Sunday, 16 October 2016
Movie Review: The Outlaw (1943)
In the dusty town of Lincoln, New Mexico, Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) reunites with his friend Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell), who was recently appointed town sheriff. Doc soon tangles with notorious outlaw Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel), who has stolen Doc's horse. But Doc and Billy strike up a friendship, much to the disgust of Garrett.
The relationship between the three men is further complicated by Doc's girlfriend Rio McDonald (Jane Russell), who would like to kill Billy because he previously murdered her brother. Instead, while Doc is away distracting Garrett's posse, Rio and Billy fall in love when she helps him recuperate from a gunshot wound. Garrett, Doc, Billy and Rio eventually catch up with each other and collectively have to survive an encounter with Mescalero Apaches.
Directed by Howard Hughes, The Outlaw achieves a level of awfulness that has to be seen to be believed. Prolonged, boring, oscillating wildly between juvenile comedy and blatant sexuality, saddled with a stupendously bad music score, featuring amateurish acting, directing, editing and lighting, Hughes' only objective in making The Outlaw was to showcase Russell's cleavage. The subsequent notoriety and censorship scandal, fanned by Hughes, turned the much-delayed movie into must-see event. By contemporary standards what appears on the screen is tame, leaving only a mess of a film splattered all over the walls.
While the censors were abuzz about Russell, Hughes slipped by them an unambiguous gay love triangle between Garrett, Doc and Billy, with Doc's abandonment of Garrett in favour of the younger Billy the cause of all the drama. Also in the mix is one in-the-dark rape scene and another prelude-to-sex scene between Rio and Billy, both creaking with melodrama and dreadful camera dynamics. The actual slow moving and repetitive story spends an outlandish amount of time rehashing arguments about who owns a horse, the film adding outright but unintended parody to its abominable genre mix. A brief, non sequitur episode with Apache Indians is thrown in just because.
Russell, in her debut at l9 years old when The Outlaw was filmed in 1940, is ironically one of the least bad things in the film, and she went on to salvage a career. Poor Jack Buetel must have thought that he was on his way to stardom after Hughes plucked him from obscurity, placed him under a long term contract and offered him the nominal lead role of Billy the Kid. Buetel wears the same expression throughout the film, and Hughes refused to allow him to act again. Thomas Mitchell and Walter Huston offer typically dependable performances that deserved a much better movie.
The Outlaw is a classic example of a more modern theme: famous for being famous, the film is lurid attention-seeking trash.
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