Mr. Reese and the Candids

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It’s not hard finding images of movie stars online.  When putting together my recent piece on the seven actors I thought might have played Parker in the past, but never did, I had an embarrassment of pictures to sift through.  I picked the ones I thought got my points across best.

With one exception.  Tom Reese.  Born 1928, six feet three inches tall.  My personal favorite of the bunch.  By far the least famous.  (Compared to him, William Smith was an A-Lister.)  Call it my love of the underdog.  That’s an IMDb link, incidentally.  Google “Tom Reese, Wiki” and you get an article about a cricketer from New Zealand.

You can find the odd few screen captures of Reese, from this or that film, but the only one I could find from The Outfit was of very poor quality.  The others I found, relating to different roles, did not do him justice.  To be honest, most of his film roles did him no justice.  He fared somewhat better on television, where many a first-rate thespian eked out a living back in the day (and still does).  In no way shape or form could you call him a movie star.

I mean, when one of your career highlights on the big screen is playing an Oddjob style villain named Ironhead in one of those ultra-kitschy Matt Helm movies, and you have to pretend Dean Martin can beat you up–you get the picture.  Or you would, if you Googled around some.

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(At least Harold Sakata got to knock Sean Connery around some before he took a dive.  Geez, Reese was asked to autograph these things.)

Hating injustice as I do, I ordered a brand new remastered DVD of The Outfit, which just arrived this morning.  I did some screen grabs, and from now on there will be decent pics of Tom Reese online.

In The Outfit, Tom Reese plays a hit man.  Whose name in the credits is “Hit Man.” He’s the first character of any note we see in the film’s opening scene, where he kills Macklin’s brother, while dressed as a priest (which makes no sense, like most of the film). He’s accompanied by another hitter, Frank Orlandi, played by Felice Orlandi.  But Reese’s character is the one that matters, the boss killer, who plans hits for The Outfit.

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Reese and Duvall have no scenes together–Macklin isn’t interested in taking revenge on mere mechanics, seeing the organization itself as his target.  I suspect they didn’t have the budget to write more scenes for Reese, give him a name, motivation, etc–that way they’d have had to pay him more.  Their loss.  He gives the most interesting performance in this movie, far as I’m concerned.  (Okay, tied with Joe Don Baker, having fun with his second banana role.)

Reese comes on like a major player in every scene he appears in, somebody Macklin will eventually have to reckon with.  But for whatever reason, he’s treated as secondary (maybe more like tertiary) to Timothy Carey’s sneering over the top underboss.  Carey, who played small roles in a lot of important films, has something of an online cult, and maybe he earned that elsewhere, but not here.

“Hit Man” pops up again at a restaurant owned by Cody, the Handy McKay of this story, played by Joe Don Baker.  This time, he’s dressed as a hunter.  Suits him.

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He and a different partner (played by former boxer Roland La Starza) are there to kill Cody, but because the local law is eating there, that gets called off.  Reese, realizing the game has to be called on account of cops, gets up to go, nonchalantly tosses a coin on the counter, walks out, pausing at the door to say–

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“You know something, Cody, you ought to play the races.  You’re that lucky.”

No outward emotion.  He plays every scene, reads every line, 100% deadpan.  Not because Reese couldn’t do emotional reactions, if the director needed some.  He’s making a deliberate choice to keep it all inside.   You can see just a glimmer of annoyance when he realizes he can’t do the job now.  But he’s not frustrated.  If at first you don’t succeed…..

The attempted hit on Macklin, borrowed in a ham handed way from the novel, doesn’t involve Reese’s character.  They send Orlandi, without back-up, even though he’s nowhere near as good as Reese’s hitter.  (I mentioned this movie makes no sense, right?)

But as The Outfit begins to realize Macklin and Cody are a threat, they get the A-talent back in the game, and Reese is seen talking to a man outside the motel Macklin, Cody, and Karen Black’s Bett are staying at.  He walks off, a cheroot in his mouth, arms swinging at his sides, and I’ll say again–I don’t give a hoot what the credits say.  This is Parker!

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And after all that build-up, he is seemingly killed off in a perfunctory manner, almost as an afterthought, along with Carey’s character Menner and some other guy I don’t care about, when they use some bought cops to try and whack the independents out on the highway.  They come driving up slowly from the other direction, while the fuzz have them distracted, and you can just barely make out Reese in the back seat of the car.

