Download:: Robbie Coltrane: "Ticket Seller"
When considering the career of Robbie Coltrane, I think it’s fairly safe to say that for most people one of two projects come to mind first: his role as the gentle giant Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, or his part as the title character of the BBC detective series, Cracker. That’s all well and good, but I’d like to talk about the first time I encountered Robbie Coltrane.
I’m here to talk to you about a movie that almost no critic liked and almost no one saw (they were wrong, and their loss): the degenerate gambler horse racing comedy, Let It Ride. Directed by Joe Pytka (later of Space Jam fame/infamy?), and starring Richard Dreyfuss as a loser on a hot streak, Let It Ride came and went quickly through theaters in 1989. To say it deserved better is a massive understatement. Dreyfuss was on a bit of a hot streak himself at the time, coming off of a triptych of successes (Stakeout, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and Tin Men), regaining some of his ‘70s heat. Let It Ride is Richard Dreyfuss turned up to a Dreyfuss 11. It may be the most Richard Dreyfuss Richard Dreyfuss performance ever—the cackle, the manic energy, the swoony-eyed dreamer—Dreyfuss is in full effect here, and it’s wonderful.
Dreyfuss plays Jay Trotter, an underwater gambler who owes money to just about everyone in shouting distance, and who, just once, wants to be king for a day. And who is selling this would-be king his betting tickets? None other than Robbie Coltrane, who is quite literally billed as “Ticket Seller.”
Coltrane has ten scenes, but less than eight minutes of screen time (yes, I did the math). Let It Ride is a movie about a loser (and the losers who surround him) who wins big. To put it mildly, the film has an eclectic cast. Here you will find Jennifer Tilly, David Johansen (of the New York Dolls), Michelle Phillips (of the Mamas and the Papas), a very young Cynthia Nixon, and Terri Garr, but the performance that cheered me most was that of Robbie Coltrane.
Despite his relative dearth of screen time, Coltrane represents the arc of the film. He is the cynical ticket booth man who has been at his job for far too long, but on this special day, he’s a part of a miracle—the day the degenerate makes good. Watching Coltrane slowly come to this revelation over his few scant scenes is to marvel at this wonderful actor’s ability to marry wonder with economy.
Over these few short scenes (only two sequences with Coltrane last more than a minute), Coltrane is at first cynical about Jay, as any long-suffering horse track ticket seller would be. But as Jay keeps winning, Coltrane’s clerk can’t help but get caught up in Trotter’s hot streak. He warms to Trotter, and so do we. Over the course of the film, Coltrane goes from beleaguered employee to a member of Trotter’s cheering section. In that way, Coltrane reflects the journey of the audience. In ways both lovely and surprising, he becomes the heart of this sweet little film.
There is a wonderful scene between Dreyfuss and Coltrane where the two stand at the ticket window, share a smoke, and place all of Trotter’s winnings on one horse to win the next race. It’s a foolish bet, but as Trotter says multiple times in the film, “I’m having a very good day.” The two puff on their Lucky Strikes, trade knowing looks, and Coltrane says, “I’ll tell my grandchildren about you.” That line should be corny. Hell, it is corny, but I’ll be damned if Coltrane doesn’t make you believe it.
Coltrane’s final scene lasts all of two seconds, as he watches Trotter’s #2 horse coming around the track, heading for a photo finish. Coltrane’s “Ticket Seller” is praying aloud for one last bit of fairy dust to land on Trotter’s shoulders, just like we are.
Let It Ride may be a tiny film that came and went without notice, but if you take the time to search it out, I think you’ll be cheered by this charming little 90-minute comedy. Like me, you might even learn to adore it. And if you do see it, take note of what Coltrane is doing with what could have been a throwaway role. With an efficiency that is almost invisible, performed with the slightest sleight of hand, Coltrane grounds this cheerful fable despite being in less than one tenth of it.
I guess you could say Robbie Coltrane was making magic onscreen long before he was hanging with wizards.
Robbie Coltrane died yesterday. He was 72 years old.