From August 7-14, starting this Friday, the Anthology Film Archives in New York will present a series of 1970s crime/action films, curated by William Lustig of Maniac Cop and Blue Underground fame, all produced by Hollywood during its more grubby, adventurous days. None are available on US DVD and most have become quite obscure over the years, so this is a rare chance to not only see them, but to see them on the big screen.
A few of the films I’ve seen before and few I’ve now seen for the first time. Here are some of the films to look forward to (press release with full details follows):
The Outside Man (1972)
The Outside Man (also known by its French title, “A Man is Dead“) is one of the earlier examples of what I tend to think of as “The Killer” plot – a hit man who finds himself hunted by his own employers after fulfilling a contract. In this case, the killer, and eponymous “outside man,” is Lucien, a French contractor brought to America to whack the head of a Los Angeles crime organization and immediately betrayed by his employers (whose identity should be obvious within the first 10 minutes). In LA, Lucien is pursued by ferocious American killer Roy Scheider and assisted by topless waitress and party girl Nancy (Ann-Margret, utilized primarily as a cleavage-delivery device).
Like its protagonist, The Outside Man is an odd duck. Lucien, as played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, is cold and unlikable - the hero by default only. Frankly, I was rooting for Scheider’s character. However, the emphasis is less on Lucien’s predicament and his efforts to save himself than on his surroundings. Lucien is a man completely out of place, nonplussed by the cultural mores of seventies Los Angeles. Seedy bars and motels are ubiquitous, and Lucien seems as confounded by his encounters with bikers, proselytizers and single moms as he does by the assassination attempts on him. In a particularly clever touch, Jacques Deray, a second-tier but talented director of French crime films (Borsalino & Co., Flic Story) constantly inserts televisions into the frame, contrasting their down-to-earth reality with the fantastic elements of the plot. Overall, it is an unexpected approach to a largely played-out subgenre, and elevates the material considerably.
Freebie and the Bean (1974)
This film has been on my radar for a long time, largely due to its name and its director, Richard Rush (The Stunt Man). Good or bad, Rush films are always interesting, and Freebie and the Bean is a characteristically cracked take on the buddy cop film. James Caan and Alan Arkin star as the title characters with the usual division of labor – Freebie plays fast and loose while The Bean is uptight. The wacky partners bicker like an old married couple but work together perfectly. Rush plays up the hijinks so heavily that Freebie and the Bean is a little like watching a funhouse version of Bullitt . Fortunately, that also means car chase after car chase through San Francisco streets with some truly fantastic stunts. Rush also creates a naturalistic soundscape, overlapping conversations like Robert Altman. At 113 minutes, the film slightly overstays its welcome, but a truly gonzo climax (I don’t want to spoil the conclusion, which genuinely caught me by surprise) erases any ill will.
Bustin, which I had never heard of previously, was one of the most pleasant surprises. Director Peter Hyams may have become a bit of a hack, with mediocre sci-fi titles like 2010, Timecop, and Outland on his resume, but his original script for Busting at least strives for something unique. Like Freebie and the Bean, Busting is a buddy cop film, this time starring Robert Blake and Elliott Gould. The two are vice detectives in Los Angeles, and it’s hard to sympathize with them as they meander through the first half of the film, busting call girls (including the extremely gorgeous, and extremely naked, Cornelia Sharpe), hassling gay bars and trolling for bathroom shenanigans. Only after they start butting up against the crime organization run by Carl Rizzo (a realistically workaday Allen Garfield) does their frustration become palpable, and the film start to develop a soul – contrasting their efforts to mete out real justice with the cozy relations between the police department and the mob. Gould, here sporting facial hair straight out of the Sabotage video, is always fascinating to watch, and he makes his eccentric Detective Keneely into a vivid character. Gould is given able support by Blake and some all-star character actors, including Antonio Fargas, Sid Haig and Michael Lerner, along with some great period atmosphere. (By the way, towards the end, I actually thought this was going to be a 1970s buddy cop film with no car chase, but Hyams came through with one at the 11th hour.)
The Outfit (1973)
The Outfit never quite lives up to that other, great seventies Donald Westlake adaptation, Point Blank, though it mimics Point Blank’s enigmatic sense of mission. While the cast is excellent, Robert Duvall is a little too … ordinary … to inhabit the larger-than-life shoes of Lee Marvin, and Joe Don Baker is not let loose in the same manner as Walking Tall, though this crime world revenge flick boasts an excellent villain in coal-eyed Robert Ryan. In some ways, though, this grounding in reality is the strongest aspect of The Outfit, which benefits from matter-of-fact staging. Duvall is no Lee Marvin, but normal people are not Lee Marvin. The heists and action sequences in The Outfit are not executed by superhumans, but by people only slightly above ordinary. The Outfit deglamorizes the crime film, creating a distinct atmosphere from the stylized Bonnie & Clyde and Point Blank.
Rolling Thunder (1977)
I will confess to not having seen this one in years, and not being that impressed when I did see it. William Devane is fun in supporting roles but tends to make an unengaging protagonist – consequently, this story about his Vietnam Vet’s quest for revenge on the men who killed his family is more notable for its brutality than its emotion. That said, Tommy Lee Jones shines as Devane’s fellow former POW. Like John Cazale’s Sal in Dog Day Afternoon, Jones’s Johnny is ever so slightly off and consequently appears capable of anything.
Below is the Anthology’s press release, with more information on the series, including dates and times:
ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES
WILLIAM LUSTIG PRESENTS:
Ever since William Lustig came to Anthology last summer to present his MANIAC COP films as part of our New York City Vigilantes series, we’ve been hoping to bring him back in the guise of guest-curator. Undersung filmmaker and founder of the indispensable Home Media label Blue Underground, Lustig is a veritable fountain of wisdom on the subject of the cinema’s unsavory margins. This summer, Lustig will be turning his attention to the subversive genre films of 1970s Hollywood, unearthing a handful of treasures that have been languishing in studio vaults for decades. Unavailable on DVD, and very rarely shown, these films are itching to explode back onto the screen. Homicidal Vietnam vets, escaped convicts, crime syndicates, and a treasure-trove of seventies character actors –Joe Don Baker, Timothy Carey, Karen Black, Rip Torn, Stacy Keach, Angie Dickinson, James Caan, and many more – will be storming Anthology come August. Prepare yourself!
Very special thanks to William Lustig; and to Caitlin Robertson (20th Century Fox), Ross Klein (MGM), Jared Sapolin & Grover Crisp (Sony), Marilee Womack (Warner Brothers), and Adam Lounsbery.
BRONSON & DUVALL VS. THE MOB!
CRIMINALS YOU DON’T WANT TO SCREW WITH!
VIETNAM VETS GONE WILD!
Late breaking addition to series!
(Images credited to Warner Bros. and Ben Gancsos.)
Filed under: Movie News and Movie News: USA and Contributors: David and Venues: Anthology Film Archives and People: William Lustig