The Outfit (1973), Defiance (1980), Best Seller (1987)


It’s the monthly Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge, when blogger Mike’s Take on the Movies assigns me a movie I’ve never seen and vice versa.

This month’s assignment was The Outfit (1973), which I turned into a triple feature by its director, John Flynn, who also did the great Rolling Thunder (1977).

The Outfit finds Robert Duvall fresh out of prison with a contract on his head because of a bank he robbed with his brother. It was part of the organization run by Robert Ryan, who’s already killed said brother, so Duvall sets out for revenge on the Outfit with the help of girlfriend Karen Black and ex-partner Joe Don Baker. They gather connections, weapons and money needed to go to war, they shake down several of the syndicate operations, bump off or intimidate underlings, meet with useful old friends and unexpected obstacles. These colourful characters are played by the likes of Richard Jaeckel, Elisha Cook Jr., Tim Carey, Marie Windsor, Jane Greer, Henry Jones, Emile Meyer, Bill McKinney, and Sheree North, a deep cast that enriches this cool, gritty, methodical Richard Stark/Donald Westlake “Parker” adaptation. Even with all these stars, the focus stays on the close and convincing bond between Duvall and Baker. They have smooth, professional timing when plans work out, and can read each other and improvise when things go bad. The way they squeak out of the final shootout is a treat. Ryan is great as the miserable mob boss (even his enticing young wife Joanna Cassidy annoys him) whose fury at his crew’s incompetence grows the closer Duvall gets to him. Just as Jane Greer warned Duvall, money isn’t as valuable as love and time.

Next is Flynn’s vigilante justice story Defiance (1980), an urban western set in NY’s East Village, in which Jan-Michael Vincent is a merchant seaman waiting out his suspension in a once-friendly neighbourhood being ruined by the “Souls” gang. Vincent just wants to learn Spanish for his next job, buy some art supplies and mind his own business, but he gets involved when he befriends the locals and when the violence hits him personally. Shopkeeper Art Carney is bullied, sweet retired boxer Lenny Montana is murdered, and worst of all, the rooftop garden installed for the pleasure of tenants like Theresa Saldana and streetwise kid Fernando Lopez is mercilessly stomped on. Vincent and other fed-up neighbours (Danny Aiello, Frank Pesce, Tony Sirico, Don Blakely) finally spearhead a dramatic and satisfying street fight with surprise reinforcements and people pitching food and who knows what else from windows and fire escapes. Slow burning cult movie fun, with surprisingly little graphic violence, light moments like a giant fish toss and the kid dragging adults to an X-rated movie, and Vincent in his prime as a brooding and genial loner hero.



In Best Seller (1987), Brian Dennehy survives a robbery and shooting during a police evidence depository holdup. The only clue to the unsolved crime is a bunch of circular marks on the shooter’s hand. Dennehy writes a hit book about the experience while keeping his job at LAPD (a la Joseph Wambaugh). Years pass and one day, he finds himself stalked by a helpful hit man (James Woods) who worms his way into Dennehy’s life and offers the now-widowed single father some juicy material for his next best seller: an expose of the magnate (Paul Shenar) for whom Woods was a longtime contract killer. Dennehy allays his skepticism by travelling with Woods to confirm his stories, and it helps that Woods can slickly explain anything, even his involvement in the depository holdup, when Dennehy sees him pressing lit cigarettes into his hand. Implausible odd-buddy relationship, so good action and acting go a long way, with just the right amount of reluctance, distaste, bragadoccio and, by the end, mutual respect, between these men from the opposite sides of the law.

Now go check out the fantastic French film I suggested for Mike, where the perfect crime becomes the perfect trap.  


10 thoughts on “The Outfit (1973), Defiance (1980), Best Seller (1987)”

  1. I kind of forgot just how deep that cast is in The Outfit. That’s a heck of a roster and I love that foreign poster. Defiance I actually covered last year and it’s kind of a soft core Death Wish with Ramos a solid baddie. Best Seller a cool flick and a favorite from James Woods most prolific era. Dennehy always a treat. Have that poster and saw it in the theater during it’s first run.
    Great triple feature here!

    1. Great cast and fun just spotting them and seeing what they get to do. I’ve seen Emile Meyer 3 times this week in different movies! Nice bit as the gun dealer here. Ramos was a great, flashy villain and Vincent back in his good days is a treat to see. I can’t seem to stick to just one movie per post anymore, so this was a good pick, thanks! and nice chance to catch up on the others.

  2. Kristina, do you write noir fiction? I’d bet you’d be swell at it.

    As for the movies, not only have I not seen them, I’ve never even heard of them. One of the many great things about your blog is you always feature new films to see. 🙂

    1. No, not fiction but I wrote some screenplays and tv “spec” scripts in my youth, big surprise 🙂 Thanks, The Outfit is the best of the bunch, pulpy fun with that great cast!

  3. Gosh… Reading about such nineties movie early in the morning all I want to do is watch this movies. I love old Hindi movies, I am an Indian by the way. I like to watch movies which have slightly intriguing plots and this? I have to find myself both of these.

  4. Finally saw THE OUTFIT on TCM recently myself. It is all the deft pleasure you ascribe to it…and somehow had a late ’60s rather than early ’70s feel to it, as much as that means anything, except to the extent that youth is by no means at a premium…not even the “mature youth” of the likes of Steve McQueen’s late ’60s films…

    1. 70s is a big gap in my movie knowledge, so I’m always eager to catch up on these movies (just put a few more early 70s crime pictures by the tv). Loved The Outfit, felt just like a classic noir to me and not just because of all the familiar faces in it.

  5. About halfway through your review of THE OUTFIT, I realized I’d seen it before, but I can’t remember when or how. It was so weird! I think I thought it was a good movie. Maybe I watched it when Karen Black passed? Anyway, might need to see it again to refresh my memory.

    1. I like those lean and mean crime pictures, and after this I went on to binge on several others–THE SEVEN-UPS, THE NEW CENTURIONS, THE SPLIT, KLUTE, THE ORGANIZATION–such a good time for those types of movies and could use more now. OUTFIT has such a nice cast for classic movie fans.


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