Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972)
Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!
Ah, the 1970s. Not only was it a great time for gritty independent film-making, it was also a happy time for international productions. You could have a film made in France, with a Spanish director, costumes by a British woman, stars from America and Poland and Germany and Thailand, produced by Italians, and with music by some Paraguayan rock star with a sitar and a hookah pipe. When the movie was completed, it would be instantly dubbed into every language in the world, given an exploitive advertising campaign, and plopped into drive-ins and grindhouse theaters everywhere. Italian horror movies did this for years, touting American actors in the lead roles but with a rainbow coalition of production credits that always made you go ‘hmmmm.’ Most of the time, we were duped into yet another six day wonder about women in bikinis and zombies in a Nazi-patrolled oasis (and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that!) Every once in a while, a real treat would emerge from this United Nations of Sleazy Filmmaking—movies like THE OUTSIDE MAN (1972) a great gangster action movie with an A-list cast and a crazy diverse group of people behind the camera.
Directed by Frenchman Jacques Desrayaud, who also created THE SWIMMING POOL (1969) and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (2001), and written by Jean-Claude Carriere (who wrote such high class films as BELLE DE JOUR, 1967, THE TIN DRUM, 1979, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, 1988, SOMMERSBY, 1990, CYRANO de BERGERAC, 1990 and THE HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF, 1995), and we have a highly respected couple of filmmakers who had worked with the likes of Luis Bunuel, Wayne Wang, Hector Babenco, Peter Brook, Louis Malle, and, well, Jess Franco (I guess everyone hits rock bottom at some time or another). Very impressive credits to their names and some major connections. Also behind the scenes we have music by Michel Legrand (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, 1964 and YENTL, 1983), cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti (GREAT SILENCE, 1968, SALON KITTY, 1976 and CALIGULA, 1979), and produced by Jacques Bar (LET SLEEPING COPS LIE, 1988, and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, 1998). This is some pedigree, with some of the greatest Europeans working in the 1960s and 1970s. But there’s a bit of a CHINATOWN feeling to it all . . . “It’s an art film; it’s exploitation. It’s an art film; it’s exploitation.”
But it’s the story and the cast that make THE OUTSIDE MAN so much damn fun! This is one back-stabbing, sleazy, nasty picture . . . and it was rated PG back in the day!
We start in Los Angeles, amidst music that sounds like leftovers from STARSKY AND HUTCH (“You got no trouble with Jesus, You got no trouble with me!”) and it’s sung by Joe Morton, future star of BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984), SPEED (1994), and the TV show LAW AND ORDER! That astonishing cast flashes across the screen, but more on them as they appear.
Jean-Louis Trintignant (LES BICHES, 1968, MY NIGHT AT MAUDE’S, 1969 and RED, 1994) stars as Lucien, a hit man with the heaviest French accent ever. The handsome Frenchman is delivered a suitcase full of money and orders from a Los Angeles crime family to assassinate another mob boss. When he arrives at the target’s house, he finds a mansion with a fleet of cool cars out front, a fountain, and Victor Kovaks, played by Ted de Corsia (THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, 1947 and THE KILLING, 1956) and his beautiful, much younger wife Jackie, played by POLICE WOMAN herself, Angie Dickenson (also in RIO BRAVO, 1959 and DRESSED TO KILL, 1980). She sports a great bikini and a pool-boy. Lucien kills Victor and calmly walks away from the scene of the crime. When he gets back to his hotel, he finds that someone claiming to be his secretary has already checked him out and taken everything from his room, including his wallet and passport. Suddenly, someone is shooting at him wherever he goes. Turns out, the assassin after him is ice-cold Roy Scheider (JAWS, 1975, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, 1971 and BLUE THUNDER, 1983).
