The Outlaw

09 Jan

The Outlaw — directed by Howard Hughes. Western. Three men in a love triangle with one another, while a bosomy half-breed serves tacos. 116 minutes Black and White also Colorized 1943/46.

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Howard Hawks cast and began to shoot this film with his own crew. Two weeks later he and the producer Howard Hughes parted company, and Hawks hastened on to direct The Big Sleep. But it is interesting to imagine what Hawks would have done with it, for while Hawks is not a director of a particular style, Hawks did have the capacity to create scenes that worked, that came to life, and he did this by taking the scrip and working it over on the morning of the shoot, everyone participating, and giving it to the actors after lunch and then shooting it in the afternoon. Hawks’ photographer, the great Lucien Ballard, left with Hawks, and Hughes brought in the great photographer Gregg Toland — but the same screenplay by favorites of Hawks, Jules Furthman and Ben Hecht. What was wrong with Hawks’ version? If anything, we shall never know, for Hughes directed this grotesque and flaccid version himself, and one thing obvious is that none of the scenes work at all, despite the presence of two very gifted actors and two interesting newcomers. Hughes is clearly a lousy director. Hawks story was to be the romance between three males, but Hughes wanted the bubbies of Jane Russell to be more pronounced. But the film still is the male romance. Walter Huston playing Doc Holiday holds the romance humorously in place bickering first over a horse with Billy The Kid and then, ridiculously, over Jane Russell. Jack Buetel is perfectly cast as Billy. A beautiful young man along the lines of Warren Beatty, he has the impudent confidence of who he is sufficient to flirt with another man without there being any danger of genital seduction. Men do this all the time, some do, particularly when they first meet. Walter Huston is the colluder in this seduction, while Thomas Mitchell as Pat Garrett is the jealous rival for Huston/Holliday’s love. But Hawks left. Without Hawks, Buetel and Jane Russell were lost. She was 19 and he was 23, both inexperienced and both suffering the lack of a proper director. The film never really exploits Russell’s attributes either, for she is in so few scenes. Of course, all the publicity was about her, lolling in a hayloft and looking sultry in a departing blouse. At 19 she is not quite The Magnificence she became. Russell was never directed by Hawks, but watched and learned what she could. It was not enough. Nor in the case of Buetel is it enough. He actually can act – half the lines – and it would have been Hawks’ joy to have cut the other half, had he stayed. Hughes shot scenes over and over, but nothing got any better. The sexual relations between Russell and Buetel are completely devoid of romance on Buetel’s part, and he is very funny about it. It’s in the script. He’s a saucy boy. He leads a dizzy chase by Indians, and partakes of other ridiculous and sound-stagey scenes. But the most ruinous thing about the picture is its score by Victor Young. It is as though it were written for a Porky Pig cartoon. He robs a Rachmaninoff big theme and spreads it like jam all over the love scenes, which, since they start with a rape in a stable, hardly contain romance. In every scene it appears in, his music reduces the action to nose picking. The film is more stilted in colorization than black and white for some reason and slower. This may be due to the wit of Greg Toland’s camera work, all of which is lost in the colorized version. The great Arizona set that was built for it was abandoned after 2 weeks, along with the director, and the result was the peculiar little vanity Western of great notoriety and little note, The Outlaw.

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