[Originally published in Movietone News 28, December 1973]
The American cinema owes the French cinema—which is to say French critics and audiences as well as French filmmakers—an enormous debt. And so do any American cinephiles whose cataracted vision began to clear only after Gallic enthusiasm pointed the way to a discovery of our national cinematic treasures. Why, the film noir, one of the richest veins in our movie mines, bears a French moniker; and French cinéastes have emulated that particular tradition time and again, from the commercial likes of Borsalino to the more personal genre work of the recently deceased Jean-Pierre Melville to the radically stylized, self-aware poetry of Godard’s Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville, and Pierrot le fou. The progression syntactically implied there is stylistic rather than chronological: Borsalino, an enjoyable piece of period fluff concocted by Jacques Deray, postdates the others. It would be nice to say that Deray’s first American-made film added new dimensions to the genre; that a foreign filmmaker practiced in shooting French-based derivations of our native genre might reveal to us unsuspected strains of exoticism gleaming out of the domestic bedrock. But no.
The Outside Man is a lifeless movie, bereft even of cult interest. References to previous American thrillers abound, but in the form of hack plagiarism of scenes, situations, and above all terrain: not “quoted” but merely reduplicated. Pieces of Hickey and Boggs, Point Blank, Targets keep going by, and always the effect is to remind us of better films, films of varying worth but, nevertheless, movies alive on some level of achievement or inferred intention. To the extent that The Outside Man has a clean, classical storyline (French hitman comes to L.A. to bump off an American crimelord, then finds he’s a target himself), it’s entirely predictable; to the extent that Deray bungles the plot complications (through excessively slow leaks of some information, hamhanded adumbration of the rest), it’s trivial and tedious. Jean-Louis Trintigant plays the outside man without any charm whatsoever—and also without any of the perversity he brought to his roles in Les Biches, Z, or The Conformist—though surely both he and Deray are out of sorts in the English language. Ann-Margret without Mike Nichols has regressed to being Ann-Margret, only a little older, and Angie Dickinson, so memorable in Point Blank and at least iconographically effective in The Killers, not only goes to waste here but appears, sadly, to have gone to seed as well. Roy Scheider brings with him the career authentication of The French Connection, but little else: his paid gun gunning for Trintignant is monolithic. Umberto Orsini looks right as the thickening blond heir to the crime boss’s throne, but the only real juice in the film is provided by the endearingly bellicose Ted DeCorsia—and his role is only about thirty seconds long.
THE OUTSIDE MAN
Direction: Jacques Deray. Screenplay: Jean-Claude Carrière, Jacques Deray, Ian McLellan Hunter; after a story by Carrière and Deray. Cinematography: Terry K. Meade, Silvano Ippolito. Music: Michel Legrand. Production: Jacques Bar.
The Players: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ann-Margret, Umberto Orsini, Angie Dickinson, Roy Scheider, Michel Constantin, Alex Rocco, Ted DeCorsia.
Copyright © 1973 Richard T. Jameson