Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Outfit

The Outfit, the 1973 movie starring Robert Duvall, Karen Black and Joe Don Baker, was taken--at least in part--from the novel of the same name by Richard Stark. Stark was a pseudonym of Donald Westlake, whose crime novels (The Hot Rock, etc.) are noted for their humor. Stark was a name aptly chosen by Westlake, because there isn't much humor in the deadly serious series of crime novels (of which The Outfit was number three) starring the heist man, Parker.

In the movie Duvall is named Macklin. Why they changed the name I don't know. That's the way of Hollywood, though, as well as aping a successful formula. I believe The Outfit was made on the coat-tails of The Getaway, a similarly themed story, released the preceding year and starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. That successful movie was filmed from a Jim Thompson novel.

Karen Black is Macklin's girlfriend, Bett Harrow, who makes me wonder why women end up with bad guys like Macklin. The whole movie is one robbery after another, with violent retribution against a criminal gang who had stolen from Macklin. She's in constant danger not only from the people he is up against, but he treats her bad, even slapping her around at one point. Like a woman with Stockholm Syndrome she stays with the psychopath, and pays the ultimate price.

The Outfit has several recognizable character actors, but mainly in cameos. Elisha Cook Jr. and Archie Moore are two. Marie Windsor, with Black in the above screen capture, has a brief scene. Richard Jaeckel has a short but juicy part, as does Sheree North, as Jaeckel's slutty sister-in-law. North provides the one sex scene when she attempts to seduce Cody, played by Baker. She comes out onto the porch in a translucent top and we get a little peek at her nipples. I wonder if that thrilled anybody in 1973?

There's a brief scene with actor Henry Jones, whose familiar face and voice were everywhere in the 1960s and '70s, both in television and the movies.

Robert Ryan's days as a leading man were behind him. He played the head of the Outfit, and also received a fitting end.

As I mentioned, Macklin and Cody are bad guys, but heroes to the audience, rooting for them to get the even badder guys, the members of the organized crime gang. Macklin and Cody even kill two highway patrolmen, as well as several other people in one memorable scene. At the end of the movie [SPOILER ALERT!] they drive off in a stolen ambulance, laughing. As Cody puts it, "Sometimes the good guys win!" Yep, good guys who are also sociopathic, conscienceless killers and woman beaters, but hey, nobody's perfect, eh?

It's been almost 40 years since The Outfit was made, and several of the actors are now deceased. Ryan died in 1973, Sheree North in 2005. Richard Jaeckel died in 1997 at age 70. Marie Windsor died in 2000, Henry Jones the year before, in 1999. Elisha Cook Jr. died at the advanced age of 91 in 1995. Another of the character actors in the movie was Felice Orlandi, who died in 2003 at age 78. Orlandi might not be remembered by name, but by his handsome face. He was also in 1955's Killer's Kiss, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and in the Steve McQueen classic, Bullitt, in 1967. The lead actors in the movie are still living, but getting up there in age. Robert Duvall was born in 1931, Karen Black in '39, and Joe Don Baker in '36.


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