Newly appointed sheriff Pat Garrett is pleased when his old friend Doc Holliday arrives in Lincoln, New Mexico on the stage. Doc is trailing his stolen horse, and it is discovered in the possession of Billy the Kid. In a surprising turnaround, Billy and Doc become friends. This causes the friendship between Doc and Pat to cool. The odd relationship between Doc and Billy grows stranger when Doc hides Billy at his girl, Rio's, place after Billy is shot. She falls for Billy, although he treats her very badly. Interaction between these four is played out against an Indian attack before a final showdown reduces the group's number.
Jack Buetel ... Billy the Kid (as Jack Beutel)
Jane Russell ... Rio McDonald
Thomas Mitchell ... Pat Garrett
Walter Huston ... Doc Holliday
Mimi Aguglia ... Guadalupe
Joe Sawyer ... Charley
Gene Rizzi ... Stranger
There are films that are great, films that are not so great, films that are bad...and then there are films that are so bad, so grandly misconceived, one can only gape in wonder or roar with laughter (or both) at their foolishness. Thus an awful film can sometimes provide more entertainment than many good films. (THE DEVIL BAT, starring Bela Lugosi, comes to mind.) Watched THE OUTLAW on DVD the other night with some friends, and we were falling off the couch. I'd always heard there was a homoerotic subtext to the picture, but this was no subtext -- gay porn must be more subtle than this film! Walter Huston's Doc Holliday (or Halliday -- I've seen it spelled both ways in regard to this picture) is CLEARLY the stud, Billy is a petulant young hustler who piques his interest (despite his having stolen the older man's cherished horse!), and Thomas Mitchell's Pat Garrett (Doc's "oldest
friend") seethes with jealousy throughout until he degenerates into the very apotheosis of a passed over, frantic, shrieking old queen. "You're not going with him! Everything was fine between us till he came along!" It has to be seen to be believed. Hilarious! The film's musical score is the worst -- THE WORST -- I've ever heard. There's less Mickey-Mousing in a Three Stooges short. So I recommend this one highly for parties. I guarantee a laugh riot. The thought of the great cinemotagrapher Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE) laboring on such camp trash is depressing, but he did give the film a fine look.
Anyone who read Harold Robbins', "The Carpetbaggers", (some 40 years ago) which in turn spawned "Nevada Smith", gets a superbly fictionalized accounting of Howard Hughes. Such fiction prefixes reality. It took a great number of years before I finally saw "The Outlaw" - an eagerly awaited event.
I've attempted to view the AMC-aired movie some three times - but got so antsy that I abandoned it. Few movies of this caliber have been so uneven. And yet it endures. Vintage alone gives the film status.
There's nothing wrong with anecdotal (vignette) - points-of-view movies, but in "The Outlaw", it was like watching one of those lumbering, exasperating silent films: where the actors stand across from each other, and each speaks their lines as if orchestrated by an off-stage conductor. Spontaneity is not this movie's long suit.
The actors: Jack Beutel is one of the most beautiful men to ever stand before a camera. His eyes are smoldering, his gaze laconic, his smile cheeky one moment and sensuous the next. Walter Huston is a young man in a middle-aged body; Thomas Mitchell (Scarlet's daddy in 'Gone With the Wind') is shifty, Irish, as conniving as Wally Beery, sniveling and crafty. And then there's the statuesque Jane Russell. Robbins gave us the intimate details of the suspension bridge-designed brassier - and Jane herself speaks of how she finally pulled the damn thing off and lined her breasts with a few Kleenex. She is as luscious as a near-nude Barbie doll, she is 19 years old, her lips inspire poetry - yet her voice is as monotonous as the Valley-inspired Val-speak of 25 years ago.
I wouldn't hazard to guess Howard Hughes' emotional consistency in the movie, however something went hellishly wrong. Someone fell on his face when it came to editing and scoring. Take the music, for example. It's Scoring 101, embarrassingly manipulative, often overriding the dialogue and ranging from 'Pathetique' to 'The Lone Prairie' mélange.
And then there's the acting: the Mexican senora rolls her eyes with all the panache of a 1940-Mexican B-movie bit actress. There is no spontaneity; she delivers her lines badly and with burning self-consciousness. And when Huston shoots Beutel in the hand, the latter doesn't even flinch; ditto, when he pierces both his ears with bullets. Staggering disbelief.
As to the scene where Jane Russell falls for Jack Beutel and kisses him, it's like watching two trains headed straight for each other. Overblown, top-heavy, agonizingly overreaching...it nonetheless has the sexual potency of an orgasm. The music, the god-awful Close-CLOse-CLOSE UP of Jane's lips bearing down on the half-delirious Beutel. Wow, what power! The men watching this film back in (ca) 1940 must have had to cover their laps.
