Wednesday Editor’s Pick: The Outside Man (1973)

by on November 9, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Wed Nov 16 at 6:30 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]

 

Not much on this transatlantic curio, but do you really need much motivation with the promise of on-location L.A. action, a cast of Jean-Louis Trintignant, Angie Dickinson, Roy Schneider, and Ann-Margret blowsy as ever, and the Euro sleeze cut? Didn’t think so.

 

FSLC offers discounted tickets to moviegoers also attending The Day of the Jackal at 8:30.

 

Thom Andersen, in his documentary L.A. Plays Itself, calls the film “”the most precise portrait of the city there is.” He reiterates in his Pacific Film Archive program notes:

Jacques Deray is the post-Melville master of the série noire movie, and The Outside Man may be his masterpiece. Jean-Louis Trintignant plays “the outside man,” a hit man dispatched from Paris to Los Angeles to assassinate the local mob boss, but his employers have set him up to take a hit from inside man Roy Scheider. He becomes an involuntary tourist, dependent on the kindness of strangers, notably Ann-Margret, the manager of a topless bar. Stripped of his passport and his rental car, he must make his way through a city that is portrayed without false glamour, and it seems that the filmmakers are discovering the city along with their protagonist. In The Outside Man, Los Angeles is a city of constant motion where the anonymous public spaces of streets and parking lots provide more safety than the private spaces of homes and apartments. In a final reversal of our conventional psychic geography, a funeral parlor becomes the site of a climactic, paroxysmal gun battle.

 

 

It’s A Mad, Mad Blog:

Jacques Deray’s 1972 Los Angeles noir is notable for several reasons: it’s not only a Euro noir that successfully transplants its moody French-killer-tone into a vibrant portrait of early 70’s Los Angeles funk, but its a film that features a delicious cat and mouse chase between Jean Louis Trintignant and Roy Scheider with Ann Margaret thrown into the mix, cleavage and all. It’s also, sadly, AWOL on DVD distribution. From the opening moments as hit man Trignitant arrives in Los Angeles to carry out a contract, its obvious director Deray is in awe with the concrete jungles, giving us an overview shot up from downtown, down the I-5 and following snatches of interstate into Beverly Hills. Trignitant carries out his orders, and is then turned into the hunted himself as Scheider (as a wordless hit man himself) tracks his every move as the purveyor of a true double-cross. Their battles carry them to an abandoned, almost bombed-out looking portion of Venice beach and a manicured funeral home finale that turns into a bloodbath worthy of Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”. I can certainly imagine Michael Mann taking something away from the point of view shot as a man hangs onto the side of a car, clinging for life, then slowly letting go and fading away (see “Public Enemies”). In short, “The Outside Man” looks and feels like one of those ‘insider movies’…. locked away from the general public but highly influential for a generation of filmmakers who fashion their work with mood and style.

 

 

They continue:

Deray, who produced a number of fine crime films in his native France, never quite achieved the level of grandiose wonder that is present in “The Outside Man”. The entire film has a fog of discovery hanging over it…. one that native Los-Angelian Anderson describes in his documentary as fitting perfectly with its title- a film that takes an outsider and places him squarely in the rat race of modern America. We’ve seen some of these grimy locations on film before, but in “The Outside Man”, they have a distinct off-centerdness that fits with the point of view of a foreigner on the run for his life.

 

As the outside man in question, Trintignant is silent. He registers little emotion, but its one tiny moment in the film that expresses its enveloping nihilistic attitude. With a chance to board a plane back to France, Deray employs a slow zoom on Trintignant ‘s face as he measures his future, ultimately deciding to stay in Los Angeles and face the consequences. It’s a striking moment, made all the more stylish by Deray’s decision to film his next appearance standing in the middle of an airport street as Margaret tries to drive away from dropping him off. Just like its legendary L.A. locations, Deray clearly has a penchant for swell emotional cues. It makes the impossible (caring for a hit man) ring somewhat believably honest.

 

 

Tom Milne for Time Out (London):

Perfect casting for Trintignant as a French hitman imported to America and efficiently executing his contract, only to discover that there appears to be a contract out on him. Deray’s thrillers often go sadly astray, but this one was co-scripted by Jean-Claude Carrière (Buñuel’s latter-day collaborator), and wittily fashions a dark variation on Through the Looking-Glass out of the hit man’s bafflement as he becomes the hunted in a country where he doesn’t understand the language (the dialogue is in English, with occasional subtitled French) and where tribal customs seem alarmingly bizarre. Los Angeles becomes the quirky central character, and memorable supporting performances from Ann-Margret, Scheider, Engel and de Corsia (the latter summarily rubbed out as subject of the contract, but presiding – embalmed and seated on a funeral parlour throne) over a shootout at his own wake.

