Third Man Out
|Third Man Out|
|Directed by||Ron Oliver|
|Written by||Mark Saltzman
|Running time||98 minutes|
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (December 2011)|
At the home of John Rutka and Eddie Santin, Rutka is apparently shot by an unknown assailant. Later, private eye Donald Strachey arrives at the Albany Medical Center to meet with a client. While there, he sees his partner, Tim Callahan, who is escorting his boss, a prominent New York state senator who is there for a photo op with the comatose Catholic Bishop McFee whose diocese consists of, among others, St. Michael's Catholic Church. Strachey is approached by Santin, who reveals that the client that approached him is none other than Rutka, who Strachey despises for his activities outing prominent local closeted homophobes. Despite attempts by Rutka and Santin to convince Strachey to help find out who shot John, Donald declines the assignment. That night, a man determinedly barges into Rutka's hospital room unauthorized, only to find that Rutka has already checked out.
Rutka visits Strachey's home, but he remains unmoved, until Rutka offers him a $5,000 retainer. Strachey relunctantly accepts the job, mostly because of recent money troubles stemming from a home renovation bearing on his mind. Timmy, who has an even stronger distaste for Rutka's tactics, objects at first, but also agrees that they can't afford to pick and choose their clients in their current financial situation.
The next morning, Rutka shows Strachey his attic, where he keeps his various files on both his past and prospective outing targets. One of them is Bruno Slinger, a prominent state politician who has voted against gay rights in the past, on whom Rutka has a file which includes photographic evidence of his sexual involvement with men. Suddenly, a fire breaks out at Ruka's house, which Strachey puts out and then investigates. As the case progresses, Strachey becomes convinced that Rutka and Santin are staging the various criminal incidents themselves, thanks in part to the assertion by Detective Sean "Bub" Bailey that Rutka has a long history of deception. Finally, Strachey decides that he can no longer continue with the case and informs Rutka that he will return the unused portion of the retainer.
The next morning, a news program reports that Rutka was killed hours after Strachey severed ties with him and the investigation. Santin calls them, expression indignation that Strachey refused to believe that the death threats against Rutka were genuine. Strachey expresses remorse, and then goes back with Santin to the attic to retrieve all of Rutka's files for safekeeping. With John officially dead, Strachey's search for Rutka's would-be assassin is now a murder investigation. He asks Santin who the next target might have been, but Santin only knows that it might have been one of three people—Slinger, local children's show host Ronnie Linklater, and a mysterious third possibility identified only in Rutka's records as "Ultimate Hypocritical Asshole". Donald finds a plastic mud flap, torn off of an unidentified person's car. Later, he comes across initials for three persons who received substantial payments from Rutka—N.Z., H.G., and D.R. Through local sex worker Dik Steel, he obtains the identity of the first - Nathan Zenck, who runs a fancy hotel—and spies on his guests' sexual rendezvous through hidden video cameras. Strachey confronts Zenck, who mentions that Bruno Slinger is sexually connected to Ronnie Linklater and reveals that the second initials are undoubtedly those of Howie Glade, who owns a lower quality motel. The third initials remain unknown, but after interrogating Glade, Strachey finds out that Linklater was previously involved in sexual liaisons every Wednesday night with an unknown man (not Slinger) who was injured and possibly killed by a fallen ceiling mirror weeks ago; Glade was unable to find out the man's identity, but manages to get the license plates to his car. Strachey manages to trace the plates to a used car dealer named Art Murphy, who refuses to cooperate with the investigation, threatening to bludgeon Donald until he retreats.
At the couple's home, Timmy is attacked by the man who visited Rutka's hospital room earlier. Strachey arrives in time to drive him away, but Timmy is hospitalized. Timmy recovers, but the experience shakes Donald enough to consider abandoning the case, until Timmy, who has had a change of heart about Rutka, convinces him to press on. Next, Strachey interviews Linklater in his studio dressing room, but the kids show host denies that either he or Slinger had any involvement in Rutka's death, and refuses to reveal the identity of the man the motel mirror fell on. However, after Donald's talk with Ronnie, he gets the impression the man survived the accident. As Strachey leaves the studio, the man who attacked Tim ambushes Donald, knocking him unconscious. When he wakes, he is greeted by the man's boss—Slinger, who also denies involvement in Rutka's murder and demands that he hands over the file Rutka had on Bruno. Slinger allows Strachey to leave unharmed, but the P.I. can't get any answers from the Congressman, who says that Ronnie never told him the identify of the man injured in the motel fall. Strachey gets a slight lead from the exchange, learning that Linklater and Rutka were both involved in St. Michaels' choir.
Back at the hospital, Tim is ready to be discharged, but the couple come across Art Murphy and his wife, visiting Bishop McFee. At Strachey's behest, Tim finds out that McFee is Murphy's brother-in-law and that he was the man that drove the car every Wednesday—and was sexually involved with Linklater, explaining the true nature of the accident that had put McFee into a coma until now. Tim then uses his connections in the seminary to ask St. Michael's local priest, Father Morgan, who would have been the parish priest when John Rutka was in the church choir. Morgan excuses himself, heading out the back way, but the authorities are there waiting for him. Strachey, who had been holding onto the car flap, identifies it as part of the car McFee drove on Wednesdays, and now driven by Morgan. Morgan is arrested, not only for his part in covering up McFee's history of sex crimes, but also for the apparent murder of John Rutka. Scandal hits Morgan, McFee and the entire parish.
