Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here. As much as I hate ever having to write an obit, I love when the right person writes one. In this case, our very own Vern has sent me a really lovely piece to celebrate the memory of John Flynn. And if you asked “Who?” then this article is worth your time to read.
Last night I was reading Harry’s GRINDHOUSE review and was taken off guard by his reference to John Flynn having died this week. I can’t find any news articles or obituaries, but the source of this news seems to be the people at The Grindhouse Film Festival who have reported that Mr. Flynn died in his sleep on Wednesday.
Flynn is not a director that has been intensely studied, you’re not gonna find a whole lot of information on him (although Shock Cinema did an interview with him a couple years ago.) I really know nothing about John Flynn the man, but since I’m very fond of three of his movies in particular Moriarty asked me to write up a little something.
Mr. Flynn’s most famous movie, the one every one of you should see, and my number one “FOR GOD’S SAKE WOULD YOU PEOPLE PLEASE PUT THIS OUT ON DVD?” pick since POINT BLANK came out is ROLLING THUNDER. Written by Paul Schrader, this movie is in the vein of TAXI DRIVER if it was a little more of a straight ahead revenge movie. William Devane plays a Vietnam vet who comes home to a hero’s welcome, but becomes very distant and feels nobody understands him. Things get worse when he gets robbed and loses his hand to a garbage disposal. He definitely has more to complain about than John Rambo in FIRST BLOOD. So later there is revenge.
I don’t really know a way to describe the plot without making it sound cheaper and dumber than it really is. This was one of the first movies to deal with Vietnam vets coming home to find that things just aren’t the same anymore, a theme that is unfortunately still pretty potent today. But that’s just one level. More importantly, it works as pure badass cinema. And that’s just about my favorite thing in movies: a real effective tough guy film that underneath also has something to say about the world.
There’s a great scene where Devane goes to get his buddy Tommy Lee Jones to go on a revenge rampage with him. He interrupts the family dinner walking in in full uniform, and Tommy Lee, without hesitation, just gets up from the table and joins him. He just looks at him and he knows. That’s one of my favorite moments in any movie because it’s that great “oh shit, it’s on” moment of badass anticipation, and at the same time it shows how really only another guy who was in Vietnam can truly understand him.
Another favorite (also not on DVD, for crying out loud) is THE OUTFIT. I thought I was about the only guy who cared about this one until I saw Harry mention it a couple times in the last year or so, apparently they played it down there in Austin. THE OUTFIT caught my interest because it’s based on Richard Stark’s third Parker novel. If you’re not familiar with the Parker novels, the first one (called The Hunter) was the basis for both POINT BLANK and PAYBACK. A couple of the later ones were also made into movies – Slayground was a movie starring Peter Coyote, The Seventh became THE SPLIT starring Jim Brown (never on video), the Jugger was the very, very loose basis of a pretty terrible Godard movie called MADE IN USA.
Well, THE OUTFIT is either the second or third best movie based on a Parker novel, depending on how you feel about PAYBACK. Robert Duvall plays the Parker character in this one. It’s actually a pretty direct sequel to The Hunter/POINT BLANK/PAYBACK because in that one Parker pisses off the organized crime corporation called The Outfit, in the second one (The Man With the Getaway Face) he goes on the run, and in this one he gets fed up and convinces his friends to all rob Outfit-run businesses at the same time. No more running. For the movie Flynn (who wrote the screenplay too) added a different motive (they killed his brother) and like most of the adaptations he makes the character more sympathetic. But Duvall is a mean, tough bastard, there’s a really good score and the movie has a real momentum to it. As an added bonus to fans of the books you get to see a few of the recurring characters, including Parker’s long time partner Handy McCay (called Cody and played by Joe Don Baker). Robert Ryan’s character Mailer, by the way, is based on the same character William Devane played in PAYBACK.
The third great movie by John Flynn is – and please, hear me out on this one – OUT FOR JUSTICE starring Steven Seagal. I know you guys are gonna laugh at this one because most of you are not Seagalogists like I am. But it was when I saw this that I looked up John Flynn and made the connection that it was the same guy who did ROLLING THUNDER and THE OUTFIT. Due to my vocation I’ve seen every movie Seagal has ever made several times, and I have long been convinced that OUT FOR JUSTICE is the best directed and most genuinely badass of all of them. In fact, Flynn is one of the very few directors who managed to put his own stylistic stamp on a Seagal picture. It’s not the funniest or most representative Seagal picture, but it’s my favorite.
If this movie starred William Devane or Robert Duvall I’m sure it would be more respectable like those other two. Instead it has my man Seagal struggling to do a New York Italian-American accent, which is admittedly pretty laughable at times. But it has Seagal at his meanest, some of his best fights ever, and the most distinctive story of any of his movies (although I wish they would’ve cut out that epilogue where the dog pees on the guy’s head). It looks and sounds different from all the other Seagal pictures. The score is by the same guy who did the noodly guitars of ABOVE THE LAW and HARD TO KILL but it’s a more ominous and timeless sound that hits you in the balls like Seagal would do if you happened to be in the bar where he comes looking for Richie. Or if you were mean to a dog.
Stylistically the movie is great too. The cinematography is grey and gritty. I love the way they shot the bumpy car chase. With the intense camerawork and the appearance of Jerry Orbach it seems to be the long lost father of all the cop shows they have now. This movie also has hands down, by about a hundred miles, the greatest opening credits of any Seagal movie and most action movies of the era. The scene involves Seagal throwing a pimp by his tie into some garbage, then tossing him headfirst into a car window. There’s a menacing shot looking up at Seagal through the hole in the windshield, it freezes on his mean face and says STEVEN SEAGAL (filling up the whole god damn screen) and then OUT FOR JUSTICE.
Some other Flynn movies you might’ve seen include Stallone’s prison movie LOCK UP and the morbid and in my opinion cheesy horror movie BRAINSCAN, which was the first movie written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Although he was always gravitating to these genre movies, Flynn actually started out pretty serious with 1968’s THE SERGEANT. Rod Steiger apparently plays a macho army sergeant who has to deal with his repressed homosexuality when he realizes he’s attracted to a private played by John Phillip Law. That’s not a movie you’d expect from the director of OUT FOR JUSTICE, or subject matter you’d expect to see in 1968, so maybe it’s another one they oughta put out on DVD. Come on people, you got every season of GOLDEN GIRLS I think we can start getting to some of these John Flynn movies now.
Anyway, it’s too bad. I think we lost an uncharted titan of Badass Cinema this week. But of course some people out there lost a friend and family member, so best wishes to them. Rest in peace John Flynn, and thank you for taking the time to kick our asses.
Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/32221