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Exploitation Filmmaker John Flynn Passes Away, And Outlaw Vern Pays Tribute

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. thanks, Vern
Readers Talkback
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  • April 9, 2007, 12:21 a.m. CST

    Great obit

    by Darth Thoth

    May he rest in peace. I will definitely have to go check out some of those titles. Thanks Vern. Peace.

  • April 9, 2007, 12:25 a.m. CST

    Very well said

    by Mike_D

    R.I.P.

  • April 9, 2007, 12:31 a.m. CST

    Great work Vern!

    by Neo Zeed

    Rest in peace John Flynn. And if Seagal wants to know what kind of DTV flicks he should be doing.....he should watch his copy of Out For Justice.

  • April 9, 2007, 12:32 a.m. CST

    I Just Hope This Talkback Doesn't Descend . . .

    by kevinwillis.net

    Into a racist cespool of profanity and sexually-charged prose. <br><br> Okay, actually, I do. Nothing against John Flynn, I just like it when the talkbacks immediately plunge into the toilet.

  • April 9, 2007, 12:44 a.m. CST

    Killer Vern

    by TheDohDoh

    Filling up a screen with Seagal's name is quite the accomplishment. Haha. I definitely want to check out The Outfit, and isn't Rolling Thunder the movie that inspired Tarantino's straight-to-video imprint? Great piece Vern. RIP Mr. Flynn

  • April 9, 2007, 1:33 a.m. CST

    ROLLING THUNDER is great!

    by TORTURE PWN

    The kick ass revenge film with not just a story,but something to say as well is a dying artform.And we just lost one of the great artists.BRAINSCAN was pretty decent too.And yes,OUT FOR JUSTICE is one of the few Seagal films that seems more like an actual MOVIE than a vanity project.Top of the list Seagal.R.I.P. John Flynn

  • April 9, 2007, 3:45 a.m. CST

    BEST SELLER

    by palimpsest

    No love for this movie? This flick is typical of Flynn's output: a great little thriller with twin powerhouse performances from Brian Dennehy and James Woods. Strong action, a terse Larry Cohen script, and an opening heist that was ripped off completely and utterly by POINT BREAK. Vern's right about OUT FOR JUSTICE, too. It's one of the few Seagal flicks that feels like a real movie, plus William Forsythe is at his batshit mental-est in it. R.I.P John Flynn.

  • April 9, 2007, 7:09 a.m. CST

    Nice to see

    by sHapesHiftinLizard

    a neglected artist gettin a good write up from someone who knows exactly what theyre talking about. Im ashamed to say ive only seen Lock up from that list, ill be looking out for the others.

  • April 9, 2007, 7:10 a.m. CST

    Rolling Thunder and Out for Justice

    by JackTarmac

    Rolling Thunder is great. I saw it like fifteen years ago on VHS and then caught it on cable a while back. THey would never make a flick that hardcore anymore. I can't say enough about Out For Justice. It shows what can be done when you surround an action hero with great character actors. William Forsythe rules in this as Richie. My favorite seen is when he goes into his brother's bar after Gino has fucked everyone up(cueball, anyone). His brother crying to Richie saying "Gino was in here, busting up the jernt" Great Brooklyn accents. RIP Mr Flynn

  • April 9, 2007, 7:11 a.m. CST

    RIP John Flynn

    by sHapesHiftinLizard

    Hopefully someone will get on the ball and release these movies sharpish.

  • April 9, 2007, 8:16 a.m. CST

    Rolling Thunder is a classic...

    by Sledge Hammer

    ...it really, REALLY needs to be on DVD already damn it. And how could you not mention Best Seller, which has one of the all time great Creepy James Woods performances in it, along with Brian Dennehy back before he turned into a tv movie joke. Great flick. But the man gave us many great 'b' flicks...Out For Justice, definitely one of the best of Seagal's efforts. Lock Up, under-rated low key Stallone affair that's aged far better than many of Sly's bigger films have. Defiance, which had Jan Michael Vincent back when he was cool, rather than crazy and deformed, in a nice gritty little "man pushed too far" flick. And of course you've already extensively talked about The Outfit. <p>Sure, during the 90's he pretty much got stuck with directing tv movies or bottom of the barrell stuff, though Scam with Christopher Walken wasn't bad, and Nails with Dennis Hopper was cheesily over the top, but in the seventies and eighties he was repeatedly pumping out some gritty lower budgeted b movie gems. Some were better than others, sure, but most were effortlessly entertaining and well worth the watch for fans of the genre. Sad to see him go.

  • April 9, 2007, 9:02 a.m. CST

    Rolling Thunder

    by Phimseto

    That scene where Devane walks in and TLJ just ups and goes with him is as great as Vern describes.

  • April 9, 2007, 9:04 a.m. CST

    Lock up...

    by SpencerTrilby

    is one of the best performances from Sly, set aside Balboa, FIST and First Blood. Flynn was one of my favorites B movies director. Out for justice is the only Seagal flick I can watch multiple times without falling asleep, or dying of laughter, or both. The fight in the italian grocery is terrific, the bar brawl is awesome, and there's Jerry Orbach, for fuck's sake! Best seller is also very good, and now that Mr Flynn passed away I just HAVE to buy a copy of Rolling Thunder to celebrate his memory. I was one of the 3 or 4 people who were asking from him on the IMDb boards, and now I'll have to update his bio. Shitty day.