Come Saturday, Strachey, Tim, Eddie, John's sister Ann, and other friends are attending John Rutka's funeral. Eddie graciously offers Donald the remaining fee for his work in solving Rutka's murder and gives the couple a business card to send the bill to. Strachey looks at the name and figures out the last of the trio of mysterious initials - David Resuto, the Rutka family lawyer. Strachey immediately grills Ann as to why Resuto would be getting $14,000, the largest of the payments made out to anyone in Rutka's financial ledger. Ann reluctantly explains that the payments were for a life insurance policy—and the beneficiary is Eddie. The private eye, suspicious of the payments after being told earlier that Santin was removed from Rutka's will, follows him to the airport and catches up to him. As he confronts Eddie, he is shocked to see a very alive John Rutka standing next to him. John explains his elaborate plan to fake his death, frame Father Morgan for a fake murder, expose McFee as a pedophile (as well as The Ultimate Hypocritical Asshole), and use the insurance money to start up a network of cheap drugs for AIDS patients in Mexico. He knew that the controversy of outing has faded as acceptance of people based on sexual orientation is rising. Rutka reveals that Eddie initially believed his lover was dead, and that John was the one who planted the mud flap where Strachey could find it. Donald is outraged at the deception, until Rutka reveals that he too was a victim of McFee's molestation, starting when John was only 9. Donald protests that regardless of the sex abuse cover-up, Morgan will go to prison for a murder that he did not commit. Rutka agrees that Strachey can tell the authorities that he saw him still alive, and exonerate him for that part of his sentence. Donald wavers from his determination to turn Rutka in for his crimes, but before he allows the couple to leave the country, he follows-up on a throwaway comment Rutka made earlier. Rutka reveals that he had a file on Strachey, a former Sergeant in the U.S. military, who had to leave the service with an honorable discharge when his sexual orientation was revealed—at the expense of the lieutenant he was caught in bed with, who received a much more severe punishment as the scapegoat of the two.
Rutka is allowed to leave the country. Donald and Timmy realize how much insight on the complexities of life—and people—this experience has given them, and they conclude that life is not as black and white as both of them previously thought. This doesn't stop them from toasting their new perspective—and their now finished fireplace—by performing the one act of absolute good they are still sure of—the destruction of Rutka's file on Strachey.
|Chad Allen||Donald Strachey|
|Sebastian Spence||Timmy Callahan|
|Jack Wetherall||John Rutka|
|Woody Jeffreys||Eddie Santin|
|Sean Young||Ann Rutka|
|April Telek||Alice Savage|
|John Moore||Bishop McFee|
|Alf Humphries||Father Morgan|
|P. Lynn Johnson||Senator Dianne Glassman|
|Guy Fauchon||Newspaper Photographer|
|James Michalopolous||Dark Glasses|
|David Palffy||Bruno Slinger|
|Mary Belle McDonald||Eleanor|
|Anthony O'Clery||Redd Koontz|
|Daryl Shuttleworth||Detective Sean "Bub" Bailey|
|Andrew Moxham||Dark Figure #1|
|Warren Takeuchi||Dark Figure #2|
|Sean Carey||Ronnie Linklater|
|Matthew Rush||Dik Steele|
|Mark Acheson||Fake Dik Steele Male|
|Lisa Dahling||Fake Dik Steele Female|
|Nelson Wong||Kenny Kwon|
|Kevin Blatch||Nathan Zenck|
|Richard Cox||Howie Glade|
|Giuseppe Abbruzzese||Man In Video|
|Carrie Patershuck||Woman In Video|
|Kevin O'Grady||Man #2|
|Scott Swanson||Art Murphy|
|Kwesi Ameyaw||Reporter #1|
|Nicola Crosbie||Reporter #2|
|Sibel Thrasher||Diva Singer|
|Carl McDonald||Drag Queen|
This film reveals that before becoming a private investigator, Donald was in the armed services, but was forced out because of the ban on gay servicemembers. This subplot is explored further and in much more depth in the sequel, Shock to the System.
Although this was the first film adaptation of one of Richard Stevenson's books about the gay private eye, Donald Strachey, it was not the first of his novels to be published. It appears then that the order of the films differs from that of the books, as characters such as Detective Bub Bailey and Kenny Kwon are introduced to Strachey in this film, and he sees them again in On the Other Hand, Death and Ice Blues, even though the novels the latter two are adapted from took place chronologically before the book version of Third Man Out.
In addition, some minor details are changed from the books. Since the internet was not widely known the year Third Man Out (the novel) was published, Queerscreed, which is the name of John Rutka's publication from which he outs prominent closeted homophobes, is something he passes out solely in print in the book version, while in the film it's renamed The Rutka Report and is also available on the web.