Day of the Outlaw

I like westerns, I like movies which could be described as chamber pieces, and I like snowy backdrops. Day of the Outlaw (1959), directed by Andre de Toth, checks all these boxes. It’s one of those films genre fans will enthuse about yet remains criminally underrated by others. It’s also a film where there’s not a huge amount of action; there is, however, a kind of relentless tension and a whole lot going on just below the surface. In short, the film is a sleeper, a tight and atmospheric classic just waiting to be discovered.

I think one of the most enjoyable aspects of watching movies is to be found in the deceptively simple story, those tales which initially appear to be straightforward or predictable yet gradually develop into something much more complex and satisfying. Day of the Outlaw is a fine example of a work where layers of depth emerge bit by bit and draw you in before you’ve realized it. It opens in a wintry Wyoming town as two men, Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan) and his foreman Dan (Nehemiah Persoff), ride in and bemoan the stringing of barbed wire and the consequent threat to the open range. Starrett’s blood is up and he vows a showdown with the homesteader responsible. The scene therefore is set for the kind of range war drama that’s been seen countless times. But this is a mere introduction, an opportunity to draw attention to the implacable and tough character of the lead. When it then becomes apparent that Starrett is in love with and covets the beautiful wife (Tine Louise) of his chief rival, the plot moves to another level. And still we’re only dancing around the periphery, for what really matters here is the journey – both literal and figurative – which Starrett (among others) will be forced to embark upon. In a deft piece of filmmaking sleight of hand the entire emphasis is moved away from that which the build-up has led us to expect. Just as we’re about to witness the duel between Starrett and his foe a bunch of newcomers arrive and take us off in a completely different direction. Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives) is a Quantrill-like figure, a soldier with a tarnished reputation now reduced to leading a band of amoral cutthroats. Bruhn and his men are loaded down with stolen gold, but he’s got a bullet lodged inside him and the army hot on his heels. The enforced stopover in the snowbound town represents a trial of sorts for the bewildered and helpless residents, but it also holds out a kind of hope for two lost souls – Starrett and Bruhn. Both men find themselves in opposition and through that also find a way to regain a little of the humanity that years of hard living have almost stripped away.

Redemption once again; Starrett and Bruhn have lost something along the way, their hearts have been hardened by the brutality of frontier life, and their salvation will be a by-product of their enmity. As far as I’m concerned, this is what drives the film along and gives it its power. I feel all the other plot devices are simply that, accoutrements put in place to facilitate the drama that forms the heart of the story. It’s the chance meeting of Bruhn and Starrett, at a key moment for both, which gives them pause and either forces or allows them (take your pick here) to alter the course of their respective destinies. The two characters wield a significant degree of influence over those around them and this is what first draws them into an uneasy mutual alliance. However, I believe that the real, if initially unacknowledged, motive comes from the fact that each recognizes something of himself in the other. The effect appears more profound in the case of Starrett, but it’s surely present in Bruhn too, and throws out a spiritual lifeline of sorts.

Day of the Outlaw is surely Andre de Toth’s best film, a well-paced exercise in mounting and sustained tension, aided by Philip Yordan’s adaptation of Lee E Wells’ novel. By having so much of the action confined to the saloon the sense of isolation, claustrophobia and suspense is multiplied. The impromptu dance, hastily organized to placate Bruhn’s increasingly restless men, perfectly conveys the threat and menace posed by the gang. Even when events later take us out into the wilderness of the snow-choked mountain pass that feeling of being locked into an inescapable situation is actually heightened rather than dissipated. A good deal of credit also has to go to cinematographer Russell Harlan here; his shooting of the frozen and forbidding landscape is chilling in every way. When you add in Alexander Courage’s spare, doom-laden score all the ingredients are in place for a memorable interlude in the icy wastes.

The cast is both deep and distinguished (Persoff, Elisha Cook Jr, Jack Lambert, Lance Fuller, Frank DeKova, Dabbs Greer, Alan Marshal et al) but Ryan and Ives easily dominate proceedings. Ives in particular holds the attention whenever he’s on screen, which is entirely fitting as he’s playing a man who’s holding a gang of dangerous roughnecks in check principally through sheer force of personality. The dance segment which I referred to above is a good illustration of this, the frayed dignity of the man shining through and setting him apart from a shabby command which is beneath him in every respect. Ives also gets right into the physical and psychological guts of his character, from the harrowing operation he endures without anesthetic to the slow dawning of his impending and inevitable demise. Overall, it’s a first-rate portrayal of a complex man, and one which is wholly believable. Just as the characters feed off one another, I think the same can be said the performances of the leads. Ryan was never a slouch as an actor anyway and his playing opposite Ives ensured he stayed on top of his game. He starts out as bitter, cold and unforgiving as the country around him, delivering a blistering and scathing verbal attack on his homesteader rival. He holds onto that steely determination throughout, but slowly lets the sharp edges soften a little as he becomes aware of the path he’s been taking and where it must surely lead.

