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Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a French contract assassin hired by a Los Angeles crime family, ostensibly to perform a hit on some other mafia target. But simultaneously, as he arrives to do his job, a slaying occurs inside the household of the mob boss supposed to employ him. Suspicion is deliberately cast against Trintignant from within that very family. When he tries to flee the country, he discovers that his passport and luggage have been stolen. From that moment on, Trintignant is on the run from the police and the minions of two different mob families. What makes his escape hazardous is that the real murderer shares all the information known about him to aid in his capture and death. Written by
Ann-Margret in a plunging neckline--need I say more?
"The Outside Man" is one of those films that I would classify as a "guilty pleasure." I first saw it as a child of eleven on the second half of a double bill with "Little Big Man" at a retro drive-in in 1974. This is exactly the type of film my parents would have walked out on in fifteen minutes, since my Dad is a strict law-and-order type and likes films where there are good guys and bad guys and the good guys win. Lucky for me, this film played FIRST, so they were stuck sitting through it. I, for one, loved it because it was fast-paced and action-packed (and very violent) and couldn't have cared less that everyone in it was a crook. (I still don't.) It's one of my favorite films of the '70's and remains one I watch again and again.
"The Outside Man"'s plot is simple: A French hit man (Jean-Louis Trantignant) travels to Los Angeles to kill a mobster. Upon completion of his assignment, he returns to his hotel to find he has been checked out and that his belongings (wallet and passport included) are gone. Upon leaving the hotel, he is ambushed by an American assassin (played with icy menace by Roy Scheider, a million miles from his "Jaws" sheriff), who has obviously been hired to kill him. After an exciting chase through the streets of L.A., and a brief respite in the apartment of a dippy widow and her smart-aleck son ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show"'s Georgia Engel and a very young Jackie Earle Haley), he contacts his boss and is told to find the boss's ex-moll Nancy Robson (Ann-Margret). He meets her in a topless bar and she agrees to help him get the hell out of Dodge. This sets up a series of chases and shootouts as she tries to help him leave town while he dodges Scheider's bullets.
Sure, this film is at times as trashy as it sounds. But it's also highly entertaining and has a top cast which also includes Angie Dickinson in the small role of the gangster's widow. In spite of the fact that he's playing a cold-blooded killer, Trantignant actually elicits a certain amount of audience sympathy and the mostly silent Scheider (who probably has five lines of dialog, total) is a hair-raising villain. Dickinson is appropriately shady and Engel at times very funny (and touching) as the victimized housewife. And then there's the eye-popping Ann-Margret, who I believe filmed this before her near-fatal Vegas accident: Her plunging neckline, blond wig and mini-dresses alone are worth the price of rental. Add at least two exciting extended chase sequences and a uniquely filmed shootout in a mortuary (where the mobster has been embalmed in a sitting position, cigar in hand) and you have a highly entertaining melodrama in which everyone eventually gets their comeuppance.
All-in-all, "The Outside Man" is a highly entertaining film lark from an era where films were actually distinguishable from each other, and didn't all look like yesterday's recycled trash. *** (out of *****)
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