Blu-Ray Review | The Outlaw | 1943
Howard Hughes' western, The Outlaw, gained infamy for its graphic violence and liberal display of Jane Russell's cleavage. It may seem tame now, but in 1943, it certainly pushed the envelope for what could be shown on screen. Naturally, it was a smash hit, and Russell became a household name. But Hughes was never much of a filmmaker, he was a wealthy man with big ideas and expensive toys, but rarely did that translate into anything more than the man trying to one-up himself on screen.
Hughes essentially takes the legend and has his own way with it, filling the film with gunfights and barely concealed innuendos that both outraged and titillated (no pun intended) audiences of the time. It's easy to see why Russell became a star, but The Outlaw is a surprisingly week film, leaning too hard on comedic banter between Garrett and Holliday to really be the epic, serious western it clearly wants to be. Holliday is an almost goofy figure, comically detached and aloof, while Garrett is a bumbling fool and Billy a handsome lothario. It's a strange mix that makes for a confused film.
There's one great sequence in which the heroes are chased across the desert by a band of indians. Hughes shoots the film with a terrific eye for scope (one can't help but feel the hand of Hawkes guiding him here), and the practical effects are impressive even by today's standards. When Holliday tries to intimidate Billy by shooting off part of his ear, it looks shockingly real.
Yet its technical prowess can't make up for its uneven direction and scattershot tone. The leads are all capable but none of them seem to be acting in the same movie, as if Hughes couldn't decide what movie he really wanted to make. The film hasn't been treated well by time. Besides the awkward performances, the film itself has worn down, and the new 2K restoration on the new Kino Blu-Ray can't really save its often faded images. It may have made Russell a major sex symbol, but its charms, much like its picture, has been dimmed by the ravages of time, its edge sanded down by shifting mores and the end of the Production Code.