Day of the Outlaw (1959)

27 10 2008

I was somewhat impressed with André De Toth’s The Indian Fighter but this right here is something really special. Lately, I’ve watched a lot of movies with Robert Ryan playing rather “cold” villains, almost polar opposites of his character in The Naked Spur. His performance here is similarly passive and quiet, but generally, is just a lot better. I guess being the “hero” helps to some degree, but the biggest element might be the equally cold and harsh landscapes that physically consumes him and the rest of the cast. It might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but it is difficult to look at the visuals and not see some similarities of the brutally cold atmosphere in Bela Tarr’s films.

It probably speaks to how seriously I consider westerns that I could make such a connection, but it probably helps that Toth’s visual eye fits in perfectly with the reserved and downbeat tone of the film. Robert Ryan is definitely one of the most passive protagonists in any western, which is no small feat. The result of his character’s relationship with Helen Crane is textbook western, and probably a bit too predictable, but the sequences that the two share early on are really fantastic. There’s this fifteen minute stretch that is built around just them, but it eventually takes a backseat to the plot that quite literally barges in.

The pace isn’t completely halted by this point, but it is thrown off a little. I still definitely admire De Toth’s attempt at playing around with narrative structure. Truth be told, the conventional forward plot does lead to some of the film’s best sequences: specifically, the unbearably tension-saturated dance sequence in which the “out of towners” essentially make a mockery of the local women. There’s a oddly poignant little subplot involving a romance between one of the invaders and a local girl that comes out of nowhere, yet may actually be the single best thing about the film. And again, this all set up against some of the most beautiful visuals from any western. It’s pretty difficult for me to not love something so expertly crafted.



One response

27 10 2008

I’ve never heard of this one, but I love Robert Ryan. You’re enthousiasm for the film makes me even more anxious to see it. I’ll check it out ASAP

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