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As they close in for the kill, you see Hit Man’s gun (same one he used on Macklin’s brother) stick out of the rear window–it’s a terrible position for him to be firing from.  You can sort of infer what happened, if you read between the scenes–he found Macklin, scouted the terrain, planned the hit, but Menner, looking for revenge, forced his way in, took it over, screwed it up. Kibbitzers.  They’ll get you ever time.

Macklin and Cody, having neutralized the cops, respond with superior firepower, the Outfit car goes off the road, turns over, bursts into flame–after Menner comes out shooting, with predictable results.  Bett gets killed in the crossfire.  You don’t see Reese or the other guy at all.  The implication is they’re unconscious/dead, and will get burned to a crisp, leaving an interesting puzzle for the real law when they show up.

Macklin, now having both his brother and his girlfriend to avenge (::sigh::) will mount an improbably successful attack on Mailer’s mansion (they do not reconnoiter before moving in, like Parker and Handy), then drive away with a wounded Cody in an ambulance, yelling “The good guys always win!”  Yeah, but you didn’t win any money, did you?

Flynn later explained that an MGM exec insisted on an ‘upbeat’ ending.  Which sounds a bit odd to me.  The end of the novel isn’t at all depressing.  It’s one of the most upbeat Parker novels I can think of.  Parker and Handy kick ass and get paid.  Nobody they like gets killed. I don’t know if Flynn’s story means Cody originally died in his script, Macklin went back to jail, or they just had to throw in the good guys joke at the end to send the audience out happy.  If it was either of the first two, I’d say the suit was the good guy here.

I know I’ve been very down on what is, for many, a classic of the genre (and a movie Westlake is known to have called his favorite of the Parker adaptations–I have my own opinions as to what he meant by that).

For me, it’s an exercise in frustration.  This could have been something amazing, if the script wasn’t so lousy.  Great cast, great atmosphere, great cinematography, great music.  Flynn does a fine job coordinating all this; he knew how to do that.  But he just had to write it himself, didn’t he?  Be the auteur. He didn’t know how to do that.  Anymore than Menner knew how to plan an ambush.  Kibbitzers.

After the shoot out on the highway, we never see ‘Hit Man’ again.  There’s never any direct confirmation he’s dead.  He and Macklin never once eyeball each other, even though he was the one who got the whole story kickstarted, before we ever laid eyes on Macklin.  It’s a very unsatisfying conclusion to a character arc.  If you want to call it that.

Here’s what I say happened–I’m imagining a post-credits scene, which they didn’t have very often in the 70’s, but what the hell.  Hit Man gets out, after Macklin and Cody (and the now deceased Bett) drive away, before the car explodes.  He dusts himself off.  He walks away calmly, arms swinging at his side.  He bides his time, makes his plans, no amateurs this time.  A few minutes after that ambulance leaves the mansion–well, turns out the good guys don’t always win.

I’m allowed to be prejudiced on my own blog. In a good cause.  Giving an honest workman a bit of overdue credit surely qualifies as that.

And speaking of honest workmen–hello, John.  You seem upset.  What’s that you say?  Fourteen straight posts about the other guy?  Fancy that.  Funny story, I actually reread your book like a month ago, but the other thing kept expanding, and I figured you could wait.  Save the best for last, you know?  Technically, Ask The Parrot was better, but your final outing is quite interesting.  I just have a few more things to say about the finer nuances of the Starkian aesthe–I beg your pardon?  You want your review now?

John, I’m sorry you’re upset, but you must recognize, I’m in authority here. Anyhow, what are you going to do about it? Everybody knows you never hurt anyb–oh.  Hi Tiny.  Didn’t see you looming in the shadows there.  You move quiet for a big guy.

No, I would never want to be rude, Tiny.  Proper etiquette is the driving force of my existence.  Ha, that’s a clever pun.  Yes, I heard the story about what you did to that procrastinator who annoyed you.  I know all those stories.  I should probably start working on that review now.  Good seeing you guys.  Regards to May and Josie.  Tiny, please don’t slam that–damn.  Better call the locksmith.

Well, no point putting it off any longer, folks.   All good things must come to an end.  Time to get real.

