Cinema Retro spoke and Warner Brothers listened! In one of our previous "We Want Our DVD!" columns, we called for the release of this obscure 1974 crime film on DVD. Lo and behold, it has just been released by Warner Archives. What follows is our original review.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Although Robert Duvall had been playing supporting roles in major films since To Kill a Mockingbird, it was his Oscar-nominated turn as Tom Hagen in The Godfather that elevated him to leading man status. Before long, Duvall was being courted for numerous other gritty crime thrillers. One of the best is one of the least-heralded, The Outfit, a 1974 production from MGM. Written and directed by John Flynn, the film is expertly-made and enacted on all levels. Duvall plays a small-time crook doing time for a bank robbery. As soon as he is released from jail, he finds he's been marked for death by mob boss Robert Ryan (excellent, as always, in what turned out to be his final screen appearance). Apparently, Duvall had been unaware that the bank he held up was secretly owned by Ryan, who has already killed his brother for acting as an accomplish during the heist. Duvall becomes obsessed with avenging his brother's death and getting to Ryan before the mob can exercise its contract. He enlists the help of sultry girlfriend Karen Black and fellow petty crook Joe Don Baker. Before long, they are barely escaping death as they raid various mob locations to bleed Ryan financially. The climax finds Duvall and Baker trying to infiltrate Ryan's seemingly impregnable compound to deliver the coup de grace.
Like some many worthy films of the 1970s, The Oufit was dismissed by critics as a run-of-the-mill crime caper. That may have been understandable decades ago, but when contrasted to today's over-blown, under-written action films, it resembles pure art. One of its champions in recent years has been Quentin Tarantino. The movie was originally intended to be a period piece set in the 1940s but MGM balked at the budget requirements and insisted that it be a contemporary story. One benefit of the aborted scenario is that many old time actors such as Elisha Cook Jr., Jane Greer, Roy Roberts, Richard Jaeckel, Marie Windsor and Timothy Carey had already been cast in roles of varying lengths. There are also memorable performances by Bill McKinney, Sheree North and Joanna Cassidy. However, it the chemistry between Duvall and Baker that provides most of the highlights, along with imaginatively-staged action sequences and biting, realistic dialogue. The film also boasts an impressive score by Jerry Fielding.
The Outfit is a truly terrific film and should be made available on DVD. Click here to watch a clip Click here to read TCM critic Jeff Stafford's take on the film