Friday, 3 August 2012
Classic Flicks - Day of the Outlaw (1959)
Robert Ryan, Burl Ives, Tina Louise
Directed by Andre De Toth
We open up with a snowy landscape - we see two riders approach. This is Robert Ryan and Nehemiah Persoff. Ryan plays a rancher and he is unhappy with the local farmers fencing off land that's previously been wild. It seems that Robert Ryan's character is facing for a showdown with the head farmer Crane, played by Alan Marshal. Though Ryan's foreman questions Ryan's hatred for Crane and suggests that it is less to do with fenced off land, and more to do with the fact that Ryan's character is in love with the farmer's wife.
Day of the Outlaw is expertly shot and the black and white landscapes look starkly bleak with the digital transfer. So good, in fact, is the transfer that we can even see Ryan's breath forming on a window with crystal clear clarity in one scene. Director, Andre De Toth turns the wide open spaces of Wyoming into a claustrophobic box with the aid of a snow storm and clever camera work.
Ryan is seething and decides to spend the night in the town hotel, knowing that come first light he will kill Crane in an inevitable show down. However a storm during the night means that he is trapped in the small town, and to make matters worse an outlaw, Burl Ives and his band of desperate men take over the town.
Ives men are a band of sadists who want nothing more than to drink the saloon dry and then rape all the women in the town, but Ives forbids booze and women and tells the town people that they will be unharmed as long as they don't step out of line. Howevere Ives men are restless and only Ives can keep them in line - the trouble is though that Ives is carrying a bullet and although the local quack manages to remove the slug, his days are numbered.
The middle section of this film is largely stage bound with scenes taking place in the saloon, doctors and town hotel. Robert Ryan is excellent as the tarnished hero and Ives is exceptional as the bad man with heart. Ives is carrying the shame of his part in a mormon slaughter and he is tired of running, tired of killing.
The final half hour of the movie sees Ryan's character reedem himself as he leads the bad men out of town towards a trail that doesn't exist, knowing that it is likely he will perish in the snowy wilderness along with the outlaws, but in doing so he would have saved the people of the town.
'I took a long look at myself in the mirror and didn't like what I saw,' Ryan states before leading the outlaws on his suicide mission.
It is this final thirty minutes for which the film is chiefly remembered, but the film should be much better known as is ripe for rediscovery on digital disc and download. And that final reel is indeed tremendous as men and horses brave the worse nature can throw at them.
Needless to say it's a conventional ending with Ryan returning to town as the only survivor and with an attitude of live and let live towards the farmers even if it means he doesn't get the woman he loves. Though he may have come back with something far more important - his dignity and a sense of self worth. The script based on the novel by Lee E. Wells is lean and punchy and this is an excellent western adventure.