Day of the Outlaw is fairly widely available on DVD now. I have the US release from MGM which presents the film quite nicely in its correct widescreen ratio. However, the film comes with absolutely no extra features, and I reckon it’s more than deserving of some. One of the reasons I started this blog was to have the chance to chat about the movies I love with those who share my passion. Over time though, I’ve also come to realize that I was partly motivated by a wish to see a bit more critical respect afforded to certain films and genres. The western in particular has tended to be passed over as nothing more than time-passing entertainment. Now there’s nothing wrong with entertainment for its own sake, a movie which doesn’t do so is failing straight out of the gate after all. Still, the underestimation of the western as an art form and as a vehicle for the intelligent examination of adult themes has persisted. A film like Day of the Outlaw highlights this critical neglect. I’d like to think that appreciation of the film has grown somewhat over time though, and I’d encourage anyone keen on polished and smart filmmaking to seek it out.

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88 thoughts on “Day of the Outlaw

    • I’m not doing your wallet any favors by the sound of things.
      Seriously though, if you’ve never see the movie, then you’re in for a treat. That wintry backdrop makes it ideal viewing at this time of year.

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      • Excellent, as usual, review. I agree this is one of those underrated westerns that doesn’t get enough attention. Speaking of underrated, that’s Robert Ryan. He’s a terrific actor usually remembered for villanous roles. Andre DeToth can thank Randolph Scott for most of his earnings and does a nice job behind the camera here. The Ryan-Ives pairing is nifty. Burl could play one mean sonnavabitch. I remember him in “Wind Across The Everglades”, a long ways from the cuddly troubadour. Tina Louise always lights my fire. Among the supporting cast there’s classic villain, Jack Lambert. I first saw him in “High Lonesome”. Richard Jaeckel revealed that Lambert was one of the nicest guys in show biz. Thanks, Colin. You’ll do!

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        • Very kind, Garry – thanks.
          I like those Scott/de Toth collaborations a lot and rate them quite highly.
          When it comes to Ryan most film fans who have seen his work admire it greatly yet he never seems to get mentioned when the greats are discussed – I can never work out why that’s the case.
          And that’s interesting to hear Jaeckel’s view of Jack Lambert – he always came across as exceptionally mean on screen.

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  1. Once again another terrific essay. I found this film a few years ago via TCM and though I had long been a big fan of westerns had never heard of it. It sort of reminds me of “Key Largo” but with far more menace. I think the weather is used to great advantage by adding to their isolation restricting their escape. Ives, along with his recent “The Big Country” role is really good. I like the way he tries to keep some form of dignity and protocol in the midst of the group that follow him. No argument either on it being de Toth’s best film. And he made some pretty good westerns.This film should be on any western fan’s list.

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    • Thank you, Chris. I especially like movies that, through location, weather or both, restrict the characters movements and options. The setting here is used to optimum effect and adds to the tension. Along with The Big Country this film showed Ives at or near his best.

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  2. Thanks for the kick in the pants. I’ve had this in my library for over a year without getting around to watching it. Robert Ryan – possibly the most underrated actor of his time. One of a small group of actors who were equally good/believable in westerns and noir.

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  3. A real pre-Christmas treat, Colin. A terrific write-up of a minor-perceived western but one that is actually a major achievement.

    Robert Ryan has long been one of my favourite all-round actors (good or bad/ western or noir) and he really is at the top of his game here. I agree though that Burl Ives matches him here. Two towering performances. I might differ over the comment that this was De Toth’s very best film but only because he made so many other fine movies, some are real classics including “DAY OF THE OUTLAW”.

    BTW, I like the snow effect drifting down the screen – is this to mark the season or this particular film (or both)? Either way, most appropriate.

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    • Jerry, it is indeed a major achievement, and it’s a little frustrating that the film’s worth isn’t more widely recognized.
      Both Ives and Ryan are immense here; I think Ives maybe just shades it but to quote John T Chance, I’d hate to have to live on the difference.
      On de Toth, as I said to Sergio earlier, I like all his films that I’ve seen up to now, but this one really stands out for me.

      Glad you like the snow effect. It’s supposed to be there until early in January and I thought it added a nice seasonal touch, and it fits this film too.

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  4. You know we agree about this film. I chose it for “Underrated Westerns” at Rupert Pupkin Speaks awhile back even though I know it’s not underestimated by those who know it–I think you have its reputation just right: greatly admired by aficionados of 50s Westerns and De Toth enthusiasts but sadly not so well-known outside of those circles.

    An excellent piece about a film with a lot of depth. De Toth’s best?–I personally would put “Pitfall” and “Ramrod” on this same level though this one is the most visually striking because of those great snowscapes (were there ever better?) and it’s interesting that “Ramrod” and “Day of the Outlaw”–the first and last Westerns of De Toth and only ones in black and white–both had Russell Harlan, an exceptional cinematographer for Westerns also favored by Howard Hawks, among others.

