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domenica 24 aprile 2011

Modern Westerns: John Flynn’s male bonding characters between crime, action and drama. The outfit - Rolling Thunder

The Outfit


Released from prison, Earl (Robert Duvall) is brought to a Motel by his girlfriend Bett (Karen Black). Once there, he understands there’s something wrong, while Bett confesses she had been beaten and tortured by some people in order to organize a set up. She has been told they only want to teach him a lesson. Earl waits patiently,  and soon gets rid of the killer sent to “lecture” him with bullets. He discovers that a powerful organized crime outfit wants to kill him and all his old pals, because once, they’ve hit a bank that was owned by the syndicate.
Matter of fact his own brother has been already executed. Earl is screaming for blood and money, as he and Bett want compensation. When the other old partner, Cody (Joe Don Baker) is on board the operation, they start to retaliate against the outfit, hitting all their joints in and out LA. Earl is determined to stop, only when the mob boss (Robert Ryan) will accept to pay 250.000 dollars cash. Things get worse, when instead of being paid, the trio is ambushed and Bett killed. Now it’s not matter of money anymore, it’s close personal; Earl and Cody decide to go for the final hit: the boss’ mansion. With numerous stars from the 40’s noir films like Robert Ryan, Jane Greer and more, Flynn from a novel of Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) pays  homage to the old crime films.
What is very interesting, like in his following films, while he fails to recreate the atmosphere of the noir, he delivers instead a modern crime film with the typical structure of the western. On the run misfits, organized gangs of pursuers, final confrontations, are the very same ones to be found in any western of the past, with cars instead of horses, and modern weapons. The mythic outlaws of the frontier live again; when at the end Earl and Cody will getaway, the latter will declare: “the good guys always win”. Of course there aren’t any heroes John Wayne’s style here, we still take side with a couple of tough criminals that don’t shilly-shally a second before to shoot. The film is fun to watch and is well structured, maybe failing to pay off a little in the end, when things get too obvious. Still, is a joy to look at Duvall’s bad guy with an heart and his own moral code impossible to understand for us; his character is the most definite and Flynn gives rhythm to the story with good action sequences, in which the trio hits the outfit with sardonic brutality.
The movie has been re mastered by Warner, as part of the Warner Archive Collection, for the first time on DVD. Its OAR 1.85:1 preserved and enhanced 16X9. The quality is good, without to excel, the grainy, rough, 70’s feel of Bruce Surtees’ lensing doesn’t help; there are few dirts here and there and some vertical lines at the beginning of last reel. The lines were almost eliminated with a probable wet gate transfer, a proper restoration would have got rid of them. The bit rate is low, since WAC are DVD-R most of the times 5; like in this case, since the movie runs 103 mins. the use of a 9 would have been welcome. No extras as always for WAC, just the trailer included under here. 

