The Outfit (1973)
The Outfit (1973)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.

Release Date: October 19th, 1973 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: John Flynn Actors: Robert Duvall, Karen Black, Joe Don Baker, Robert Ryan, Timothy Carey, Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Marie Windsor, Jane Greer, Joanna Cassidy, Elisha Cook Jr.

 


 

T

wo ominous figures (one a priest, the other a driver) in a Sierra Cab Company car arm themselves before driving out to a remote spot on some farmland. Fittingly anticipatory music plays lightly over the actions of passing pistols across the seats and nestling them in pants pockets. When they reach their destination, the duo coldly and calmly pump their target, a man named Eddie, full of a half-dozen bullets. This simple yet bleak cold-open is handled with quite a bit of artistry, despite depicting the rather basic violence of a hit. Handheld camerawork, first-person perspective (the framing is sensational), and absent dialogue are just a few of the quirks that foreshadow a crime thriller of singular proportions.

Earl Macklin (Robert Duvall) from St. Louis finally gets out of prison, and he’s picked up by girlfriend Bett Harrow (Karen Black). They shack up in a little hotel off the highway, with plans to rendezvous with his brother Eddie – but word of the man’s death foils that notion. As night falls, Macklin realizes that he’s in danger, which is confirmed when assassin Frank Orlandi (Felice Orlandi) makes an attempt on Earl’s life. But Earl is made of tougher stuff. Turning the tables on his attacker and tracing the contract on his head back to Jake Menner (Timothy Carey), a thug who works with bookies to set up high-stakes poker games (“His name keeps comin’ up”), Macklin demands that the “Outfit” – a crime syndicate involved with all of the big league rackets in the city, and the group responsible for Earl’s original incarceration – pay him $250,000 for his troubles.

Based on the Donald E. Westlake (using the pseudonym Richard Stark) novel of the same name, “The Outfit” possesses a parallel vibe to “Point Blank” (and “Payback,” both adapted from “The Hunter”), which favors somber, serious personas and dark drama rather than white-knuckle adventure. There’s an unhurried nature to the standoffs and conflicts, as if each moment for murder and death is a well-formulated chess game rather than a flamboyant orchestration of fast-paced action (this potent tone would be recreated a year later in “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”). One of the most interesting showdowns involves nothing more than a confrontation for the sake of negotiation, featuring plenty of surreptitious glances and bitter barbs.

The basic setup for Earl’s unyielding revenge (and harassing his way to the top of the ladder of evildoers) isn’t terribly original, but it’s approached with a steadfastness and coldness that can’t be ignored. It’s an authentic, believable collection of criminals and corruption, boasting a distinct lack of true heroes (especially when it comes to the violence against women) – but with a hierarchy of villainy that nevertheless welcomes bloody retribution and satisfying avengement. With this comes an unmistakable sense of sadness, a miserableness surrounding these roles, as if their career choices permanently prevent winning or rising above their peers. Death and destruction are sure to accompany them no matter where they go; the glamorization of this lifestyle couldn’t be further from the filmmakers’ minds. Even in scenes designed for the briefest of reprieves, there’s no real levity. This is the kind of picture that offers up no comic relief – and isn’t worse for it.

What is also immediately notable is the man-of-few-words routine, wherein Macklin reveals very little about his former life, but speaks volumes about his character – chiefly with his absolute disinterest in his wife and child, whom he dismisses with one word each. His attitude toward the woman who arranged for his shelter, and the severity with which he refuses to forgive or forget those who wronged him, are also chilly yet apt. He trusts no one and never betrays his emotions. For this sort of former killer – forced out of retirement but not entirely upset at the return to form – emotions may not be a luxury still in his possession. And his old partner, Jack Cody (Joe Don Baker), shares these same characteristics, driven by a code of honorable gangsterism that surpasses self-preservation. Getting back into the game is more important than mere survival. Shootouts, backstabbing, heists, hitmen, dangerous women, collateral damage, and an explosive finale are correspondingly on the menu for this gritty, no-nonsense, slow-burn, revenge epic.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10