Being a product of the 1980’s, there are more than a few under the radar gems that always made me smile (for one reason or another) or that kept me entertained. Based on the novel Free Fall by J.D. Reed, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper was one of those titles that I found myself watching on cable (or was it HBO?) repeatedly, never truly understanding it, but enjoying it nonetheless. It’s always been on the back on my mind to revisit, so I sought it out, and low and behold, it’s nearly impossible to find. So I recently purchased a Hungarian Region B DVD for the film (no American disc release has ever occurred, to my knowledge), and despite the fact that the movie was lensed 1.85:1 and then presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio (thus losing visual information), I had to check it out again. The disc transfer looks to have been processed in bowls of urine, which is a shame, because the image looked overly yellow in numerous spots and the cinematography, in general, is consistently eye-catching. As for the movie, it’s exactly as I remembered it being – a raucous, wild, totally crazy little action adventure that took a real man and real situation and turned the entire thing into the equivalent of story you’d tell at a campfire, or an urban legend that takes on a mind of its own.
Released in 1981, the film centers on wild-man aircraft hijacker D. B. Cooper (Treat Williams in a unique role), who made off with $200,000 in 1971 after leaping from the back of a plane over the Pacific Northwest. The script imagines what it would have been like for Cooper to hide out and attempt to evade capture by law enforcement. Jeffrey Alan Fiskin’s incident packed screenplay fictionalized most of what happened during Cooper’s escape, but that doesn’t prevent this offbeat item from being undervalued if a tad obscure; Fiskin’s other scripting credits include Cutter’s Way and Tony Scott’s pulpy thriller Revenge. John Frankenheimer was the film’s original director, and would later denounce the entire production. He was replaced by TV journeyman Buzz Kulik just before shooting began. Then, after the movie was well into production, Kulik was fired, and replaced by final collaborator Roger Spottiswoode, who would be the only director to receive an onscreen credit. The film has an interesting, sort of ramshackle visual aesthetic, heightened by a jaunty, honky-tonk-ish score by James Horner. A sort of lark that would never get made today, the performances by Robert Duvall (as an insurance investigator) and Williams anchor the film with a level of class and conviction, Kathryn Harrold was a total knock-out, and while the overall lightheartedness of the entire endeavor is apparent from frame one, the various action scenes are briskly shot, cut, and executed, especially the opening sequence complete with a real sky-dive done before the era of CGI laziness kicked in.