Through the very generous donations of several readers of this blog from around the country, I've been able to finally glimpse some of the movies featured in my recent Produced and Abandoned posts. That's been part of the initially unimaginable fun of doing this type of thing... the community and camaraderie that has developed from it. I thank everyone for this. And it's exactly this same generosity that offered me the chance to finally see John Flynn's hard-nosed 1973 film, "The Outfit"- a film that coincidentally is being shown on the big screen for the first time in ages. Is a DVD release in the works?
Based on a novel by great crime writer Donald Westlake, "The Outfit" can easily be read as yet another grimy variation on the loner anti-hero... a man so enraged or hell-bent on a single minded quest that the whole film turns into a systematic deconstruction of the underworld. In "Point Blank", it was Lee Marvin. There was Mel Gibson in "Payback". And in "The Outfit" it's Robert Duvall. After the almost wordless execution killing of his brother in the opening few minutes, Earl (Duvall) is released from prison and quickly hooks up with old girlfriend Bett (Karen Black). There begins a road trip across the vacant Midwest plains as Earl finds old chum Cody (Joe Don Baker) and the pair begin to exact their revenge on the mob system that purportedly killed his brother. Their targets, though, are not deadly, but striking the Syndicate (a favorite term from Westlake that seems to imply an expansive network of evil) where it really hurts- their wallets. Before long, director Flynn dashes all hopes that "The Outfit" will be an in-depth character study of these particular good-bad guys. As the pair knocks off backroom money laundering spot after another, "The Outfit" morphs into an unrelenting document of non-descript offices that Earl and Cody hold-up. The point- which comes through as loudly as Fritz Lang's German films- is that evil is pervasive and secretly turning the wheels of every office building across the country. Yet it's done with such quiet calculation and memorably mean faces (Timothy Carey especially) that "The Outfit" succeeds by doing very little. And I haven't even mentioned the especially gruff performance by Robert Ryan as the mob boss who sees the pair turn his mansion upside down in a Tony Montana-like finale. Finally seeing "The Outfit" was worth the wait.