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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Day of the Outlaw (1959)

This 1959 western starring Robert Ryan and Burl Ives is available as part of the Optimum western classics collection and it is this version that I am reviewing. The Western Classic DVD's are bereft of special features but then given the obscurity of some of the films this is undestandable - what you do get is a pristine remastered transfer of some classics that are little seen these days. They also come in uniform covers and look great as part of a collection.

Blaise ( Robert Ryan) is a cattleman fighting a battle with homesteaders in a small, bleak western town called Bitters. Just as a feud between Blaise and a local farmer is about to come to a bloody end, Jack Bruhn (Ives), and his gang ride into town. The wounded outlaw is a former cavalry officer but that doesn't stop him and his gang holding the town's civilians hostage.

This snowbound western is largely town set with the melodrama building as the outlaws take control of the small town - Bruhn is carrying a bullet inside him and need time to recuperate after ordering the local horse doctor to cut the bullet out, which he does and the grizzled old outlaw survives the operation, refusing whiskey and gritting his teeth against the pain.

Ives is excellent as the outlaw leader - he is determed to keep his men under control and orders all whisky be hidden away and women kept away from the men. The menfolk of Bitters have had their guns taken from them and as the siege goes on the weather worsens and the snow makes leaving the town impossible. But what the bandit leader doesn't know is that his wound will prove fatal and that his death is inevitable.

It's a tense psychological western for the time spent in the town and we learn much about the inner demons of both Ives and Ryan's characters. It turns out the bandit leader is carrying a deep shame of a Mormon massacre he once took part in and Ryan is being torn apart by his love for another man's wife.

It's a film all about redemption and the bandit leader finds a way to redeem himself when he allows Ryan's character to lead him and his men out into the freezing Wyoming winter, knowing that none of them will survive the journey along a non-existent trail.

An excellent western that straddles between traditional oater and film noir - it's dark, tense and with great performances all around making this a minor classic and well worth the budget price.

The black and white photography looks superb on the DVD transfer with no digital artefacts whatsoever.

1 comment:

Chap O'Keefe said...

This is a movie worth watching, though I imagine it was in the budget category even when it was shot. The performances, as Gary says, are good and the script gives the players some well-drawn characters to work with. The poster -- which I hadn't seen before -- is over the top, but amusing in a dated way. It probably wouldn't be allowed to see the light of day in these PC times!
(The script was based on a novel by Lee E. Wells [1907-1982]. An Indiana author, he apparently wrote prolifically for the pulps from the early '40s -- mainly western but some detective titles, too. By the late fifties he was a writer of scripts for several TV series.)