Thursday, July 4, 2019

Film Review: THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972, Jacques Doray)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jean Louis Trintignant (THE CONFORMIST, AMOUR, Z, MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S, THE GREAT SILENCE), Ann-Margret (TOMMY, BYE BYE BIRDIE, GRUMPY OLD MEN), Roy Scheider (JAWS, ALL THAT JAZZ), Angie Dickinson (BIG BAD MAMA, THE KILLERS, DRESSED TO KILL), Georgia Engel ("Georgette" on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE CARE BEARS MOVIE), Umberto Orsini (THE DAMNED, LUDWIG), Ted de Corsia (THE KILLING, THE NAKED CITY), Jackie Earle Haley (THE BAD NEWS BEARS, LITTLE CHILDREN, WATCHMEN), Michel Constantin (LE TROU, LE DEUXIEME SOUFFLE), Alex Rocco ("Moe Green" in THE GODFATHER, DETROIT 9000, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE), Talia Shire (THE GODFATHER, ROCKY). Music by Michael Legrand (SUMMER OF '42,   Co-written by Jean Claude Carrière (THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, BELLE DE JOUR). Cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti (CALIGULA, NAVAJO JOE, SUPER FUZZ) and Terry K. Meade (a camera operator on RIO BRAVO and THE LAST PICTURE SHOW).
Tag-line: "If you kill the most powerful man in organized crime, they've got the rest of your life to get you."
Memorable Quote:  "Paris?! You mean, Paris, France?"

Only now, on the Fourth of July, did it occur to me that I needed THE OUTSIDE MAN in my life. Picture it: a down n' dirty '70s Los Angeles crime flick directed by a Frenchman (Jacques Doray), with a screenplay co-written by surrealist master Jean Claude Carrière, and with the alienating, fatalistic atmosphere of LE SAMOURAI, THE MECHANIC, or DETOUR. You could even compare it to Camus' THE STRANGER or THE PLAGUE.

Our antihero is an "Outside Man," a French hitman (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who arrives in L.A. to kill a mobster. After performing the hit, he finds his passport has been stolen and he is relentlessly pursued by another hitman––the great Roy Scheider in a role that is essentially a jockish, dickish enigma.

(Obviously, Scheider nails it.)

Jean-Louis may be a hitman, but he's a Continental. He's an aesthete. He's on an existential journey. In the States, he's an Outside Man. He's awash, adrift in a consumerist wasteland of highway cloverleafs and frozen food and prefabricated homes and hot pavement and hazy skies. If Jean-Paul Sartre says, "hell is other people," then THE OUTSIDE MAN has a bolder, more nuanced thesis. It says hell is the Sunset Strip on a Wednesday night. Hell is kidnapping a mother-son duo played by Georgia Engel

and Jackie Earle Haley,

and, even though the Outside Man has the power and the gun, he's the true prisoner, eating TV dinners with them and watching STAR TREK reruns.  Hell is Jackie Earle Haley pouring ketchup all over the TV dinner's mockery of boeuf bourguignon.

Hell is dive bar wine.

Is that Ripple?

Hell is hippie hitchhikers who wind up being closet Jesus-freaks. Hell is itchy wigs. Hell is denim jackets in the summer.

Hell is bus stations.

Hell is smoggy sunshine criss-crossed by power lines and palm trees. Hell is storm drains. Hell is living in a storm drain.

Hell is abandoned lots and crispy, brown, dead grass. Hell is diet Coca-Cola. Hell is this apartment building.

Hell is a gum-chewing Roy Scheider hiding in your shower with a gun. Hell is faux-wood paneling. Hell is that bedspread.

Hell is sun-tanning. Hell is shaving in a public restroom. Hell is using a communal razor in a public restroom. Hell is paying to use a communal razor in a public restroom.

Hell is drive-in theaters in the daytime.

Hell is that shade of orange. Hell is diner coffee that's been left in the pot overnight.

Hell is having nothing to do but watch TV in a shitty motel room. Hell is kidnap victims being saved by the police but first asking, "where are the television cameras?"

Hell is palm trees covered in garbage. Hell is abandoned boardwalks. Hell is getting a splinter from an abandoned boardwalk.

I guess we could just cut to the chase. We could say: "Hell is L.A." We could even say: "More like 'Hell-A,' amirite?" Hey, guys, I didn't say it, THE OUTSIDE MAN did.

The dual cinematographers––Silvano Ippoliti and Terry K. Meade––definitely present an L.A. that's of a piece with the L.A.s of Don Siegel's THE KILLERS or John Carpenter's THEY LIVE. There is a lot of nice, surreal imagery with a workmanlike finish, even if it's ugly as sin. After watching this film for an hour and forty-five minutes you feel like you've lived your entire life out of anonymous motel rooms with ceilings yellowed by cigarette smoke. You can't remember what air smells like without a soupçon of exhaust fume. You feel like you're in a parked car on a hundred-degree day without A/C: it's suffocating, and smacks of melted plastic.

On this existential journey, we meet a rogue's gallery of 1970s supporting players, including Umberto Orsini as the late mobster's sleazy son and Angie Dickinson as the mobster's wife (who's possibly making a move from père to fils, if you know what I mean).

They have a pool.

There's Alex Rocco (who seemed to have an entire career based on the fact he played "Moe Green" in THE GODFATHER) doing his mobster schtick

and Talia Shire (!)

This is before she moved to Philly to work at a pet store.

as a winsome mortuary attendant who's on screen for about twenty-five seconds. We have the aforementioned wholesome mother-son team of Georgia Engel and Jackie Earle Haley who seem to have stumbled in from a network sitcom (to great effect).

Finally, there's Ann-Margret as an exotic dancer who, through a series of unimportant events, essentially becomes the Outside Man's sidekick.

Here, Ann-Margret's never quite let "off the chain," so to speak, and thus we are denied an orgy of the amazing, over-the-top acting we know she's capable of (because we saw TOMMY). I'd say that, by and large, the performances (with the exception of Roy Scheider, who is permitted a streak of douchey élan)

are, by design, very static and stilted, almost Bressonian, indicative of the director's vision of America as a colorless, prefabricated consumerist wasteland. However, since we never see Europe in the film and are not afforded the contrast, it's sometimes hard to tell if it's "anti-American," or merely "anti-human."

Also, did I forget to mention that this is––in near-entirety––accompanied by whacka-whacka guitar licks throughout, worthy of a basement porno?

Anyhow, it all ends with a shootout at a church funeral, which definitely gives the whole production that nice post-Melville, pre-John Woo vibe.

I liked this quite a bit, even though I can understand the criticism I've heard, detailing it as a kind of dreary, lifeless slog. Which is kind of the point. Hey, it's all part of the Existentialist experience, man!  Four stars. (And happy existential Fourth of July!)


Mike B. said...

Enjoyed this review, makes me want to check this out and perhaps more with similar vibes. Perhaps a future series, maybe a sort of existential counterpart to the ol' melancholy horror? I for one would eat that up!

Sean Gill said...

Thanks, Mike! And yeah, there's probably enough existential neo-Noir to assemble a full series!