    And yes, this is points up too for De Toth because of its soulful engagement with the redemption theme, in full flower in Westerns of 1959–a great period of cinema but for me the genre at this point towered over all the rest. “Day of the Outlaw” is a good example of why that is. All the art you could want without a trace of pretension.

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    • All the art you could want without a trace of pretension.

      That’s very nicely put indeed. I completely agree here, Blake, and it kind of what I was trying to get across in my last paragraph. I sometimes feel that it’s the lack of pretension in the western that leads to its being undervalued as an art form. Art is of course hard to define but I think it must always have a kernel of truth present, and there ought to be a purity too. The western at its best, and the gradual honing of the genre throughout the 50s that we’ve discussed before surely represents that, embodies both those characteristics for me.

      I won’t argue over your placing Pitfall and Ramrod on an equal pegging with this movie as I feel a strong case could be made for both of those.

      And if anyone feels inclined to peruse your selection of underrated westerns, and I strongly recommend they do so, they can be found here.

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      • Yes, your last paragraph had motivated that final line in my comment. Personally, I feel that lack of pretension is such a strength in art that if being undervalued is a result maybe it’s the price that has to be paid for that. Westerns don’t proclaim or lecture on the themes they mine so deeply–it’s all expressed through the weave of the characters, the action, and the settings. And that means so much. I’ve probably spent my share of hours brooding over the lack of respect the Western has had, given how finely honed it was in full maturity and how beautifully practiced by so many on both sides of the camera. But more and more, I’m trying to come to the view that it’s there for those who care, and that there are enough of us to share our responses with each other.

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        • Yes, it’s a trade-off. I guess, if I’m honest, I’d rather have things as they stand – those great films do indeed get their due from the people acquainted with them.

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    • I’m pleased you liked it. I tend to trawl around and look for the posters I feel best accompany the pieces I put up. In this case, the colors, composition and general feel of the image just seemed much more evocative than the US variant we’re more used to seeing.

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    • Ron, I’ve yet to come across anyone who has seen the film and not been impressed by it. That in itself is a little unusual as tastes vary so much, and it says much about what a strong piece of work this is.

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    • Mercifully, I don’t believe I have ever been as cold as the guys in the movie. I imagine you’re right and the making of the film must have been a bit of a trial at times – the chilled atmosphere comes across so well.

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  5. Ives always presents somewhat of a revelation to me when seeing in films like this and others where he is quite intimidating. This stems of course from watching Rudolph every holiday season and hearing his gentle voice in both cartoon and song while growing up.
    As for Ryan I generally always support his work on screen. Outside of the noir genre he doesn’t get talked about much. He’s a real pro.

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    • Yeah, I think it’s the range Ives was capable of which can catch you unawares. His best work features lots of character shading and this makes him very watchable.

      Ryan most certainly was a pro – I really can’t recall any phoned-in performances from him regardless of the quality of the roles he was handed.

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  6. “Redemption once again”….yes indeed Colin, I ALWAYS enjoy your take on this subject.

    I have held back on buying the DVD as I too have always felt that this film warranted a sort of “definitive version”. Actually we got one a few years back from Wild Side in France but I avoided that one as well. The reason: I purchased the Wild Side edition of WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES and lo and behold it has those wretched “forced” subtitles, I thought only Sidonis were the ones who did this. The transfer was fine BTW plus the lovely hardbound books Wild Side supply with their DVDs are all in French. I understand that there are a raft of extras on their edition of DAY OF THE OUTLAW. Now I’m holding out for a Blu-ray of DAY OF THE OUTLAW which hopefully Kino Lorber will issue as they are releasing huge chunks of the United Artists back catalog on Blu-ray. Funnily enough I have not seen DAY OF THE OUTLAW since the Sixties but I remember it pretty well especially the climax of the film.

    Other De Toth Westerns I rate very highly are RAMROD and MAN IN THE SADDLE which I have commented on in great depth here. There is something sensational about high def black and white on Blu-ray when the master elements are in good shape. I recently purchased the Blu-ray from Explosive Media of four classic episodes of RAWHIDE and they look stunning. They are so good I will certainly purchase other volumes when they appear. Of course years ago, as a kid, all TV Westerns looked great on our 17″ TV at that time. Now, looking at old TV Western series on a 42″ HD screen the shortcomings of some of those old shows are all too obvious. Sadly old shows like CHEYENNE and BRONCO, which I adored as a kid, now look cheap with their tacky sets and extensive use of stock footage. Still, having said that, they were never meant to be viewed on large HD TV screens. Interestingly enough, De Toth directed a BRONCO episode “Legacy Of Twisted Creek” and needless to say it’s a superior episode. Really those old Warner shows have to be taken for what they were and still offer lots of good viewing. RAWHIDE, on the other hand, looks great the production values at the very least similar to that(or even better than) B Movies being made at the time. I’ve also been watching a few HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL episodes and they too look really impressive with super scenic values.

