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Retro Review: THE OUTSIDER (1983)

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THE OUTSIDER
aka LE MARGINAL
(France - 1983)

Directed by Jacques Deray. Written by Jacques Deray and Jean Herman. Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Henry Silva, Carlos Sotto Mayor, Pierre Vernier, Maurice Barrier, Claude Brosset, Tcheky Karyo, Jacques Maury, Roger Dumas, Gabriel Gattand, Michel Robin, Jacques David, Jean-Louis Richard, Didier Sauvegrain, Stephane Ferrara (Unrated, 102 mins)

Though he's renowned by fans of world cinema for being one of the major faces of the French New Wave in films like 1960's BREATHLESS and 1965's PIERROT LE FOU for Jean-Luc Godard, and 1964's LEON MORIN, PRIEST for Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Paul Belmondo is equally well-known in France for his many action movies from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s. Belmondo never really made any attempts to crack the American market despite being courted by the Hollywood studios (the closest he came was a cameo in the 1967 James Bond spoof CASINO ROYALE, and he was enough of a known celebrity then that Than Wyenn played a spy named "Paul John Mondebello" on a 1967 episode of GET SMART), but his commercial action films certainly had a mainstream appeal that managed to get a couple of them distributed stateside (1975's THE NIGHT CALLER actually got an English-dubbed wide release in the US by Columbia). While Belmondo's action films made him a megastar at home and one of France's top box office draws, French critics who admired his early, "serious" work lamented his decision to focus on mainstream popcorn movies. Born in 1933, Belmondo's persona during this career phase was that of a man's man. He did his own often jaw-droppingly dangerous stunts, dated gorgeous actresses (he was romantically linked for several years to Ursula Andress in the '60s and then Laura Antonelli in the '70s), and as the '70s went on, he became the French equivalent of a Steve McQueen, a Burt Reynolds, or a Clint Eastwood. The 1983 cop thriller THE OUTSIDER (French title: LE MARGINAL) came late in the Belmondo action cycle and is rather typical of what French audiences expected when they went to see one of his movies.





At times, it almost feels like a French version of an Italian poliziotteschi, for several reasons: Belmondo repeatedly walking into a bar or a cafe or wherever and cracking skulls like serial bitch-slapper Maurizio Merli; some ridiculous action sequences with Belmondo risking life and limb; a catchy score by Ennio Morricone, some of which would be recycled and tweaked for Roman Polanski's 1988 Paris-set thriller FRANTIC; and the presence of American guest star and polizia fixture Henry Silva as the chief villain. Belmondo is hot-headed Commissioner Philippe Jordan, a cop who--you guessed it--plays by his own rules. He's been transferred from Paris to Marseille to help bust up an extensive drug trafficking operation that's bringing the product into France. After making a splash by commandeering a chopper and jumping from it onto a speedboat (yes, Belmondo does it for real, and it's pretty hair-raising) and destroying a heroin shipment intended for distribution by powerful Paris crime boss Sauveur Meccacci (Silva), Jordan apparently ruffles enough feathers with his actions that he's threatened with being framed for the murder of a Marseille cop unless he takes a demotion and goes back to Paris. Busted down to vice (is this LE MACHINE DE SHARKY?), Jordan pisses off his new boss and most of his new colleagues by persisting in his efforts to take down Meccacci, who's got enough corrupt cops, lawyers, and judges on his payroll and under his thumb that he's completely untouchable.





When he isn't making life miserable for Meccacci's flunkies, Jordan finds other situations where he can start some trouble, like going after a pair of Turkish pimps who beat up Livia Maria Dolores (22-year-old Brazilian pop star Carlos Sotto Mayor, the 50-year-old Belmondo's girlfriend at the time), a lovely young prostitute with whom he's gotten involved; searching for an ousted gay underling of Meccacci's in a leather bar straight out of CRUISING in a scene that would probably get Belmondo cancelled today; or raiding a shithole Rue de Lyon drug den to rescue the smack-addicted teenage daughter of a perp (Maurice Barrier) he sent to prison four years earlier. THE OUTSIDER opens with a terrific foot chase down and across a busy Marseille highway, with Belmondo hopping on and off semi trucks and dodging cars like a live-action version of Frogger, and there's also one terrific Remy Julienne car chase late in the film, where an enraged Jordan caps it off by slamming his Mustang into the other car, then backing up and plowing into it again several more times to make sure Meccacci's guys are dead and their bloodied bodies crushed beyond recognition, with onlookers standing there horrified at his brutality as he just exits his car and walks away. That's how Belmondo gets it done!





Directed and co-written by Jacques Deray (BORSALINO, THE OUTSIDE MAN), THE OUTSIDER was never shown theatrically or on home video in the US until Kino's new Blu-ray (because physical media is dead), release in conjunction with Georges Lautner's THE PROFESSIONAL, another Belmondo actioner from 1981 that's been more widely available in the States. A fandub version of THE OUTSIDER has been available on the bootleg and torrent circuit for years, but the Blu-ray is in French with English subtitles (Silva spoke English on set, but he's been dubbed by a French actor, and his voice wasn't on the bootleg dub, either). Belmondo made a few more action movies, along with the 1985 bank robbery comedy HOLD-UP, which was remade by Bill Murray as 1990's QUICK CHANGE, then decided to be "serious" again in the late '80s, first by returning to the stage and then starring in a 1990 take on CYRANO DE BERGERAC and Claude Lelouch's revisionist, WWII-set LES MISERABLES in 1995. He continued acting until he suffered a stroke in 2001 and went into unofficial retirement, though he made a one-off return to the screen with 2009's little-seen A MAN AND HIS DOG, a loose remake of Vittorio De Sica's 1952 neo-realist classic UMBERTO D. Though his retirement now appears to be permanent, the 86-year-old Belmondo is still a highly visible celebrity in France, where he and old friend Alain Delon were recently brought together for an interview and photo shoot with Paris Match, to the delight of fans who've followed the iconic screen legends for the last 60 years.


Belmondo and Alain Delon in a June 2019 issue of Paris Match


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