After escaping, Lucien hitches a ride with housewife Mrs. Barnes, played by Georgia Engel (Georgette on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and Esmeralda on the soap opera PASSIONS). Her kid is played by Jackie Earle Haley (BAD NEWS BEARS, 1976, WATCHMEN, 2009, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, 2010 and SHUTTER ISLAND, 2010). The boy says, “What are you, a foreigner?” They watch STAR TREK on television, as well as Friskies commercials. Our favorite killer calls Paris on her phone (“Who’s gonna pay for this?”) while Jackie Earle listens in. Lucien smacks the crap out of the kid (according to reports, the slaps were real and brutal), then he leaves them, getting into an elevator with. . . NO! Roy Scheider! Luckily, two women get in and all Scheider gets to do is light Lucien’s cigarette. Then, the shooting and chasing starts again.
Lucien, obeying orders, goes downtown following a group of bikers and a Jesus-freak hitchhiker who tries to convert the assassin. Scheider accidentally kills the hitchhiker, so Lucien is driving around with a religious nut with long blond hair and a bloody hole in his head and a giant golden cross around his neck! More chasing and shoot-outs ensue.
Lucien hears a description of himself on the news, but the wife and pool-boy of his victim have given incredibly erroneous descriptions of him, which makes him start to wonder if it was all a set-up. He’s told to seek out the ex-moll of his boss, a stripper in a club named Nancy, played by Ann Margret (BYE BYE BIRDIE, 1963, TOMMY, 1975 and GRUMPY OLD MEN, 1993) in a very low-cut, revealing white outfit and a blonde Marilyn Monroe wig. “I tend bar with my tits hanging out,” she says. “Victor made sure that was the only job I could get.” According to her, Victor’s brother, Alex, will run the mob better. Alex, aka the pool-boy, is played by Umberto Orsini from THE ANTICHRIST (1974) and EMMANUELLE 3 (1977). Nancy takes him to her friend Karl’s place where he can lie low for a while. Karl’s a hippie played by Carlo de Mejo, who was in THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD/THE GATES OF HELL (1980), and MANHATTAN BABY (1982.) Who knew a Lucio Fulci regular would be in the same movie as Ann Margret?
Meanwhile, Scheider has tracked down Georgette and followed the trail to Nancy who leads him to Lucien. Cue exciting chase involving hit-men, Nancy, and the police! Eventually, the French mob, led by Antoine (Michel Constantin of LE TROU, 1960 and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, 1978) gets to America and decides to join forces with Lucien.
Who is trying to kill Lucien? Who hired the assassin in the first place? Can Karl and Nancy be trusted? What about the wife of the target and his brother, the pool-boy? Will Lucien make it back to Paris, or will he be trapped in the States and hunted like a dog? Where can I get one of those fabulous suits Scheider and Trintignant wear throughout the movie?
The pacing, as in most European films of the period, is a little slow for today’s ADD tastes, but it works beautifully in the context of the movie, which stresses cool and hip over action-packed thrills. There are car chases, foot chases, shoot-outs and more, but this is more FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) than DIE HARD (1988). If you can groove on that kind of atmosphere, you’ll dig this one.
The music is groovy and funky, the women are smoking hot, the men are cool as can be, the cars are yacht-sized and beautiful, and the plot twists and turns like crazy. This is the kind of cool every stupid OCEANS 11 movie wants to be, but falls short. This is the kind of cool that cults are built around, and the movie throbs with it. There are gorgeous hookers, loads of neon, drugs, strippers covered in glitter, pink Cadillacs, drive-in theaters, a Talia Shire cameo, roller derby scenes, scary layouts at funerals, an Alex Rocco cameo and more. But that cast! Where else will you see Police Woman making out with a star of EMMANUELLE 3 while being followed by Ann Margret, one of the sexiest women ever, who is rooming with the psychiatrist from the GATES OF HELL (1980) and pursued by Sheriff Brody, while Ted Baxter’s girlfriend mothers the guy who would one day play Freddy Krueger? Plus, a small part by John Hillerman who played Higgins on MAGNUM P.I.! This is the ultimate six degrees of separation matrix! You can use this movie to connect anyone to anyone!
MGM has put out a beautifully restored copy available on CD-R through Amazon.
I give THE OUTSIDE MAN three and a half European hit-men out of four.
© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl