Friday, May 17, 2019

THE OUTSIDE MAN 1972



    After the massive success of William Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION in 1971 there was a flood of urban police action/dramas that began popping up on movie screens and along with the release of DIRTY HARRY in that same year, it also ramped up with the output from Europe in particular Italy with the more revenge-oriented action poliziotteschi films.
   Combing neo-noir with more cool/efficient French crime films, THE OUTSIDE MAN was a French/Italian co-production filmed in Los Angeles and was directed by Jacques Deray who specialized in crime thrillers throughout the 60's and into the 90's. Many of his films starred the great Alain Delon and his work is strong reminiscent of Jean Pierre Melville' crime films of the 50's and 60's, although sadly much of Deray's work remains unknown in America.
   Opening with helicopter shot of a smoggy downtown Los Angeles and the famous cloverleaf freeway interchange while composer Michael Legrand's funky title song plays over the opening credits (which sounds like we're heading into blaxploitation territory) we're introduced to Lucien Bellon (Jean-Louis Trintignant THE GREAT SILENCE) as he arrives from Paris at LAX. Checking into his hotel he receives a briefcase from the desk clerk left by his "secretary" and going up to his room calmly removes a gun and a large amount of cash from the briefcase.




   Renting an automobile and in a nice touch consulting a map (which foretells his future predicament) he drives to a mansion in Beverly Hills. Cool and emotionless he gains entrance to house and kills Victor Kovacs (Ted de Corsia familiar from countless classic film-noirs) and while leaving he's seen by Victor's wife Jackie (Angie Dickinson BIG BAD MAMA) and his son Alex (Umberto Orsini GOODBYE EMMANUELLE). It's also quickly reveled that the relationship between Jackie and Carl goes a bit deeper than the usual stepson/stepmother and they later give a false description of the killer to the police with the detective played by Felice Orlandi from BULLITT.
   Arriving back at his hotel Bellon finds his passport, luggage and money gone effectively stranding him in an unknown city with no support and as he soon discovers, another hit man (Roy Scheider THE SEVEN UPS) is stalking him presumably hired by Jackie and Alex. Escaping to a supermarket parking lot, he kidnaps a mother (Georgia Engel THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) and her son (Jackie Earle Haley THE DAY OF THE LOCUST). Hiding out in their apartment he gets in touch with boss back home is put in contact with Nancy (Ann Margaret C.C. AND COMPANY), a waitress in a topless bar who helps him.
   With Nancy's assistance Bellon gets a new passport while continually avoiding the attempts on his life by Scheider (who's referred to as Lenny or "the guy from Detroit") all the while navigating through an alien city. Scheider's hit man has no problem finding Bellon as he pops up everywhere but then is totally inept at the actual killing as the pair randomly spray bullets throughout the city. At one point Bellon hooks up with a motorcycle gang in the parking lot of the old Tower Records on Sunset and they escort him downtown while at another point he picks up a hippie Jesus-freak who is shot in the head accidentally by the ever persistent but inept Lenny. The film's climaxes with a bizarre sequence at Victor Kovac's funeral with all the characters from the film gather together for a massive shootout with Victor's body embalmed and sitting upright in a chair with cigar raised silently watching the action.




   One of the more fascinating things to watch for me in films is the way European directors look at America and their take on the landscape and architecture. Here instead of focusing on the tourist L.A., Deray instead shows us the more seedy and genetic aspects of the city including a shoot-out at the decrepit Venice Amusement Pier followed by a chase through over that cites canals. Except for the gangster's Beverly Hills mansion, the movie spends almost the entire running time in hourly-rate motels, diners, topless bars and rundown apartments and whenever the characters are outside they're lost in endless acres of concrete and highways. Thom Anderson is his excellent documentary L.A. PLAYS ITSELF calls THE OUTSIDE MAN "the most precise portrait of the city there is"
    Deray also shows technology as sometimes intrusive and sometimes quirky as TV's drone away in the background in almost every interior scene, as at one point Bellon listlessly watches STAR TREK. At a bus station he watches the news concerning himself and the killing on a small coin-operated TV and uses a coin operated electric razor in the restroom there (which would seem like a hygienic nightmare). The film is reminiscent somewhat of John Boorman's excellent L.A. based neo noir POINT BLANK with its detached protagonist wondering through a cold mechanized world.




    Jean-Louis Trintignant is magnificent as he coolly and methodical goes upon his assignment during the first part of the picture and then all the while keeping his quiet demeanor as things begin to fall apart during the course of the plot. There's a nice little touch when the only time we see him smile is in a strip of photos he takes in a do-it-yourself photo booth for his passport pictures. T
   The entire cast is excellent (this probably Ann Margaret's best role) and Scheider with about five lines of dialogue seems to be having a great time with his role. Coming off the previous year's THE FRENCH CONNECTION he gets the central image in the promotional artwork. French actor Michel Constantin who was a regular in the French crime films of the period shows up as Bellon's boSs who arrives to lend a hand and American character actors Ben Piazza, Sidney Chute appear along with John Hillerman as an officious sales clerk in a department store.
  The film was cut to receive a PG rating originally losing some nudity (with some surprising full- frontal stuff) in the topless bar scenes. THE OUTSIDE MAN is available on DVD from MGM through their on demand service in the full uncut R version, but this really deserves a nice Blu-ray release. Kino has some Jacques Deray scheduled for release later this year as part of their Studio Canal deal, including the excellent THE OUTSIDER with Jean-Paul Belmondo.