I leave it to those with a sense of adventure to debate the movie's homoeroticism. There's no such implications from Beutel toward the two older men.
The movie, finally, has to be taken for the time in which it was made. The cinematography is as splendid as if it were turned 10 years ago. It is impossibly uneven, anecdotal, horrifyingly edited, pathetically scored, wretchedly acted...yet the actors are painful in their beauty. Many of the IMDb comments suggest that the film wants watching several times. I second that. It can be slow, cantankerous, giddy, sullen - but Jane's and Jack's beauty are undeniable, Walter is everybody's favorite grandfather. Toland can be thanked for giving us the movie's clarity. --And Howard... Howard was just having fun.
Jane Russell and her bosoms got most of the publicity from this film and fortunately for her she got into other better pictures and had a career. The same could not be said for Mr. Beutel.
But Jane and her cleavage is superfluous to the story. This is about two middle-aged gay men, Walter Huston and Thomas Mitchell, jealous over the young hunk. It's the only way the plot makes any sense.
In Jane Russell's memoirs she recounts the difference in attitude of Thomas Mitchell and Walter Huston. Mitchell was moaning and groaning about how horrible the film was, why did he ever sign for it, the film would be his ruin, etc. etc.
In contrast Walter Huston's attitude was I've taken Howard Hughes's money I'll say whatever kind of drivel he wants before the camera and laugh about it later.
Also, I love Tchaikovsky themes, but I really think Howard Hughes should have hired Dimitri Tiomkin whose music really added something to a lot of great westerns to do an original score. Tchaikovsky was frighteningly out of place here.
* Jane Russell got the role after a nationwide search by Howard Hughes for a busty actress.
* Once they'd found her, Howard Hughes and his aircraft engineers designed a special cantilevered bra to enhance the appearance of Jane Russell's bust. She never wore it, but this movie was the reason the famous bra was designed.
* The first American film that defied the "Production Code" of the Hays Office, which dictated what could and could not be shown on screen.
* Arthur Loft is credited as "Swanson" in studio records, but that role was played by Edward Peil Sr., and Loft was not seen in the movie. Modern sources also list the following actors (with their character names) as cast members: Nina Quartero (Chita), Frank Darien (Shorty), Carl Stockdale (Minister), 'Edward Brady (I)' (Deputy), Dick Elliott (Salesman) and John Sheehan (Salesman). None of these actors were identifiable in the movie, but may have been in sequences which were cut. Some of these characters may have been in a coach, which is seen coming to town in extreme long-shot.
* Howard Hawks started as director but quit after 2 weeks, ostensibly to direct Sergeant York (1941). But Howard Hughes, who had the dailies flown to Los Angeles daily, had complained that Hawks was not spending enough time filming, which probably precipitated his leaving. Hughes took over as director in December 1940 and announced all scenes would be re-shot by Gregg Toland, who replaced the original cinematographer, Lucien Ballard. However, screenwriter Jules Furthman filled in for Hughes as director on 31 December 1940 and often thereafter.
* Although the film was finished and copyrighted in February 1941, it was not shown theatrically for another 2 years, mostly because of censorship problems which required cuts and revisions. By May 1941, the PCA agreed to approve the film, but Hughes found that many state censor boards wanted a lot more cuts that he was not willing to make, so he shelved the film until 5 February 1943, when it was finally shown theatrically in San Francisco in the 115-minute version that we essentially see today. It caused quite a sensation, especially since Jane Russell and 'Jack Beutel' performed a 20-minute scene that was cut from the film after each showing. More hassles about its possible release in New York caused Hughes to shelve the picture once again.
* When re-released in San Francisco on 23 April 1946, the theater owner was arrested for showing a film "offensive to decency." The MPAA maintained that Howard Hughes switched prints and did not show the version that was approved. Hughes resigned from the MPAA and filed a $1,000,000 lawsuit demanding triple damages. He lost the suit and all the appeals. Despite the legal battles and many bans, United Artists continued to roadshow the film in 1946 and 1947 and it set records almost everywhere it was shown. Originally banned in New York, it was finally shown on 11 September 1947 when the ban was lifted.
* Debut of Ben Johnson.
* Debut of Jane Russell.
* Howard Hawks wanted Albert R. Broccoli to work as an assistant director on the film, but when Howard Hughes heard it he said: "I can't give a good friend a job, the studio will be very upset with me!" But Hawks replied: "I want Cubby!" (Albert R "Cubby" Broccoli, who later became famous for the 'James Bond' films).