting tricks, no smoke machines, no jaw-dropping camera work–just a bleak, no-frills x-ray of a man’s soul as he circles the drain.
Despite it’s obscurity (it did very little box office during its short theatrical release in Canada–no surprise–and it aired maybe twice on British television back in the early eighties), it continues to rate highly among those lucky few who have seen it. David Peterson’s performance as Collins has been praised as being “wonderfully sustained,” and the film itself has been compared to everything from Across 110th Street and Superfly to On the Waterfront and, of course, Repo Man, while Collins’ obsession with tracking down and collecting from one elusive skip has been likened–I shit thee not–to Ahab’s quest in Moby Dick.
Not bad for a cheap little flick that hardly anyone saw.
It’s too bad it’s not available on DVD. I saw it years and years ago on VHS, retitled “Deadly Business,” and boasting a butt-ugly cover more suitable for a cheesy pulp paperback fromm the fifties, sporting an equally cheesy tagline completely at odds with the quietly subversive film it was wrapped around. I rented it from some hole-in-the-wall Montreal video store back in the mid-eighties that seemed to have a lot of videos of dubious provenance and variable quality. Yet it’s haunted me ever since.
Was the film itself as cheap-looking and charm-free as I remember it? Was it as unapologetically morose and bleak as I recall? As creepy and unsettling? I’m almost afraid to find out, but I’d really love to know.
Alas, as far as anyone can tell, the film was never released on DVD or Blu-Ray, and it’s unlikely to show up anywhere anytime soon.
- “A remarkable study of a debt collector’s lonely life in Vancouver and how he comes to hate himself and his work.”
— Gerald Pratley, director of the Ontario Film Institute, who counted the film as one of the ten best Canadian films ever made in The First Original Unexpurgated Canadian Book of Lists.
- SKIP TRACER | Buy the VHS | Watch it now!
(aka “Deadly Business”)
(1977, Highlight Productions)
Written by Zale R. Dalen
Directed by Zale R. Dalen
Produced by Laura Dalen
Musical Director: J. Douglas Dodd
Starring David Peterson as JOHN COLLINS
Also starring John Lazurus, Rudy Szabo, Mike Grigg, Al Rose, Sue Astley, Jack Leaf, Steve Miller, John Scott
- Vancouver and Beautiful British Columbia
Private Eyes of the West Coast
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.