Sunday, August 09, 2009

70's Bonanza: The Outfit

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.

8 comments:

Ivan said...

JB:
My friend attended Friday's screening of The Outfit at the Anthology, and said it was PACKED (and that Paul Giamatti was sitting behind him). I'll be catching The Outfit later this week, but yesterday it was swell seeing Oliver Reed in Sitting Target (a flick I'll admit I didn't know existed) and Rolling Thunder (not seen since I was a kid). Both are wonderful mean-spirited and *bleak* revenge thrillers.
In fact you could say that the entire Anthology series is all about revenge--but I still have to see more of 'em.
Keep up the good work,
--Ivan

Joseph B. said...

Ivan, great story! I too haven't seen "Rolling Thunder" in years- it was a film I sought out after hearing Tarantino rave about it soon after seeing "Reservoir Dogs"-but I remember it leaving only a small impression. It's long overdue for a DVD release, though.

And I'm curious... did your friend mention if there's any truth to the story going around that the projection was drab and dark on "The Outfit"?

Ivan said...

JB:
Rolling Thunder should be on DVD--the only reason I can think that it's not is because it was originally released by AIP (their logo was cheered when it appeared on screen), and some of their flicks are in limbo...

The rumors of a bad print for The Outfit may have stemmed from a projection bulb problem--here's what my friend Dave (creator of the Rockin' Monkey site) wrote me:
"Before THE STONE KILLER, John of Anthology brought Bill Lustig out and they called up director Michael Winner in London on a cell phone. Bill put the phone in front of a mic and did a little q & a / intro with Winner. Brand new print. Towards the end of THE STONE KILLER there was a big POP when the projector bulb blew. They switched the reel to the other projector in five minutes, during which time Lustig said something like - 'this is part of the old 42nd St experience' and then started reminiscing with other folks in the audience about the grindhouses back in the day ('guards with steel-toed boots' etc.). Since that bulb blew they had to move THE OUTFIT to the downstairs theatre. It was packed. Paul Giamatti sat behind me. THE OUTFIT was great."

I'm seeing The Outfit Thursday! I'm excited!

Anonymous said...

Joe Good Review of the movie, glad you liked it, wish i could see it again on the big screen, been a lotta years.

Ivan said...

JB:
Caught The Outfit last night, and holy moly! I think I've got a new fave! And as a Westlake/Stark fan, I was especially impressed: while the flick isn't necessarily a faithful adaptation of the novel, it absolutely maintains the feeling of the Parker books. Whew! I sure hope a DVD release is forthcoming ('cause I want to own this one), but Bill Lustig said after the screening that music rights might be holding the flick up. Sigh...
BTW, The Outfit's print was decent, some scratches and glitches but nothing someone who used to go to sleazeball theaters would complain about. But what do I know? I heart grain.
--Ivan

Joseph B. said...

Ivan- probably my favorite part of the whole movie takes place towards the end when the two bodyguards with guns corner Duvall and Baker and he calmly explains that their boss is dead and no one's paying their salaries anymore. They shrug and walk away. Great little moment that I'd never seen before or since.

Christopher said...

The Outfit is fantastic. Seeing it at Anthology was great. Packed house, people laughing and cheering. Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker are such bad-asses in this. Karen Black is pretty good too. I love the scene where Duvall shoots the mobster's ring finger. Tremendous stuff. I really hope it comes out on DVD soon.

CLM in ND said...

I bought a DVD of "The Outfit" from some website. It was a DVD-R transfer from the MGM VHS release in the 90's. The website was MTC Videopia, but it's no longer online.