    On an earlier thread, Colin, you mentioned you had the series THE TALL MAN on your “to be viewed” stack. This series is of great interest to me just for the cast alone plus some really interesting directors were involved. I must admit your “to be viewed” stack intrigues me the more I hear about it. 🙂 What I’m trying to say in all of the above nonsense is that HD black & white often looks stunning and I do hope DAY OF THE OUTLAW turns up in this format soon. Another low budget United Artists Western with a major star is Richard Wilson’s MAN WITH THE GUN and I’d certainly go for a Blu-ray upgrade of that one. There is another low budget United Artists Western that’s on the missing list for some reason, JOHNNY CONCHO starring Frank Sinatra. Directed by Don Maguire who is better known as a writer than an director. I guess there are “rights” issues holding this one up but hopefully the cats at Kino Lorber can sort that one out.

    Finally a word regarding Jack Lambert: In the early Seventies a hapless journalist tracked him down for a “where are they now” feature. Jack’s terse reply was “I don’t give a **** if people wonder where I’m at…I know where I’m at and that’s all that matters”

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    • John, one thing I will say about those French releases is that it shows the high regard for the movies in France. It’s a shame they’re not a bit more “internationally-friendly” but they are, after all, produced primarily for consumption in their home market.

      I quite agree with you on how good well-presented B&W material looks in HD – Have Gun, Will Travel, which is a terrific show in my opinion, does indeed look good on DVD and I imagine a Blu-ray version, were it ever to emerge, would be pretty impressive.

      Speaking of being impressed, that’s exactly how I felt when you said you haven’t seen this film since the 60s but still remember it – comments like that really attest to the quality of the movie.

      As for my “to watch” pile, I have to say I’m more bemused than intrigued myself when I think about the slew of material I need to work my way through. Still, there are worse problems to have. 🙂

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    • Well done for opening out this great thread, John! “RAMROD” and “MAN IN THE SADDLE” were exactly the two films I had in mind when I said other De Toth films vied with “DAY OF THE OUTLAW” as favourites. The man just had the knack!

      I was interested also in your comments on the Warner TV series and HD big screens (actually they look pretty good to me, as long we bear in mind they are TV episodes and not epics). But the CBS Video reissues of certain TV series that I have seen are just stunning to look at (and that is not even BluRay) – I am thinking of “HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL”, “GUNSMOKE”, “RAWHIDE” and “THE FUGITIVE”. They look SO GOOD!! Mind you, the starting point is quite high. These are also superior TV series to start with. I just watched a 1956 episode of “GUNSMOKE” (“Spring Term”) from Season 2 and it looked terrific. Not because of scenery (it was all town-based) but the lensing was subtle, with lots of shadows, shades of light and dark and interesting positioning of the camera. It was produced by Charles Marquis Warren and directed by Ted Post. Great job!

      I really liked the Warner TV series “back in the day” and 50+ years later I still think they are highly watchable, especially “CHEYENNE”, “BRONCO”, “LAWMAN”, “MAVERICK” and “COLT .45”. Hang on! That’s most of ’em – see what I mean!

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  7. Great stuff, Colin. I absolutely adore this film (pride of place in my top ten western list here: http://letterboxd.com/gogilesgo/list/top-10-westerns-letterboxd-community-best/).

    Ives is magnetic and the setting of course is just wonderful. What really stays with me is the sense of dread late in the second act when you really cannot see a way for Ryan to survive. For a good twenty mins you really believe the ‘bad guys are going to get away with it’, which of course is unheard of in a Hays code era film.

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    • Thanks, Giles. I’ll have a look at your western picks. ETA: just checked them out, and that’s a pretty strong selection.

      You’re right about the feeling of dread – the tension really never lets up and becomes quite relentless as the story progresses.

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  8. Colin, I was pleasantly surprised to find this in my INBOX. Superb piece as always. I may have watched this movie and the ones talked about in the comments, but I don’t remember them. Have a whole new place to explore now thanks to you and your readers!

    As for the movie The Mountain Men………….it is the most accurate movie I have ever seen as to the end of the fur trading era. I am an unofficial member of The American Mountain Men.,,unofficial only because I am female, LOL. I have done the primitive winter camps, etc.

    Never liked Robert Ryan growing up, but I believe it was one of your posts that got me watching him again….. And Burl Ives……….who in the WORLD could NOT like him? A favorite of mine since I was tiny.

    Thanks again for the new area to explore. Check out New Frontier. Posted a pic of Ward in 1928 USC National Championship football team. Also will put a link to this post with some pics of true primitive camping, LOL.

    Still thanking Gary and Marilyn for pushing me your way! Have a Merry Christmas if I don’t get back to you Colin. KEITH Oh will reblog on mine…………thanks.

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    • Very kind of you, Keith. If I managed to steer you towards a reassessment of Ryan, then I reckon I’ve done something worthwhile.
      The Mountain Men is a film I haven’t watched in ages, though I do have a copy to hand; I’ll have to try and fit in a viewing over the holidays since you’ve brought it back to my attention.