 

Vadim Rizov for Green Cine:

The first two-thirds basically imagine Dirty Harry as a Gallic assassin in an especially bad mood, stomping through L.A. (perhaps best of all when he slaps a whiny child who won’t shut up because he wants to watch Star Trek). The Outside Man finally shows co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere’s influence in the last act, beginning with the fantastic moment when the man’s assassin freres show up and start bitching about having to wear black suits, because then they won’t be able to pick up any girls. The finale—melting, seemingly waxwork corpse and all— proves Carriere was Luis Buñuel’s collaborator after all. The film veers from gritty time capsule to active surrealist derangement without missing a beat.

 

 

Bruce Bennett gives a rundown of BAM’s tribute to screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière for the NY Sun:

But the two rarely revived gems of BAM’s series are Nagisa Oshima’s “Max Mon Amour” (9/21) and Jacques Deray’s “The Outside Man” (9/15). “Man” strands French hit man Jean-Louis Tritignant in an early 70s Los Angeles where the landscape is as defined by Ann-Margret’s cleavage as it is by the Venice Pier.

 

Nick Pinkerton separates its from the pack when it play in Bil Lustig’s “Buried Treasures” series at Anthology 2 years ago:

The oddball in any crowd would be The Outside Man, pairing blowsy Ann-Margret and doleful, contained, neat-as-a-pin Jean-Louis Trintignant, here as a Parisian hitman on business in L.A. The ESL stiltedness shows, but French director Jacques Deray gets good effects from invasive street urchins, armpit Venice Beach and Culver City locations, and alien obsolete innovations (bus station pay-TVs, a rentable men’s-room electric shaver).

 

 

Roger Ebert just glows over the other half of the bill, The Day of the Jackal, for The Chicago Sun-Times:

Fred Zinnemann’s “The Day of the Jackal” is one hell of an exciting movie. I wasn’t prepared for how good it really is: it’s not just a suspense classic, but a beautifully executed example of filmmaking. It’s put together like a fine watch. The screenplay meticulously assembles an incredible array of material, and then Zinnemann choreographs it so that the story–complicated as it is–unfolds in almost documentary starkness.

 

Playing the jackal, Edward Fox is excellent. The movie doesn’t provide much chance for a deep characterization, but he projects a most convincing persona. He’s boyishly charming, impeccably groomed, possessed of an easy laugh, and casually ruthless. He will kill if there’s the slightest need to. Fox’s performance is crucial to the film, of course, and the way he carries it off is impressive. The others on the case are uniformly excellent, especially Tony Britton as a harried police inspector and Cyril Cusack, in a nicely crafted little vignette, as the gunsmith. The movie’s technical values (as is always the case with a Zinnemann film) are impeccable. The movie was filmed at great cost all over Europe, mostly on location, and it looks it. A production of this scope needs to appear absolutely convincing, and Zinnemann has mastered every detailÑincluding the casting of a perfect de Gaulle look-alike.

 

“The Day of the Jackal” is two and a half hours long and seems over in about fifteen minutes. There are some words you hesitate to use in a review, because they sound so much like advertising copy, but in this case I can truthfully say that the movie is spellbinding.

 

 

Back to The Outside Man, he blog Cinema Strikes Back:

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.

 

 

Mat Schofield for the blog From Between the Cracks:

John Boorman’s “Point Blank” and Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” dropped an un-settling Old World element into the mix creating two of the very finest statements of the whole genre. “The Outside Man” made between the two may not reach the same peaks but it’s sprinkled with their magic, matching the re-imagined iconography with a frenetic pace.

 

In a scene Trintignant flicks channels with raging ennui, in a probable homage to Lee Marvin’s identical scene in “Point Blank”. Director Jacques Deray was clearly au fait with Boorman’s masterwork even casting Angie Dickinson in a supporting role as an icy black widow. The two films also mine the same sense of arctic detachment from their leads. In “Point Blank” the character of Walker is that film’s towering enigma whilst in “The Outside Man” every character seems to be made of stone. The constant hum of the ant-like traffic is as prevalent as any significant dialogue and Roy Scheider fresh from “The French Connection”, plays Trintignant’s nemesis in virtual silence. They battle it out to the skid of brakes and the “pop” of bullets through a grid-locked Wilshire Boulevard in night time rush-hour. Then there’s a showdown under a derelict and soon to be demolished Venice Beach pier complex. A fitting high noon for two men caught “outside” their own shadows.

 

The only character with any heart is a striking Ann-Margret who puts in a terrific performance as an enticing and sympathetic gangster’s moll. A tired habitue of the demi-monde, she hangs around looking for her own ticket out of the maze, throwing in her lot from a position of nothing to lose. Jacques Deray had previously made his name with “La Piscine”, a sophisticated cross-plot crime drama, but here he pushes the action relentlessly on making the most of what is a very simplistic plot-line. Every now and then he splashes the film with Michel Legrand’s atypical score, the Hammond organ-heavy funk propelling the narrative like the cars. The film wings it’s way to an unexpected finale in a scene that could only be carried off by a European Director, indeed it’s the most blatantly French moment in the entire film. Deray would concentrate on period crime thrillers for his next few films but none of them match this experiment. Track this memorably strange film down.

 

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