  • April 9, 2007, 10:02 a.m. CST

    BTW Vern...

    by SpencerTrilby

    I don't share your passion for Seagalogy, however that was a great obituary. Kudos.

  • April 9, 2007, 10:28 a.m. CST

    Saw Rolling Thunder years ago...

    by kravmaguffin

    Still remember it vividly, excellent film. I can never look at the guy who played Roscoe P. Coltrane from the Dukes of Hazzard TV show the same again... The Outfit, excellent. Out for Justice...my brother and I quote lines from that all the time..."Who's hotdog is this? Yo fucknuts!" The movie has everything: Seagal-check, broken limbs-check, nudity-check, bar fight-check, crazy coked out bad guy-check, NY locale-check, mob friends-check, pimp beatings-check, bloody teeth flying-check, high body count-check! Good night sir. RIP

  • April 9, 2007, 10:30 a.m. CST

    Above the Law is the best and only good Seagal

    by Tarl_Cabot

    move...Out for Justice? Dude I love your Seagology enthusiasm but that was his best work by oceans.Nico Tasconi was the only truely developed character and was totally believable. Every other hardcore badass he played was just a cliched derivitive of Nico.When we see Nico walk into the Charlar lounge (now closed down built over but a half a mile away from me)we know why he can kick our asses and why.I think SS should have just made 25 sequels(or turn into an HBO show) instead of all these lame ass imitations.

  • April 9, 2007, 12:16 p.m. CST

    Never got why these flicks weren't on DVD

    by Beldo84

    Tarantino needs to get off his ass and make someone buy the rights or buy them himself and release Rolling Thunder and The Outfit. I guess he doesn't give a shit cause he probably has a 16mm print at his house, but dammit, have a heart!

  • April 9, 2007, 12:16 p.m. CST

    Damn you Rolling Thunder!

    by dundundles

    Damn you Rolling Thunder!

  • April 9, 2007, 12:26 p.m. CST

    Hey Sledge Hammmer and others

    by Vern

    Thanks for the rundowns on some of his other movies. I had heard BEST SELLER wasn't that great so I'm glad to hear people saying otherwise, I'm gonna have to go pick that one up.

  • April 9, 2007, 1:11 p.m. CST

    Amen brother...

    by Joey Jojo

    You're totally right about Out for Justice. Nobody is expecting Shakespeare from a Seagal movie, but Out for Justice is definitely respectable and entertaining. Under Siege may get all the kudos for being one of the better "Die Hard on a..." ripoffs, but I'll take Out for Justice over that any day. And bonus points for giving some props to Lock Up - again, not high art, but good for what it is.

  • April 9, 2007, 1:29 p.m. CST

    You heard wrong about BEST SELLER, Vern.

    by Nordling

    Terrific movie, with in my opinion James Woods' best performance. He's a loathesome fuck of a man and as the film goes along you actually start to feel sorry for the bastard. And Dennehy is the shit in it too.

  • April 10, 2007, 12:06 a.m. CST

    lets not forget.......

    by TheDonJohnSon

    Anybody remember Nails? Dennis Hopper?....oh well, maybe not. I need to check it out again, its been a while but I think that movie was pretty good from what I can remember. Hey Hopper as a crazy cop, works for me. Anybody reminded by Hal Ashby when they think of John Flynn? Different Flicks but for some reason I associate them together, maybe cause they're both underappreciated

  • April 10, 2007, 7:40 a.m. CST

    Anyone know why Richie killed Bobby Lupo??

    by triplefive

    nice write up. well done.

  • April 10, 2007, 8:42 a.m. CST

    I'm with Nordling

    by The Devilled Backscribe

    Best Seller was easily the best movie Flynn made. James Woods in one of the best roles he's ever done, with a really fun script to feed him lines? ("I could have killed him. You know that, don't you, Dennis?") And my second rave would be Lock-Up. C'mon, where's the love for that movie? Flynn, I raise a glass to you, wherever you are now.

  • April 10, 2007, 4:43 p.m. CST

    RIP John Flynn

    by williamD

    ROLLING THUNDER was a classic and desrves to be out on DVD!!

  • April 10, 2007, 5:34 p.m. CST

    BEST SELLER WAS GREAT TOO!

    by williamD

    He will be missed.

  • April 10, 2007, 8:22 p.m. CST

    First Time I Thought Vern Was a Knucklehead

    by heywood jablomie

    MADE IN USA is not "a pretty terrible movie." It's a pretty great movie. ROLLING THUNDER, which played at QT's Grindhouse fest at the New Beverly here in LA last month, is not just an underrated B movie--it's a masterpiece, THE OUTFIT not far behind. Hell, RAW DEAL isn't even bad.

  • April 12, 2007, 4:25 a.m. CST

    CORRECTION

    by Vern

    Robert Ryan's character is the same character that Kris Kristofferson played in PAYBACK, not William Devane. It's also the same character as Sally Kellerman in the new director's cut DVD (which I just watched, making me realize my error). Or Angie Dickinson in that old bootleg version. All are based on Bronson, the head of The Outfit in those early books. <p> Sorry about that.