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  9. Just as an add on to my ramblings above; it’s interesting that in the late Fifties United Artists released a whole slew of low budget black and white Westerns with major stars. Apart from the ones already mentioned we had films like THE RIDE BACK and MAN FROM DEL RIO with Anthony Quinn, THE HALLIDAY BRAND with Joseph Cotten and ESCORT WEST with Victor Mature, among others. For my money the de Toth film and MAN WITH THE GUN are the best of the bunch but all of them are interesting, to say the least.

    Regarding the TV Western stuff I only recently re-discovered how great HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL was.I was very keen to see an episode that had Vincent Price and Patricia Morison as guest stars two people that I have a great admiration for. A buddy loaned me the disc and that particular episode was a delight as were the other ones featured on that disc. It’s certainly made me want to see more and I do hope that they issue a “best of” set at some point.
    The Warners Western series that I am really looking forward to is THE DAKOTAS, a short lived adult orientated series that was short lived. Also the production values from Warners had greatly improved by that time(1963). Many of the episodes were directed by Stuart Heisler, an interesting director with many impressive credits in features. Heisler’s television work that I have seen is very impressive.

    Now way off topic,but as one of Colin’s pet themes crops up in the following I thought I’d bring it into the mix. We are talking “redemption” here guys!
    The word crops up in The New Yorkers review of the forthcoming AMERICAN SNIPER. This Eastwood directed film was always going to generate debate and I was intrigued to see The New Yorker’s David Denby give the film a rousing “thumbs up” The New Yorker was of course the home of Eastwood’s nemesis Pauline Kael.
    When they reviewed UNFORGIVEN, and I’m pretty sure it was Denby, he stated that it was the 16th film directed by Eastwood and the only one that he had liked. Denby’s review of AMERICAN SNIPER could not be more glowing…he calls it a devastating war movie and a devastating anti war movie. Furthermore, Denby states that Eastwood, with this picture, makes most current directors look like beginners! Even further Denby draws in comparisons to Hitchcock and Powell. “Like Hitchcock in REAR WINDOW and Powell in PEEPING TOM, Eastwood puts us inside the camera lens” Poor Pauline, God only knows what she would make of all this. Funnily enough I have a so far unseen copy of TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE in my “to be viewed” heap. (which is nowhere as formidable as Colin’s I may add!) It was a pressie from a mate and I will watch it over Christmas. As much as I admire Eastwood I don’t really do “Sport Movies” though I’m told the film is more about relationships.
    Finally, Colin, I am glad that you share my love of high definition black and white and I can only add that the four RAWHIDE episodes chosen in the Explosive Media set are very well chosen.

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    • John, of the black and white westerns you mentioned there, the only one I don’t have and haven’t seen is The Halliday Brand, something I need to put right at some point. I agree they are all interesting films and I would recommend more people check them out if possible.

      Have Gun, Will Travel is just so good, isn’t it? The stories are fine, as are the production values, and Boone is perfectly cast. I need to pick up the remaining seasons at some point.

      American Sniper
      sounded good to me and looked interesting too when I first saw the trailer – I’ll be looking out for it in the cinema for sure.

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  10. Rightly said, this is an underrated film, I’d push it into the neo western category, even noir slightly. You’ve made me want to watch this classic again. Makes me wonder why Robert Ryan never got the recognition he deserved.

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    • Yes, Tim. There is a touch of noir about the movie, something I thought of mentioning so I’m glad you brought it up. And I’m really pleased I managed to get you in the mood to watch it again.
      Why didn’t Ryan get the recognition he deserved? I honestly have no idea and I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone explain it satisfactorily yet either.

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      • My only explanation is that there simply wasn’t enough time to recognise him with all the acting talent, even with so many awards you can only nominate so many a year. He obviously fell short. For me it’s that dark passion and the piercing eyes.

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        • You may be right. The ambiguity of so many of his characterizations might be part of it too – his heroes and villains were frequently of the kind which overlapped somewhat, and it wasn’t easy to neatly categorize the performance.

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          • He did play the same role over and over thats true, a man with a mean streak about him, a presence that would put dread into you. He might not have favoured too well with the voters, who knows.

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            • There’s also the matter of genre identification. When I think of Ryan, westerns and film noir come to mind – two genres which were long neglected by critics. It’s perhaps a little like the situation with Mitchum, where his reputation rose considerably towards the end of his life. By that time, westerns and noir had undergone a bit of a reassessment, especially the latter. Sadly, Ryan had left us long before that had taken place.

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                • True. Although I’d hesitate to criticize Ryan too much with regard to versatility. He may not have been big on comedy but he had lots of range and nuance at his disposal. There was a cultish aspect to Mitchum of course, but again I think that built up over the years.

