Blu-ray Review: The Outlaw

Billionaire Howard Hughes wanted to make a new kind of Western–one that was sexy and did away with all the old genre clichés. Taking the directorial reigns himself (with some uncredited help from Howard Hawks), the result was The Outlaw, remembered more as a triumph of marketing, than a great film. Censors in the Hays Office at the time, were in quite the lather over Hughes’ star attraction, 19-year-old Jane Russell and her ample cleavage. The ensuing scandal resulted in a box office hit, as the public rushed to see what all the fuss was about.

Admittedly, all of this took a while. The Outlaw was completed in 1941, released for a week in 1943, and released again in 1946.

The film tells an extremely loose, fictionalized version of Billy the Kid, and the heroic myth that surrounds him. The screenplay penned by Jules Furthman (also padded by Hughes), is clunky and stilted, despite efforts from Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht at various uncredited retouches.

Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel), and Doc Holliday (Walter Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) are close friends when lawman Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell, Gone With the Wind) attempts to ambush Billy and put him in jail. Garrett advises Holliday to get out of town after he refuses to help capture his friend. Doc brings Billy to his ranch where he can hideout. There, Billy meets Doc’s girl Rio (Russell), a beautiful girl who falls in love with him even though he treats her like dirt and he murdered her brother in a gun duel. There’s no accounting for taste! Billy and Rio secretly marry, but their relationship is a rocky one at best. The chatter between the couple is pure camp, apparently in preparation for a kiss that seems to go on forever.

The rather simple plot gets a bit more involved during the film’s second half, when the characters are forced to put aside their differences when a tribe of Indians show up out of nowhere. Really, it just serves as an excuse for some mediocre action scenes, and shots of Jane Russell riding a horse.

In all,  film is rather amateurish and uneven.  Though the cinematography is shot by Gregg Toland, who had already shown his abilities with his work on Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. At Howard Hughes insistence, Toland shot several closeups of Russell’s bosom from various angles. After all, in in the end, it was Russell’s bosom that sold the tickets.

This new 2K restoration looks much better than any of the previous DVD releases I’ve seen. While there are some inconsistencies inherent in the source (particularly in a couple of darker scenes), a satisfying texture is present throughout, and the image is pleasing with just a couple of specks.

The DTS-HD Master 2.0 audio isn’t particularly aggressive, but it fits the film well. Effects are minimal, but the score by Victor Young comes through nicely. Dialogue is clean.

There are no subtitles.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Troy Howarth
  • Theatrical Trailer

Movie title: The Outlaw (1943)

Director(s): Howard Hughes, Howard Hawks (uncredited)

Actor(s): Jane Russell , Jack Buetel , Thomas Mitchell , Walter Huston , Joe Sawyer

Genre: Drama, Romance, Western, Comedy

  • Movie
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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