  
     












Thursday, May 9, 2019

DEADLIER THAN THE MALE 1967

"These are the women to put up a man's pulse rate - and stop it..... stone dead!"



Cool 1960's Euro-Spy featuring Richard Johnson along 
with Elke Sommer & Sylvia Koscina as bikini-clad assassins!!


 

    One of the countless Bond-inspired spy knock-offs that flooded movie screens post- GOLDFINGER, 1967's DEADLIER THAN THE MALE sometime sadly gets lost in the shuffle. My favorite non-Bond 60'spy film, it's been woefully neglected in terms of home video in the U.S. and desperately needs a nice region 1 Blu-ray.
   Directed by Ralph Thomas (who directed the "Doctor" comedies for Rank), it was written by Liz Charles-Williams, David D. Osborn and Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster - which make me wonder if it was perhaps an unused Hammer project that had been lying about? Although not up to the spectacle (or budget) of the Connery Bond series, it stands as one of one of the best of the wanna-be's and is boosted by a great cast, some nice location work and most of all by the presence of Elke Sommer (BARON BLOOD) and Sylvia Koscina (THE ITALIAN CONNECTION) as the main villain's two master assassins.
   Playing insurance investigator Hugh Drummond (the literary name Bulldog was dropped here), Richard Johnson (ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS) was one of many male British actors of the period who could say he was "almost Bond". Johnson however could rightly say "he could have been Bond" as he was producer Albert Broccoli's first choice to play 007, but he turned it down as he didn't want to commit to a series.




   The character of Bulldog Drummond was first created by author H.C. McNeile (writing under the pen name "Sapper") in 1920. A kind of "gentleman adventurer" ,a series of films followed in the 30's and 40's with the character being revived in this film in attempt to turn him into an international spy.  Although referred to as an insurance investigator working for Lloyd's of London in the film, this is put to rest quickly in the plot as Johnson's Drummond is involved in much more then checking accidents and actuary tables. You wonder if fashioning him as an international spy traveling to exotic locations and hanging out with Elke and Sylvia caused an upswing in insurance investigator job applicants?
    Opening with the spy movie de rigueur pre-credit sequence as we see stewardess Irma (Elke Sommer) in a private jet who kills the sole passenger with booby trapped cigar (which she pulls out pf her garter no less!!) and then placing a bomb on the plane she skydives off and is picked up in a speedboat by Penelope (Sylvia Koscina) which then segues into the great title song performed by The Walker Brothers (which is the best Bond title song never done in a Bond movie). In a scene reminiscent of DR. NO. and used extensively in the film's promo material, we next see the pair emerge from the water onto a beach of a Mediterranean villa where after a bit of flirtatious dialogue they spear gun Wyngarde (John Stone YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) whose been on the case of high-ranking executives around the world meeting mysterious deaths.
    Drummond is introduced practicing karate and living in a swanky London bachelor pad as he's called into the case after the death of his friend Wyngarde. We're also introduced to his nephew Robert (Steve Carlson) who drops in unexpectedly and was probably added to the cast for the American market and his role is like Robert Wagner's in THE PINK PANTHER. At one-point Robert is busy romancing Brenda (Virginia North THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) while she's having eyes for his Uncle Hugh.




   Irma and Penelope continue of off more executives including Leonard Rossiter (THE WITCHES) whose drugged and thrown out a window. The deaths, while violent also contain a touch of dark humor to them and have a feel to them like THE AVENGERS TV show. Although nothing is going to match the spectacle of such Bond films as THUNDERBALL or YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, DEADLIER THEN THE MALE succeeds better hen most of the other glut of spy movies in that it has just the right amount of wry humor while not going for the broad humor that was most of the other films stock-in-trade.
    Hugh and Robert end up in the sunny Mediterranean and meet up the with films arch-villain Carl Peterson, which is the name of Drummond's nemesis from the books and sadly doesn't have quite the gravitas of Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Blofeld but is played by the great English character actor Nigel Green (ZULU). Peterson resides in mammoth castle and it's here the film attempts some Bond-like grandeur with a huge live size mechanical chessboard along with Peterson's harem of female assassins who include Suzanna Leigh (LUST FOR A VAMPIRE). Plus he's got Milton Reid (TERROR OF THE TONGS) as his hulking henchman.
   Seeing Richard Johnson here you can really see why he was chosen for the James Bond role. He carries the requisite charm and debonair air, but still has streak of violence such as in a sequence where he crushes a would-be hit man's leg against a wall with his car. The film has some startling violence especially in relation to other spy films of the period. There's a scene where Penelope tortures Robert with burning matches and it's heavily implied that she tore his fingernails out.
    Even though this is Johnson's film, the real stars here are Elke Sommer and Sylvia Koscina. They make a terrific team and when absent from the screen you long for their return. Sharing a flirty sexual playfulness with their soon to be victims, Elke is more cold-blooded & aloof while Sylvia in an amazing performance (and which the movie makes very clear) is a highly sexually charged nymphomaniac with a penchant for S&M. Their banter back and forth is a delight with Elke continually confronting Sylvia about stealing her clothes. "And I told you before not to wear my negligee!"
   DEADLIER THAN THE MALE is out on a Region B Blu from Network or on a DVD with the slightly inferior (but still fun) sequel SOME GIRLS DO.












All above screen caps are from the Network Region B Blu-Ray