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  11. Hi Colin, it’s been quite some time since I left a comment here. This is just to say that “Day of the Outlaw” has been issued in France in a superbly remastered edition (2010) that does justice to Russell Harlan’s beautiful photography. The DVD (Wild Side editor) comes along with a gorgeously illustrated book (eighty pages long) telling all about the shooting (location, weather conditions, casting, producing, Phil Yordan, DeToth, Ryan & Louise, Burl Ives…). And the DVD contains several interesting bonus such as two interviews with director De Toth plus an accurate comment on the film by french director Bertrand Tavernier who treasures it (a masterpiece, according to him) and was a close friend of AndrĂ© DeToth’s. A cheaper edition of “Day of the Outlaw” (french title : “La ChevauchĂ©e des bannis”) can be found (same editor), book omitted but bonus maintained. Which is to say this outstanding black & white western is considered as a highlight of the genre. Personally, having watched it time and again, I’d place it in my top ten since it’s THE perfect blend between western & film noir. Anyway, you’re right, “Day of the Outlaw” arguably is AndrĂ© DeToth’s best movie.

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    • Welcome back, Samuel! It has indeed been a long time since I’ve heard from you.
      That Wild Side release was alluded to earlier and it’s good to hear just how much care has gone into its presentation. Once again, French appreciation of the western, a clear indication of its worth and status as an art form in your country, points up the more grudging attitude on display in English-speaking territories.
      Anyway, it’s nice to hear from you again and I hope you’re able to visit from time to time.

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  12. I do visit from time to time and I sure will again, don’t worry. My problem is I’m much too lazy to leave a comment everytime I visit. I can see you wrote something on Monte Hellman’s 1965 western movies. I’ll read it ASAP.

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  13. To backtrack, once again, for me THE HALLIDAY BRAND just did not work,and that’s coming from me,a huge fan of Joseph H Lewis, as I am sure are most of the RTHC crew! I do have a problem with Joseph Cotten in Westerns, and the casting of Ward Bond as his father just did not work (Bond was a mere two years older than Cotten). If you want a grim, brooding dark Western look no further, it certainly has it’s moments, and would have made a great vehicle for Robert Ryan.
    Another stark black & white Western from Lewis of course was TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN, a film I need to re-acquaint myself with very soon! United Artists which were as I understand a distribution network for independent film-makers certainly released the lion’s share of these low budget gems in the Fifties.
    One I overlooked was Hall Bartlett’s very interesting DRANGO, a pet project for Jeff Chandler, another hugely underrated talent. DRANGO is as dark and brooding as THE HALLIDAY BRAND but for me it’s the far superior of the two. Most interesting cast and shot by James Wong Howe, no less.

    THE HALLIDAY BRAND was produced by Collier Young who was married to Ida Lupino, and continued a creative partnership with Lupino after they divorced (Young later married Joan Fontaine BTW). Lupino and Young’s Film Makers imprint produced some very fine, albeit very dark themed films, the most outstanding of which was the grossly underrated Noir BEWARE, MY LOVELY with Robert Ryan giving a knockout performance. Interestingly, BEWARE, MY LOVELY was directed by Harry Horner who also directed the aforementioned MAN FROM DEL RIO. From the strength of these two films one wishes Horner had made more features, he was mainly a production designer. Collier Young’s main success was as a producer of hit TV series but as a producer he was involved with some dark and provocative little gems. I recently tracked down MAD AT THE WORLD the last film made by the Lupino/Young partnership. This is the hardest of their films to source and is a stark and provocative vigilante movie, one of the first of it’s kind. Keefe Brasselle and Cathy O Donnell’s baby is fatally injured by a slum gang and Brasselle goes on the rampage. The film is far from perfect, the main drawback is the “kids” are far too long in the tooth. Laura favorite Frank Lovejoy is terrific as the hard-nosed but humane cop on the case. For me, the best thing in the film is a wonderful performance from Karen Sharpe who plays a gang associate who really fancies Brasselle, their doomed relationship is interestingly done. The film has a raw gritty quality and is a signpost to what would follow later. Furthermore, the film is nowhere near as good as the Alan Ladd vehicle 13 WEST STREET where the “kids” are all from upper middle class homes.

    It’s funny because as a kid growing up in the “Technicolor Fifties” my pals and I thought black and white Westerns were useless. Of course we all mature over time and it would be unthinkable to imagine DAY OF THE OUTLAW as a color film. Another Robert Ryan Western that I have not seen since it’s release is HOUR OF THE GUN where the great man plays Ike Clanton. The Blu-ray is on the way to me held up in the Christmas post,no doubt. Really looking forward to that one!

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    • Lots of interesting stuff there, John. I take on board your comments on The Halliday Brand but fully intend to seek it out and see how I feel about it. Although I have no problem with Cotten in westerns myself, I quite understand how issues with the suitability of an actor in certain settings or genres can turn one off. Also, do yourself a favor and give Terror in a Texas Town another go as soon as possible – I think it’s a terrific and unusual little movie.

      Beware, My Lovely was supposed to be coming from Olive Films, I think. However, it has yet to show up. I haven’t seen it for quite a while but I remember thinking it was pretty good. Mind you, I recall feeling that the ending let it down somewhat after the great build-up.