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21 Comments

Filed under Donald Westlake film adaptations, John Dortmunder, Parker film adaptations, Richard Stark, Uncategorized

21 responses to “Mr. Reese and the Candids

  1. Digging through his IMDb page (two credits as “Hit Man”!), it seems likely I’ve come across him from time to time. An episode of “Moonlighting” here, an episode of “Simon and Simon” there, and I’ve definitely seen Support Your Local Sheriff more than once, as it was a Sunday afternoon staple of my local ABC station when I was growing up. But before today, I’d never have been able to pick him out of a lineup. I still haven’t seen The Outfit, and I’m not sure I ever will. But he has the right look, that’s for sure.

    • There’s probably no one perfect actor for all the novels. Parker was much more–the word I’m looking for may be galvanic–in the early books. He got calmer and cooler as the series went on, though he’d still have that button in his head, waiting to be pushed.

      Reese is the best combination of qualities I’ve found. Unfortunately, the quality he lacked was star power. Which nobody has ever been able to quantify. And I don’t need to tell you how it can get in the way, when you’re trying to capture a great fictional character on screen. Most big stars have defined personas, that carry over from role to role (even Streep doesn’t entirely disappear–only big star I can think of who vanished into a role–by design–was Marlene Dietrich, in Witness For the Prosecution). You end up rewriting the character to fit them. Sometimes it works (Bogie and Sam Spade). More often not.

      I would have seen Reese many times on the Ellery Queen series with Jim Hutton, where he played a cop–and I don’t remember him at all. One of those unsung heroes. But I wanted to highlight his unsung antihero. It’s such good work, and I still think Parker being a priest in Flashfire was a quiet homage to Reese, and just maybe, a commentary on who really deserved the lead role, even though he could never have had it.

      The Outfit is worth seeing. It gets so many things wrong, but what it gets right is dead right. Westlake would have wanted to express his appreciation of that, which is I think why he overpraised it. Flynn went out of his way to say he was a fan of the books, which would have been a nice change after Godard and Boorman.

      I’m not convinced Flynn understood the books he was reading–if he had, he’d have begged on his hands and knees for Westlake to break his self-imposed rule, and write the screenplay. But he had a right to do it his way. And people had a right to go see something else. 😉

      • Well, I went ahead and watched it ($2.99 to rent on Amazon streaming). I wish I could have seen it without knowing its provenance (or paying close attention to opening credits), because I’m curious to know how long it would have taken me to realize what this was an adaptation of. The first mention of Menner and Jim St. Clair, most likely, and definitely by the time Macklin hijacks the card game. Scenes that hew closely to the novel flow in and out of the movie like the tide, but then you get a moment like the one where Macklin throws a stick for the dog (which made me laugh out loud). This is NOT Parker. In many loose adaptations of novels, you’ll come across a scene that’s right out of the book, but makes no sense in the new context. The first scene with Chemy’s brother is like that. In the book, he doesn’t recognize Parker because of his plastic surgery, so they have to go through the whole business of Parker proving who he is. Most of that same dialogue is in the movie, but for no real purpose. Macklin’s never met these guys. How does he know which brother is which? Did Eddie show him a picture?

        In any case, I liked it well enough as a modest B-movie entry in the ’70s crime movie canon. Liked how grimy and lived-in everything was (a couple of the car windshields had bird shit on them). There wasn’t much point to Karen Black’s character. It felt to me like they were trying to evoke Katharine Ross from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but falling way, way short. That scene where she calls her daddy felt to me like the scene in Butch when Etta quietly tells Butch she’s going to head home. That’s the moment everyone (including Butch and Sundance) knows they’re doomed. But again, what played like gangbusters in Butch falls short here. (And the jarring transition between Macklin slapping her and the two of them laughing happily on the bed was just bizarre.)

        As far as Reese goes, he didn’t make the same impression on me as he did on you. If not for this article, I doubt I’d have singled him out for notice. But there’s something there. In the first scene, I got a bit of a Dean Stockwell vibe from him. There’s another actor worth considering — but once again, he’s too damned short.

        • I’m sure for most people, he made no impression at all, and the first time I watched this one (same way you did just now) I didn’t pay him much mind.

