The Outfit (1973) a (very) belated review

Having just seen Jack Reacher the other day and noting Robert Duvall in a small role within the film toward its end, it was intriguing -in a time travel sort of way- to subsequently see a much much younger Mr. Duvall in the starring role in 1973’s The Outfit, based on the third novel in the popular (and many times filmed) “Parker” series.

For those unfamiliar with the Parker character, he first appeared in the Richard Stark (a pseudonym for Donald Westlake) novel The Hunter.  That book would go on to be filmed and released in 1967 as Point Blank and starred the tough-as-nails Lee Marvin.  Author Donald Westlake, for whatever reason, didn’t want the movies to use the actual name “Parker” and therefore in Point Blank Parker became Walker.  Many years later the film would be re-made with Mel Gibson as the Parker character, this time named Porter, in Payback.

The third book in the series, The Outfit, is the focus of this 1973 film.  In many ways, The novels The Hunter and The Outfit are bookends.  They tell a larger story between themselves, one which was trimmed a little to make this film version.

When the The Outfit, opens, we follow two hitmen who find and kill a man.  We then shift to Macklin (Robert Duvall), who is in jail and is in the process of being released.  He’s picked up by Bett Harrow (Karen Black, looking absolutely stunning), who we find is more than a little nervous about being with Macklin.  She has good reason to be, as we quickly find that the man killed at the beginning of the film was Macklin’s brother and the mob wants to get rid of Macklin as well.  In fact, the mob put considerable pressure on Bett -including torture- to pick up Macklin when he got out of jail and had her set him up for a hit.  The mob is upset that Macklin and his brother’s last job, a bank robbery, targeted one of their banks.  Needless to say, the outfit will not tolerate such impertinence.

What follows is an intriguing cat and mouse game between Macklin and the mob.  With the aid of Bett and old friend Jack Cody (Joe Don Baker), Macklin intends to not only put pressure on the mob to call off the hit, but to also force them to pay him and make amends for killing his brother!

The Outfit features plenty of intriguing and familiar faces.  Legendary screen femme fatales Marie Windsor and Jane Greer pop up for a couple of scenes, as do familiar faces such as Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Elisha Cook Jr., Joanna Cassidy (in an early, early role), and, as the movie’s main bad guy, Robert Ryan.

The story flows well, never slowing too much and always moving toward its resolution.  If the movie has one big fault, to me it’s the character of Bett Harrow.  While I felt Karen Black delivered a great performance in the film, her character’s story arc was disappointingly small once all was said and done.  Early on in the film Jack Cody states that he and Macklin could do what needs to be done against the outfit without Bett.  Macklin disagrees and she stays in the picture but the movie essentially proves Cody was right.

It’s a minor gripe, to be sure, and while I still believe the best “Parker” film ever made remains Point Blank, to me the director’s cut of Payback (avoid the theatrical cut like the plague!) and The Outfit are neck and neck in second place.  Recommended.

And, just for the heck of it, trailers for Point Blank and Payback