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  14. Just in case there is any confusion to the above, MAD AT THE WORLD was directed by Harry Essex,best known as a writer. The film was the last production from The Filmakers, Ida Lupino and Collier Young’s production company.

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  15. Of course, I always respect a difference of opinion with John Knight but just to say I don’t agree about THE HALLIDAY BRAND. I think all the story dynamics come over well and as usual with Lewis its style is not only striking but expresses that story well. I have no problem with Cotten in Westerns and it’s interesting that in DUEL IN THE SUN and UNTAMED FRONTIER too he is a son who breaks from an overbearing father. Family dramas on the range are so often good–Bond could easily carry being older even if he was not and the too little seen Betsy Blair is also in this along with Viveca Lindfors. Of those four Lewis Westerns with which he finished his theatrical career, I’d rank this about even with A LAWLESS STREET among the better two but saw SEVENTH CAVALRY again last year and is better than I had thought before. TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN is very unusual, and again striking, but for all the interesting things about it it’s just too determined to be strange for me.

    It’s too big a discussion for this comment but I wasn’t so enamored of BEWARE, MY LOVELY the one time I saw it and John, I just don’t get how you could prefer it among Filmmakers productions to the six that Ida Lupino herself directed, all superb and including THE HITCH-HIKER and what is surely Lupino’s masterpiece THE BIGAMIST. Well, to put it another way, I’d be interested in why you prefer BEWARE MY LOVELY, a kind of conventional thriller by comparison. I do like Harry Horner though and agree with you more about very fine, interesting Western THE MAN FROM DEL RIO.

    It’s interesting to hear about MAD AT THE WORLD which I’d love to see.

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  16. Joseph H. Lewis had a western career to be proud of indeed. He started out directing two of Wild Bill Elliott’s very best series westerns for Columbia, then a few of Johnny Mack Brown’s better ones at Universal before graduating to features. Already mentioned are some good Scotts for Columbia. I would also draw attention to two very fine “noirs” in the mid-40s (“SO DARK THE NIGHT” and “MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS”) which are well worth searching out. I would also say how much I like his very tough, brutal crime film “THE BIG COMBO” with a terrific cast. He moved into TV from 1959 and did some good work there, especially 51 episodes of the superior series “THE RIFLEMAN”. His episodes were some of the best in that series.

    Personally, I like “THE HALLIDAY BRAND” very much and seeing Ward Bond as Cotten’s father somehow doesn’t strike the wrong chord with me as Ward in his later years looked much older than he actually was (hard-living?). A good western, for me.

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  17. Firstly Blake,it’s great to be trading opinions with you….it’s been quite a while. I think I was a bit hasty regarding The Filmakers titles especially as I have never seen OUTRAGE, and would really love to. Furthermore, the film has been championed by Mr Scorsese, no less. It was also announced as a release from Olive Films, don’t know what has happened there.
    Sadly a lot of the stuff I post here, and elsewhere, comes right off the top of my head, so maybe I should think before I post. It’s just that BEWARE, MY LOVELY I only saw recently so it’s fresh in my mind…that’s my excuse anyway.

    Funnily enough I have signed up to Toby’s Randolph Scott Blogathon, as I am sure Colin, Blake and Jerry have as well. This will be my attempt to “do a Colin” and write something that I have had time to really THINK about, I may be way out of my depth but I’m going to give it my best shot, in any case y’all have been warned.
    Still cannot find much love for THE HALLIDAY BRAND in spite of Lewis’ strident visual style, and much prefer the two Scott movies Blake mentioned. The lovely widescreen version of SEVENTH CAVALRY on the recent Scott DVD set certainly shows the film off to it’s best advantage. Blake mentioned UNTAMED FRONTIER an underrated Western if ever there was one, the recent version released by Koch in Germany is sensational.

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  18. It’s interesting how Ida Lupino (and Collier Young) were attracted to very dark subjects, in their films. It’s also very interesting that Mala Powers (who Blake knew) stated in interviews that Lupino was not a Feminist despite her ground breaking work as a female director. The two had a long friendship which I guess started with OUTRAGE. I don’t know if Lupino had much involvement in MAD AT THE WORLD the final Filmakers production. It’s certainly a much flawed film, for instance, would Brasselle go on a vigilante mission and leave his wife while their baby is in intensive care. The casting of “the kids” leaves much to be desired as well. Despite all this the film has a vivid raw intensity especially in the striking location photography (William Synder). As mentioned before there is a simply wonderful and extremely moving performance from Karen Sharpe, the best thing in the picture as far as I am concerned, and the film is certainly a ground-breaker to what would follow later. I have never been as keen on Frank Lovejoy as say Laura but he is growing on me, especially after his very good performance in this film. The more I see of his work the more I think that he would have made a wonderful Mike Hammer. That’s not taking anything away from Ralph Meeker,of course. Oddly enough, Harry Essex also directed a Hammer flick I, THE JURY which I have never seen and would really love to…are there not “rights issues” holding this film up?

