Made in MTL: The Pyx

Alex Rose’s Made in MTL series, exploring films from the vaults shot and/or set in Montreal, launches with this analysis of The Pyx, a 1973 cop thriller starring Christopher Plummer, Karen Black and various local notables.

Alex Rose’s Made in MTL is a series exploring films from the vaults shot and/or set in Montreal.

The Film: The Pyx (1973)

Does Montreal play itself?: Yes — stretches of it are even in unsubtitled French, and Senneville hometown hero Christopher Plummer goes ahead and delivers a couple of lines of Québécois dialogue despite playing the hard-ass anglo half of the central cop pair.

Notable local talent: Donald Pilon plays Plummer’s partner, taking over the gallivanting horndog role usually filled by his brother Daniel. Local actor/senator/former Lieutenant Governor/current very old dude Jean-Louis Roux plays a cult leader, and Minou Petrowski, local film journalist/mother of Natalie is, for some reason, credited as the location manager.

Most egregious local landmark: It opens with a helicopter shot of the cross on the mountain. Any more egregious and they’d be flying the helicopter through a Schwartz’s brisket shaped like René Levesque.

A hooker (Karen Black, as screechy and over-the-top as ever) falls to her death from the 20th floor of an apartment building at Côte Ste-Catherine and Nelson; cops Henderson (Plummer) and Paquette (Pilon) are on the case immediately. Through their investigation (and long, uninvolving flashback scenes), they uncover the sad life of a troubled junkie with enormous demons that led her away from her boyfriend (former Expos colour commentator Terry Haig) and into the arms of a nefarious South Shore cult led by Roux and his terrifying ascot.

Also released under the significantly trashier and more appealing title of The Hooker Cult Murders, The Pyx  is pretty distinctly separated into two narratives halves of greatly varying quality. The scenes with Plummer and his ongoing, proto-Law & Order investigation are taut and engaging, thanks in part to Plummer’s brooding performance. The scenes with Black going apeshit somewhere or other, or dreaming of horseback riding while she shoots heroin (all of it scored to plinky-plonky folk songs sung by none other than Karen Black herself), on the other hand, are more laborious. Thanks to the back-and-forth structure of the film, suspense is kept to a minimum, and the twists and turns are pretty rote.

Created in the confused days before Canada became a tax shelter, The Pyx mixes dime-novel pulp with headier themes in a not particularly successful way. It’s watchable in the same way that the myriad investigative cop shows currently on the air are watchable, but slower and more prone to montages set to Black’s warbling. Plummer brings a giant dose of class to the film (not exactly surprising), but it remains stuck firmly between its grimy roots and its desire to be something a little more cerebral.

As a Montreal film, however, it’s a fascinating (and surprisingly accurate) snapshot. Although it doesn’t use that many locations (mostly Outremont and a couple of empty lots in pre-gentrification Griffintown), it lets its actors speak with their thick francophone accents and uses actual references to geographical places. The print showcased on the incredibly muddy, crappy public-domain DVD currently available does the vintage Montreal feel no favours, though.

Although The Pyx is a justifiably forgotten B-grade bit of nonsense that offers nothing you can’t get from the much superior Blazing Magnum, it nonetheless deserves a tiny spot in history for showing a proto-Bon Cop Bad Cop duo that actually doesn’t get political… and Christopher Plummer shaking down prostitutes in impeccable joual. ■

The Pyx can be viewed online here.

Alex Rose blogs and podcasts about movies at Why Does it Exist? @whydoesitblog on Twitter.



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