Ray Haulihan (Michael Sarrazin) is an inept small-time pickpocket plying his trade in a Seattle train station.
His would-be victim, Sandy Coletto (Trish Van Devere), realises he has lifted her watch and confronts him, but leaves her purse and suitcase unattended while doing so. When those items are stolen (by someone else), Ray feels responsible and offers to pay for her passage out of Seattle – as soon as he fences some loot for the necessary cash.
So begins an offbeat romance, with Ray discovering vulnerability through his affection for Sandy and Sandy discovering a rebellious streak through her affection for Ray.
The duo eventually learns that a veteran thief named Harry (James Coburn) is looking for assistants, so they meet with him and his older associate, Casey (Walter Pidgeon).
Harry is prone to dictatorial declarations, but Ray accepts the humiliating work circumstances because he’s eager to learn from a master. And so Ray and Sandy become “stalls” responsible for distracting victims while Harry – the crew’s “cannon” – makes the “dip” (theft) and immediately deposits the “poke” (loot) into Casey’s hands.
Harry is adamant that he “doesn’t hold” and never keeps stolen goods in his hands for more than a few seconds – which explains why he has never been arrested.
One of the detectives is played by Tony Giorgio, an expert pickpocket who claimed he had never used his skill to make an illegal living and who acted as a technical advisor on the film.
Trish Van Devere
Michael C. Gwynne