Tuesday, March 18, 2014


The Gritty Cinema Of John Flynn
Ed here: I watched "The Outfit" last night and it was as dazzling and powerful as ever. Duvall IS PARKER.

Here's a very good Movie Fanfare piece on the sadly forgotten director John Flynn.
For the entire piece go here: https://www.moviefanfare.com/john-flynn-movie-director/

  by I

Somewhere in Movieland, there’s some kind of radar that tracks film directors. Blipping prominently on the screen would be the likes of Ford, Welles, Capra, Hawks, Spielberg, Kurosawa, Kubrick, Tarantino, Scorsese and Lean.
There’d also be filmmakers who barely register, no matter how sensitive the tracking device is. One such man behind the camera who turned in terrific work on a regular basis but hardly made a blip was John Flynn.
Even the name is forgettable. A recent conversation with a friend—about the 1973 Robert Duvall film The Outfit—led me to ask myself: Who directed that? As I pushed aside the cobwebs of my mind, I recalled it was John Flynn, which prompted me to do some further investigation. Damn, this guy made some terrific genre films, though his most people—movie buffs included—would be hard-pressed to name them.
A Chicago native who grew up in Hermosa Beach, California, Flynn served in the Coast Guard and attended UCLA for journalism. He hooked up with director Robert Wise, with whom he worked as an apprentice on Odds Against Tomorrow, and as script consultant on West Side Story. He directed the second unit for several films, including the Elvis Presley boxing vehicle Kid Galahad, the romantic drama Two for the Seesaw, the war epic The Great Escape, and the all-star farce What a Way to Go!,  before graduating to helming his first feature.
It was, in fact, Wise that Flynn credited with helping him start his career. Wise enlisted Flynn to direct 1968’s The Sergeant, which the veteran director produced. Set in 1952, the film centers on an American sergeant (Rod Steiger) stationed in France who is attracted to a recently-arrived soldier (John Phillip Law), and insinuates himself the subordinate’s life with tragic results. The film is now looked upon as a seminal example of how homosexuality was depicted in movies, but it failed to make an impression on audiences despite its controversial nature and Steiger’s strong performance as the tortured lead character.
Flynn didn’t fare much better with the non-reception greeting The Jerusalem File, a 1972 drama with Bruce Davison as an American college student in Israel getting caught up in politics after the Six Day Arab-Israeli War.
The Outfit (1973) changed Flynn’s career trajectory, at least in the eyes of the critics, if not the public. In this tightly-wound, often explosive noir, which Flynn expertly adapted from a “Parker” story by Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark), Robert Duvall played an ex-con who learns his brother has been gunned down while he was in prison.  It seems that a crime syndicate believed the sibling robbed a bank under their control. Duvall, hot off of The Godfather, teamed with craggy former partner Joe Don Baker for a direct confrontation with the mobsters, led by the sinister Robert Ryan (in one of his last roles).      
Westlake himself called The Outfit the best film adaptation of his fiction, which would include Point Blank, Payback, The Split and others just in the Parker series alone. It’s certainly clear why the film is a success, from Flynn’s no-nonsense direction and clipped dialogue, to ace cinematography by Bruce Surtees of dusty, depressed California locales (prominently Bakersfield), to a terrific cast that also includes Karen Black and several veterans of classic film noirs (Timothy Carey, Elisha Cook, Jr., Marie Windsor, Jane Greer).
Duvall and Baker, the heroes of the piece, are not very likable; another troubling element of the film is how the women are treated. Black, as Duvall’s girlfriend, gets slapped around and often comes off as a whining pain-in-the-neck; a debuting Joanna Cassidy, playing Ryan’s trophy wife, basically gets berated and ordered around by her older husband throughout the film.
Revenge was also the name of the game in Rolling Thunder, his alarmingly violent drama based on Paul Schrader’s screenplay (reworked by Fort Apache: The Bronx’s Heywood Gould).  The 1977 effort centers on an Air Force flyer (William Devane) who returns to his hometown after spending years in a POW camp, to find his wife remarried and his son unaware of who he is. He’s targeted by a group of vicious thugs out for his compensation pay, who torture him—leaving him with a life-altering disability—and kill his wife and son. Snapping, Devane goes on a rampage, recruiting ex-POW pal Tommy Lee Jones to bring vigilante justice to the perps.
No easy viewing, Rolling Thunder, recently issued in an extras-packed Blu-ray release (and already available on DVD), had a rough ride to neighborhood screens. Its release history was marked by a studio (Fox)  abandoning it, a marketing screening that drew walk-outs and nearly a unanimous negative reaction from the audience, mixed response from critics (“In sum, it neither rolls nor thunders,” commented Variety) and, finally, a lackluster theatrical run by way of low-budget specialist American International Pictures.  

1 comment:

Barry Ergang said...

I saw "The Outfit" for the first time the other night on TCM. I can't compare it to the novel because it's been so many years since I read it, but the movie is a gem for any fan of hardboiled entertainment.