The premise of “Farewell to Harry” is just packed with promise: Aspiring young writer returns to his home town determined to finally put his novel on paper, crosses paths with a colorful but self-destructive character who lives in an idled hat factory and hatches a plan to save both his new buddy and the business. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite manage to keep that promise.
Joe Flanigan stars. He hits town, picks up an advance from a publisher, buys an old-fashioned typewriter and sits down to pound out his masterpiece. Only nothing comes. Meanwhile Flanigan narrates the story of Harry Wyle, a local legend of some kind who’d inherited the Hoffstetter factory from his father and run into hard times when people stopped wearing hats around the time JFK was in office. Some in the town recall the grand parties Harry was famous for throwing in better days and assume he moved away long ago. Others suppose him dead. Others still claim his ghost walks the hushed factory hallways and workrooms.
The truth turns out to be less romantic though not necessarily more interesting as Flanigan finds when he nearly runs down the flesh and blood Harry Wyle on a country road one afternoon. In rather mundane reality, Wyle actually spends his time hanging around the old building drinking whiskey and daydreaming for the most part.
As portrayed by William Hall Jr., Harry’s a borderline intriguing figure and a likable enough guy but hardly generates the aura of mystery to which the film’s narration relentlessly alludes. The two become friends and the writer gets it into his head that the factory can be turned into a swank retro nightclub. Flanigan blows his book advance in the process as acts are hired, flyers are distributed and the cavernous main hall is transformed. Lysette Anthony costars as Harry’s long lost sweetheart. She appears on the scene about this time and finds herself torn between desires to take care of Wyle and run off with his Baldwinesque young friend.
So far so good. But here’s where director Garrett Bennett (who also wrote the story on which the movie is based) lets things get away from him. Just when relationships should be reaching some level of definition and motivations should be acquiring clarity, the picture goes all flaky and generic on us. Everybody starts talking about spirits triumphing and dreams coming true. Harry discovers a roomful of hats and decides to throw them all out a high story window as a publicity stunt so that townspeople will come to the club for one big night. That’s right, one night.
Meanwhile the viewer is left scratching his or her hat-free head: How does doing business for one night solve anything for any of these characters much less represent a triumph of the human spirit? Why did Anthony show up if the love angle wasn’t going to go anywhere? If Harry needed money so desperately, why’d he throw hundreds of vintage chapeaus out the window?
A handsomely shot, nicely acted production, Bennett’s movie in the end gets just too warm, fuzzy and corny for its own good. He gets off a first rate line of dialogue here and there but most of the tone and talk are spiritual journey boilerplate and as a result one is more than ready, more than willing when the time finally rolls around for bidding Harry and everyone else in the film farewell.