          He grows on you a bit with each viewing–whereas a Lee Marvin grabs you by the lapels, even if you don’t have any. I could see some studio head, if his name was brought up, saying the delayed appreciation of aficionados isn’t what the bottom line calls for. Of course, the Marvin and Duvall films both flopped, so maybe they should have gone with Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood. Or Burt Reynolds, if they wanted to really do the redneck drive-in thing up right. I always enjoy me some Burt.

          Grimy and lived-in–love that part of it. If I’d come across it on late-night TV as a kid, I’d probably have been captivated. But having come across the novel first, it’s a very poor second, and I see every last thing wrong with it, which makes it hard to appreciate what’s right. They talk about sausages, but I know how they’re made, and can still enjoy them. Doesn’t work that way with movies. If you’re making a sausage, make it taste good on the way down.

          I think Karen Black was supposed to be somewhere between Katharine Ross and Faye Dunaway. They should have just let her be Karen Black, like from Five Easy Pieces (hey, Nicholson–why not?). What an utterly thankless role–Sheree North is having a lot more fun, as is Marie Windsor, though she’s not the right pick for Madge.

          I’d like to edit out the bedroom scenes between Duvall and Black. They aren’t sexy, they serve no purpose, they make you hate Macklin, and despise Bett (who is so far from the character in the book, you wonder why they gave her the same name). Macklin’s character is all over the place when it comes to women.

          Is he a backwoods gentleman, defending a lady’s honor–or a roadshow Stanley Kowalski in a wifebeater? I guess some guys can do both, but Parker isn’t some guys. He can be cruel, but he’s no hypocrite. He never slapped Claire once, after that time in The Rare Coin Score, when it was as much in her interest as his to get her to calm down. Watching the DVD, I refused to go over that scene where he beats Bett up for touching his gun. Sheesh. How Freudian can you get?

          Flynn enjoyed bringing in ghosts from the past, like Archie Moore, Henry Moore, Elisha Cook, and would Anita O’Day really be doing torch songs in that joint? I remember her playing the St. Regis and other classy Gotham rooms, back in the 80’s. They could have given her a scene with Madge–maybe they had history. It’s the background that really works in this movie, but he never focuses in much on it (think of what Jean Pierre Melville can do with the same kind of story–with him, it’s what happens in-between the action that matters). Westlake was right when he said it’s the script that matters. The director’s just a traffic cop, most of the time. Movies are made of paper.

          They sure didn’t do much with Jane Greer–still a hauntingly lovely woman, even when they’re not dressing her up like a noir queen. I don’t think Black would have wanted to switch places with Joanna Cassidy, though. She had no luck at all with Westlake adaptations. At least she got to work with Robert Ryan and George C. Scott. I’m tempted to call her a female Tom Reese.

          It’s fine to blame Flynn, and I do about the writing, but he didn’t have the power to protect his vision, flawed though it might be. Where nearly all the Westlake adaptations go wrong is in the production department. They were more remaking other movies, as you say, than telling a version of Westlake’s story.

          Thanks for taking the time to watch it–and for the great capsule review. Not that I really set out to re-review The Outfit here, but I kind of did anyway. It’s the kind of movie you can enjoy taking apart more than you can watching it.

          • Elisha Cook, of course, appears immediately following the scene in which Menner calls Macklin a “gunsel” — a word I so closely associate with Cook that it was startling to see him appear so soon after it was uttered (and I have to believe that was deliberate). It’s a word that so many people (including Hammett’s editor) mistakenly believed to mean “gunman” that that definition took permanent hold.

            • (Blinks. Googles ‘gunsel.’ OHHHHHH!!!)

              The more ya know.

              • I liked the stoic bodyguard outside the card game, who matter-of-factedly took his lumps (with one small request), just something that comes with the territory. That felt like a genuine Stark scene, even if it didn’t explicitly come from the books (thought it might have; I can’t remember).

              • It seems more like a Dortmunder scene to me. Of course, there was no bodyguard at the card game in The Outfit. Parker shoots Menner several times, and never in the hand, because why would he? What, is he supposed to be the mean schoolteacher from How Green Was My Valley?

                The guy put out a contract on him, he’s provided all the information Parker wants, he’s not important enough to use as leverage (the way Parker used Meany, much later on), and he needs to make a point. Making Menner a major character in the film seems like a headscratching decision to me. Carey may have given decent performances in some other films, but he’s dead weight here. (Just not soon enough.)