    Speaking of Ida Lupino and very dark subject matter I recently saw STRANGE INTRUDER and films certainly do not come any darker than that. Interesting to see Irving Rapper a long way from the glory days of NOW VOYAGER now reduced to making what was basically an Allied Artists quickie. Despite the grim and disturbing subject matter the craft is amazing (DOP Ernest Haller). During the Korean War Donald Murphy dying from extreme torture makes his buddy (Edmund Purdom) promise to not let his kids be in the custody of wife Lupino’s sleazebag lover (Jacques Bergerac)…he’d rather see them dead! Purdom now back home and shell-shocked and undergoing therapy for trauma may possibly take Murphy’s dying wish literally. This is not an easy watch and Lupino is sensational in an extremely difficult role.

    Well, guys it’s nearly Christmas and it’s time for me to lighten up a little. I think I have had enough of “dark themed films” for a while at least 🙂
    Finally Jerry, I think everyone reading this blog is a huge fan of THE BIG COMBO and hats off to Olive Films in giving this classic the restoration it deserves and saving it from p.d. hell.

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  19. In pretty well all the reference books that comment on individual westerns “UNTAMED FRONTIER” gets somewhat dismissed. I’ve probably seen the film a couple of times and found it very enjoyable so I am with you here, John. Are we just easy to please or are the other guys just missing something?? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter if the film does it for you (and me)!

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    • To be perfectly honest, I see nothing terribly wrong with Untamed Frontier myself. It might not be an especially noteworthy movie, but I wouldn’t be highly critical of it either.

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  20. Sometimes when one comes across a superb DVD or Blu-ray release of a film it really raises it’s game, especially if you have only seen the film on TV. As mentioned before the Koch release of UNTAMED FRONTIER is sensational and for me the film is everything THE HALLIDAY BRAND is not. As I have mentioned before when talking about this film I love the way Fregonese frames his actors in this film in the interior scenes, very powerful stuff.
    I only use reference books as a guide, after all it’s all down to individual taste, furthermore reference books often trash decent films and rave about far less worthy films.

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    • Yes, I agree with that last point. All critical writing is ultimately subjective and all of us come away from movies with our own opinions. I think it’s entirely appropriate to view these things as guides – they can turn us on to previously neglected or undiscovered works, and even negative assessments we disagree with can act as a stimulus to encourage a reappraisal by others.

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  21. As the first one here who mentioned UNTAMED FRONTIER I’d just like to say that I too very much like the film. There’s little Fregonese I don’t like and I think he’s still criminally underrated. As always in this his style is distinctive and beautiful with graceful framing and staging, fine use of color, and he handles the story with usual intelligence. I like it as well as THE HALLIDAY BRAND, though I would not say better. I probably like both films more than DUEL IN THE SUN, which has many wonderful things but is just a little too overblown for me to throughly embrace.

    Only limitation of UNTAMED FRONTIER, other Fregoneses are even better, among the Westerns, SADDLE TRAMP and APACHE DRUMS and especially Civil War drama THE RAID. Colin has written about several of these.

    Anyone on to Fregonese looking for some other movies should not miss HARRY BLACK AND THE TIGER, Mexico-set melodrama BLOWING WILD, and wonderful MARK OF THE RENEGADE, an exquisite matinee adventure set in Early California, so Western-related, and featuring a mesmerizing outdoor dance by Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse.

    Really, prison break movie BLACK TUESDAY is terrific Fregonese too. And that one has no less than Edward G. Robinson at his snarling best.

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    • I fully endorse your recommendation of Harry Black and the Tiger. Now, Black Tuesday is a movie I’ve long wanted to see. I wish someone would get it on disc, maybe Kino could get their hands on it as I think it’s a United Artists film.

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  22. I hasten to add that although I’ve seen all but one 50s Fregonese (I GIROVAGHI–and I sure want to see it), I don’t know his early Argentinian work in the 40s or any post-50s except SAVAGE PAMPAS, which I had a very good impression of but watched in the days I was still watching pan and scan so until I see it properly don’t have a definitive opinion. A scheduling conflict caused me to miss his early HARDLY A CRIMINAL at an L.A. showing last year and hoping for another chance. Of course, I mean to try to run down the others as I’m able.

    I believe there are probably more than a few low-profile directors who haven’t had their due.

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          • Watched it with my Dad yesterday (dubbed in Italian) – and it is certainly very impressive, both for its understated performances and the tight control exhibited by De Toth, alternating very static sequences (like the first meeting between Ryan and Louise in which he avoids all eye contact with her until everybody else leaves) and the dance sequence, with some fascinating 360 degree shots that were pretty innovative for the time. Great stuff

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            • Sounds like you had a good time with it – that’s gratifying since I recommended it to you, although I would have been surprised if you hadn’t taken something positive away from it. And it’s the right time of year to watch this movie too. Enjoy the rest of Xmas!

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