The Outfit Theatrical Trailer

Rolling Thunder

 1973, Major Charles Rane (William Devane) is back home together with his buddy Johnny Vohden (Tommy Lee Jones) freed from a prison camp in Vietnam where they were held back after their capture during the war. They are welcome by fellow citizens and families, their coming back is a major event.Johnny is in distress, appalled by this celebration. Charlie comforts him: they are home, they made it, everything is going to be fine. But things are not how they were meant to be. Rane is a hometown hero, he’s awarded with a brand new red Cadillac, and given a large sum in silver dollars, one for each day of imprisonment, but his family is falling apart. His son doesn’t even remember him, and his wife after all these years, has found a new love in a family friend and local sheriff police man Cliff (Lawrason Driscoll). Charlie tries to adapt to the new course of his life, but can’t get rid of the strict rules he imposed himself while he was trying to survive both tortures and prison. He even meets a beautiful blonde girl (Lynda Haynes) that doesn’t hide her fascination for the quiet and tormented man. One day, back home, Charles is attacked by some thugs in his own apartment. The gang wants the funds Charlie has been given and when the man refuses, they don’t hesitate to torture him. But Charlie stoically suffers in silence, remembering in his mind what he had to endure before. Not even when they chop his hand in a garbage disposal of the kitchen sink, the man talks.
But unfortunately his son and wife are back, and the child to stop the ongoing bloodshed reveals where the money is. Soon after the gangsters got it, they shoot the three to death. But Charlie survives. After a few weeks recover, he learns how to use an artificial limb, a prosthesis: a shiny, steel made hook, that is going to be more dangerous than any flesh and bones hand. Charlie tells Cliff he can’t remember what happened, but he’s secretly planning to get revenge, because he does remember and cannot forget, neither forgive. Helped by the girl, Charlie leaves for Mexico on an hunt trip to track down the part American part Mexican gang that is hiding south of the border.
The film was written by Paul Schrader, paying more than an homage to his Taxi driver script (in the first draft of the screenplay Charlie even encounters Travis Bickle the character from Taxi driver), and Heywood Gould that was brought in on a later stage to revise the script and toned down the amass of violence in it, for a more psychological approach to the story. John Flynn directs the movie following in the beginning a slow pace, setting things little by little, showing us all the difficulties of the veterans to come back and to adapt to a life that can’t be normal for them anymore. Masked as exploitation, the film is a fine psychologically study of its characters, their motivations and their sufferings. It lacks the visionary power of Taxi Driver, but maybe it was exactly what both producer and director wanted to achieve, to be averse of that kind of atmosphere for a realistic and dramatic even if more conventional approach. The more interesting issue is the transformation of the man after he has suffered and experienced the horrors of war and its physical violence. Unable to adapt to a common life, Rane and Johnny, suffer a kind of Stockholm syndrome. As the prisoners fascinated by their jailers at the point to be mentally subjected,  they are unable to relate with other human beings without using violence, so part of their life by this time, that is almost giving them relief from the ordinary. It has became their secret companion making them suffer and giving them pleasure at the same time. Exemplary is a scene in which Charlie asks Cliff to hold him to show how the Vietcong were torturing him; when Cliff fails to put more effort because is scared to hurt him, Charlie screams for more and more, as he was secretly enjoying the abuse. Johnny unable to get back to a normal life in a noisy family, signs up for other ten years in the Marines and when Charlie tells him, he has found the criminals doesn’t wait a minute to grab his weapons and follow him for the final showdown. Their relationship with violence it’s unavoidable, it is part of their life.
But Flynn doesn’t forget movies are made also to entertain, and when he gets to the carnage at the end, he delivers an action sequence that is as gruesome as exciting. A shoot them all piece of filmmaking that functions as the cathartic moment for the viewers, whose inner tension has been built up slowly during the whole film. The future of our heroes is uncertain, they survive the battle, but how this act of revenge will change their lives is not meant to know. Produced and supposed to be released by 20TH Century Fox, the film due to its controversial and graphic violence contents, was sold out to AIP and released by this studio in 1977. Fox went all trough the process until the very end, before to  shelve it. From the pictures included in this post, it is possible to look at 20TH Century Fox presents writing deleted just with a common black marker above the title. Previously available on murky VHS tapes and DVD editions that used old analog masters; the movie has been re-mastered from MGM in what looks like to be HD and it has been made available in US through their Limited Edition Collection on DVD-R. While in Spain the Studio released a proper pressed one, the very same examined here. Picture quality is very good with no evident dirts, but it’s a rough movie with a grainy cinematography and a dark mood, specially in Charlie’s house scenes, where lights are kept to minimum, as to suggest the uncomfortable situation of Charlie’s life and the darkness that reside in his inner soul. The movie retains its OAR 1.85:1, 16X9 enhanced, the English audio it’s ok, but a proper equalization would have been more than welcome. On May 30TH 2011, Optimum will release a DVD and BRD in UK, the artwork displayed above is to be confirmed as well as tech specs; but the relevance of the film is stated by the decision to release it in an HD format.
Over the years the movie has acquired a cult status, mostly due to Tarantino’s appreciation for it (so far that his company Rolling Thunder devoted to re release cult classics has been named after this film). It is nowadays a revival houses favourite around US; It is also a good chance to look for the work of actor William Devane who delivers a subtle and tormented performance, helped by younger Tommy Lee Jones that with only few bits manage to steal the scene, with his restrained, hyper tense character, whose rage could explode from  a minute to another.
John Flynn’s films have ever been good vehicles for the actors involved, as the director always paid close attention to a fine casting to deliver the right performances. The characters depicted are tormented and always divided between good and evil. Flynn shows us a contemporary world of crime that looks very much similar to the old frontier. There’s no room for tenderness in this desolated land of cruelty dominated by outlaws, that aren’t less bloodthirsty than in the past. Motivations are greed, rage and brutality, the women abused and overwhelmed find little room, close to these mean men, whose only loyalty bonds are with their own fellows. It’s still the wild, wild West, even if we don’t want to notice. Flynn’s career went further with at least two other films worth watching: the excellent Best Seller and the Stallone vehicle Lock Up (one of the few good of the actor’s career in the mid 80’s). I strongly recommend to watch Flynn’s movies as one of the best examples of 70’s filmmaking, with a classic non aged style, that is more effective now than ever. In an era of shaking hand held cameras used to mask the inefficiency and technical limits of modern directors. 

Film mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar

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