  2. *THOUGH it might have, I meant to say

  3. Oh, and being a Mainer, I took particular note of JDB’s dream (borrowed from Handy) of opening a diner, but his will be in Oregon, not Maine. Still, they kept the diner’s location as Presque Isle, which is a real place. In Maine.

    • They’ve done how many Parker films now?

      And not a one set in the northeastern U.S.

      Just about everywhere else in the western world, but not there.

      Cody’s diner was nicely done. Obviously that was a real place they stuck a sign on for the shoot. Location shooting in general was very good for this one, and I’d assume they had somebody who specializes in that kind of thing, scouting out places. JDB is, as I’ve said, excellent–so much so that he can overshadow Duvall. It just wasn’t the right kind of role for Duvall. I get the feeling he wasn’t comfortable with it, but then again, looking uncomfortable is kind of a Duvall thing, so maybe not.

      These days, I find myself surrounded by film shoots–in my nabe (old buildings, light traffic), at my job (very scenic college campus). New York in general has become a mecca for film and TV. So of course when it came time to adapt yet another Stark novel, and for once use the same setting as the book (part of the book), they opted for the one set mainly in Florida. And one of the tackiest places in Florida to boot.

      It’s a conspiracy. 😐

  4. mikesschilling

    He’s accompanied by another hitter, Frank Orlandi, played by Felice Orlandi.

    Check out the credits for The Caine Mutiny some time, May Wynn, played by May Wynn. (She was a newcomer, and adopted it as her stage name.)

    • Her birth name was Donna Lee Hickey, and that was clearly not going to work for her, unless she could get a job on one of those Paul Henning shows set around Hooterville. You ever wonder if they got a Hooters there? For all I know, that’s where the franchise started up. Well, you started it. 😉

      • mikesschilling

        Or a Tim Hortons.

        And, as you know, Fred, May Wynn was also a stage name for the character, who was born Marie Minotti. Willie Keith thought she was cool as hell for liking opera, until he learned it was merely an ethnic oddity.

        • Why are we discussing a minor subplot in a Bogart flick? And who’s been pilfering the strawberries from the blog fridge? Also, do you think Queeg would have one of those fidget spinners now? No cool sound effect, but a better visual. I’m torn about it.

          What were we talking about? Oh right, Tom Reese. Whose birth name was Tom Allen. Not sure why he changed it. Biographical details are scarce. For all I know, he robbed banks in his spare time. 😐

          Here’s a decent blog article about him.

          http://cscottrollins.blogspot.com/2012/08/happy-birthday-tom-reese-thug.html

          I’m not sure I’d consider the Apostle Thomas a thug, exactly. And guess what? They cut out his big doubting scene in the movie. Tom Reese never could catch a break. Maybe he should have played Dortmunder.

  5. My reference to Reese’s thankless role in Murderer’s Row (of course he had to take a dive, but they could have let him at least muss Martin’s hair a bit first) got me curious about the Matt Helm novels of Donald Hamilton, none of which I’ve ever read.

    I was well aware that the film adaptations don’t deserve to be called that–basically all that ever got used in the movies was the Helm name and the title–change the latter, you’d have a hard time guessing which book was being adapted.

    I did not know that when Columbia bought the film rights, in 1965, they bought the rights to the first eight novels at once (or possibly books #2-#9, since they never even tried to adapt the first one). They only got to four of them before Martin decided he’d had enough, but that must have been quite a nice check Donald Hamilton got to cash.

    Our Donald certainly would have heard about it, and I wonder if this was one reason he started saying that he wouldn’t allow Parker’s name to be used unless the studio wanted to buy all of them. The eighth Parker novel was published in ’66.

    By the time there were two or three times that many, it was no longer even theoretically possible to do this with regards to a film series, but he never revised that stricture, that I know of. The Official Westlake Blog says that the producers in question only had to agree to make more than one film, which is how we got ‘Parker,’ but clearly that agreement wasn’t very binding. I doubt they purchased the rights to any other novels besides Flashfire–just an option to buy more of them, that has now lapsed. I would hope.

