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Anthology Film Archives screens THE SEVENTIES – BURIED TREASURES series, curated by William Lustig
Posted on 08.05.09 by David @ 8:09 am

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.

Rolling Thunder

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.

Busting (1974)

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.

The Outfit

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:


August 7-14

William Lustig

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.

Michael Winner
1973, 95 minutes, 35mm. With Charles Bronson and Martin Balsam.
In this pre-DEATH WISH collaboration between Charles Bronson and director Michael Winner, Bronson is a pitiless cop who uncovers an unlikely plot by a Mafia don (Balsam) to avenge a decades-old attack by using Vietnam veterans to eliminate the heads of the major mob families. This is Bronson in his prime, and features one of Hollywood’s finest uses of a free-falling dummy (for more information, consult the November 7, 2007 post at ).
–Friday, August 7 at 7:00 and Thursday, August 13 at 9:15.

John Flynn
1973, 105 minutes, 35mm. With Robert Duvall, Karen Black, Joe Don Baker, Robert Ryan, Elisha Cook Jr., and Timothy Carey.
“Excellent adaptation of a novel by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake), who also provided the source material for POINT BLANK…and Godard’s MADE IN USA. A taut, grim thriller, it sees Duvall, just out of prison and with revenge burning in his heart for the murder of his brother, taking on the Syndicate with the help of heavy, Joe Don Baker. [I]t’s a cool, exciting thriller in the Siegel tradition, paying more than passing reference to classic film noir with its host of character actors [including the great Timothy Carey], a cruel performance from Ryan as the mob leader, and its vision of people caught up in a chaotic, confused and treacherous world.” –Geoff Andrew
–Friday, August 7 at 9:30, Sunday, August 9 at 4:00, and Thursday, August 13 at 7:00.

Jacques Deray
1972, 104 minutes, 35mm. With Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ann-Margret, Roy Scheider, and Angie Dickinson.
This Melville-inspired thriller stars Trintignant as a French hit man sent to Los Angeles to whack a mob kingpin. Once the job is finished, though, he finds himself trapped in an early-1970s nightmare of strip clubs, Jesus freaks and Star Trek re-runs, chased by muscle-car driving assassin Roy Scheider and helped by friendly go-go girl, Ann-Margret.
–Saturday, August 8 at 2:45 and Monday, August 10 at 7:00.

Douglas Hickox
1972, 93 minutes, 35mm. With Oliver Reed, Jill St. John, and Ian McShane.
Though it wasn’t meant as high praise, the NEW YORK TIMES description of this film pretty much sums it up: “This is brutal, garish pulp stuff, with a repulsively sadistic Oliver Reed busting out of prison and snaking into London for the sole purpose of killing his unfaithful wife, played by a bug-eyed Jill St. John.” Brutal, garish, pulp, Oliver Reed? What’s not to like?
–Saturday, August 8 at 5:00 and Monday, August 10 at 9:15.

John Flynn
1977, 95 minutes, 35mm. With William Devane, Tommy Lee Jones, and Dabney Coleman.
Among the very greatest – and most disturbing – revenge flicks, ROLLING THUNDER stars Devane as a Vietnam vet determined to track down the men who killed his wife and child. Written by a young Paul Schrader, it’s a classic of its kind.
“Working from another intelligent script from Schrader, Flynn spins his yarn…with an impossibly steady hand, turning what could have been yet another DEATH WISH knock-off into an authentically understated work of gritty 70s cinema.” –THE FILM FIEND
–Saturday, August 8 at 7:00 and Tuesday, August 11 at 9:00.

Richard Compton
1972, 91 minutes, 35mm. Archival print courtesy of 20th Century Fox. With Joe Don Baker.
Four battle-fatigued and well-armed Vietnam vets, driving cross-country, accidentally kill a woman before heading to their hometown. Disillusioned with their homecoming, the four vets unleash their fury in a blood-crazed rampage that has to be seen to be believed. In its down-and-dirty way, this film lays bare the uncomfortable truth of the damaged psyches left in the wake of the Vietnam war.
–Saturday, August 8 at 9:30 and Tuesday, August 11 at 7:00.

Richard Rush
1974, 113 minutes, 35mm. With James Caan and Alan Arkin.
“In retrospect [FREEBIE AND THE BEAN] seems like the missing – and absolutely essential – link between the gritty potboilers of the 1970s, such as THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and the glib, profane thrillers of the 80s and 90s…. [Starring] Alan Arkin as a Hispanic detective (i.e., ‘The Bean’), and James Caan as his determined-to-be-corrupted partner (hence ‘Freebie’)…it’s an amazing, explosive, almost self-destructive exercise in action, comedy, racism, and property damage, not necessarily in that order.” –Todd Gilchrist, CINEMATICAL
–Sunday, August 9 at 6:15 and Wednesday, August 12 at 9:00.

Peter Hyams
1974, 92 minutes, 35mm. With Elliott Gould, Robert Blake, and Allen Garfield.
This archetypal buddy cop movie stars Elliott Gould as a cynical, rebellious cop and Robert Blake as his inexperienced young partner. Tired of toiling away on insignificant small-time busts, they decide to buck their corrupt police force and single-handedly target a protected crime boss, incurring the wrath of their superiors.
–Sunday, August 9 at 8:45 and Wednesday, August 12 at 7:00.

Late breaking addition to series!
Robert Clouse
(1970, 96 minutes, 16mm. With Rod Taylor, Suzy Kendall, Theodore Bikel, and Jane Russell.)
“A truly great overlooked 70s detective thriller staring Rod Taylor as John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee and William Smith in another startling villain performance (I love his dyed blond hair). Directed by Robert Clouse (ENTER THE DRAGON), the film contains one of the most brutal fight scenes in movie history between Taylor and Smith. Many years later, I had the honor and pleasure of working with Bill Smith on MANIAC COP. He too loved AMBER and expressed disappointment that it had become a legendary lost film. Bill told me that during the climactic fight scene he and Taylor really “went for it” and that the 2by4 to the gut was real! I suspect that groundbreaking fight scene alone lead to Mr. Clouse getting the DRAGON directing gig. Many thanks to Roy Frumkes for the loan of his personal print.” –William Lustig
–Friday, August 14 at 9:45

(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


  1. Why are NONE of these at Netflix?

    Comment by Retro Hound — August 24, 2009 @ 7:34 pm

  2. ‘Sitting Target’ and ‘The Outfit’ used to be shown regularly on TCM UK, fullscreen and with a permanent onscreen logo. I’d love to see widescreen prints of these. ‘Darker Than Amber’ is another one I’d like to see uncut and in widescreen. There is a Dutch DVD available, but it’s fullscreen with hard-coded Dutch subtitles.

    Comment by Fred — April 28, 2010 @ 5:36 am

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