    I’ll always believe Westlake didn’t want to see Parker folded spindled and mutilated under his own name, and made this demand to prevent that from happening–after all, the name Parker is a lot less distinctive than the name Matt Helm.

    He couldn’t very well have have thought that a multiple book deal guaranteed greater fidelity to the source after seeing The Silencers.

    (Nor can I think copyright is a sure protection from Hollywood borrowing your ideas without compensation or credit, when I read the synopsis for Death Of A Citizen. Luc Besson must have been quite taken with that one. Say no more, nudge nudge.)

    • Hollywood “logic” often eludes me, but no more so than when the film rights to a popular property are obtained and the source material largely ignored. I mean, I understand how it happens (and, to a certain extent, why), but often it seems as though the producers could have saved themselves the licensing fee (not that I would begrudge an author a licensing fee). If the makers of the Jimmy Fallon / Drew Barrymore / Boston Red Sox romantic comedy Fever Pitch had gone ahead and made that exact same movie but called it something else, would Nick Hornby have even blinked? If the makers of the Denzel Washington action flick The Equalizer had made the exact same movie but called it (and its main character) something else, would TV producer Coleman Luck have raised a fuss?

      Well, quite possibly, I suppose. Theft in Hollywood is almost as rampant as copyright infringement lawsuits. But the availability of particular stars and/or writers and/or directors can lead to a certain amount of mission creep. Name recognition is one thing, but fans of the original can’t recognize anything about original in the new product, what’s the point?

      But what do I know? Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible series has been going strong for more than two decades now, and that’s another project that could have been called something else from the very beginning (with a different theme song) and no one would have been the wiser — as long as Jon Voight’s character in the first one had also been named something else (which he absolutely should have been).

      • Yeah, but then they couldn’t have used Lalo Schifrin’s theme, and that’s the only thing in those movies I like.

        Given that an author will often get more money from a film studio for their right to go ahead and totally ignore what he wrote than he or she got from the publisher who put it out verbatim, it’s understandable that authors rarely complain too much about this, or at least not too publicly (Alan Moore is the honorable exception, but since he’s a mad genius, nobody pays him any mind). One might suspect that when they see their ideas from other works borrowed without pay or credit, this makes them less likely to sue. Reciprocal back-scratching.

        And sometimes the right is on Holllywood’s side. David Goodis was not the most reasonable of persons, and I think on the whole that his lawsuit over The Fugitive was sorely misguided. A very superficial resemblance between that and Dark Passage–which had already been a very successful movie (and one of the most faithful adaptations of a mystery novel I can recall offhand). Goodis was having his problems late in life. Well, pretty much his whole life. But for the record, Dark Passage is a lot better. And wouldn’t make a very good TV series. (Little known fact. Goodis did not need the money. He left quite a large fortune when he died. Mainly because he was really cheap.)

        Luc Besson probably read Death Of A Citizen, and then took the basic idea of an agent with a very specific set of skills coming out of retirement to rescue his kidnapped daughter. I feel sure copyright had not expired, and since I haven’t read the novel (just a synopsis), I don’t know how close it is–probably not much more was taken(heh) than the bare bones premise, which doesn’t usually add up to plagiarism. Probably no harm no foul there (unless you’re Albanian).

        I can’t, however, check on this right away, because the library I work for has not one of Hamilton’s novels–only the films. All four of them. You wouldn’t think there’d be a whole lot of swingers at a Jesuit institution, but you know, they can surprise you. 😉

  6. By the way, the license plate on the car Mr. Reese’s hit man character either did or did not die in (Schrödinger’s’s hit man?) was used again in Repo Man:

    http://cultandexploitation.blogspot.com/2015/01/repo-man-1984.html

    • It seems to be the exact same plate, though a different car–unlikely to be an homage, they just have plates they use again and again for movies, just like they have cars for movies–some outfit that specializes in providing rides for shoots, I presume. Repo Man was distributed by Universal, and The Outfit was MGM.

      And how the holy fuck did you notice that? It’s not mentioned in the blog article at all.

      😮

      • Yeah, I didn’t think it was an homage. Just one of those things that interests me. There are license plates and other props that are used over and over again. Somewhere, someone has posted a picture of Ed O’Neill reading a paper in an episode of “Married With Children” next to a picture of a much older Ed O’Neill reading the same paper in an episode of “Modern Family.”

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