Day of the Outlaw

(USA - 1959)

by Alfred Eaker

Cast: Robert Ryan, Burl Ives, Tina Louise, Alan Marshal, Venetia Stevenson, Nehemiah Persoff
Genre: Western
Director: Andre De Toth
Screenplay: Philip Yordan based on Lee E. Well's story
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Composer: Alexander Courage

The films of Andre De Toth are slowly being paid due recognition in the DVD market. As prolific and versatile as De Toth was there is, of course, hits and misses. While some of De Toth's weaker films, such as "The Stranger Wore a Gun" (1953) and "The Indian Fighter" (1955), are readily available, other, far more notable works such as "Ramrod" (1947) and "The Bounty Hunter" (1954) still languish in obscurity. De Toth is best known for being the one-eyed director of the 3D "House of Wax" (1953), the noir classic "Crime Wave" (1954), and as one of the great western revisionists of the 1950s (he wrote the story for 'The Gunfighter' 1950).

Snow extraordinarily sets the bleak tone, even more than it did in De Toth's "Springfield Rifle" (1952). An older hero is at the center of many De Toth films, as in "Day of the Outlaw." Blaise (noir fan favorite Robert Ryan) and Dan (Nehemiah Persoff) are traveling to the aptly named town of Bitters. They are frostbit and struggling to move through the thick snow drifts. Blaise whips his horse with determined intensity. The horse stumbles lethargically. Blaise, a rancher and gunfighter, is furious over the barb wire fence that has been put up by framer Hal Crane (Alan Marshal) and vows to kill Crane. A very tired Dan tells Blaise (in horse voice), "A wire fence is a poor excuse to kill a man." Blaise' motive runs deeper still. That motive is Crane's wife Helen (Tina Louise), whom Blaise had an affair with.

The Scene shifts from the seemingly endless snowy abyss to a claustrophobic saloon where, it seems, confrontation looms. First, Helen confronts Blaise. She tells him the affair is over and warns him not to harm her husband. Blaise promises nothing. Blaise then confronts Hal, provoking an inevitable showdown. Blaise represents the seasoned renegade spirit (a frequent De Toth theme) at odds with the arrival of civilization in the form of younger, weaker men (Hal and the farmers).

Despite Helen's pleas, Blaise fully intends to kill Hal . She reprimands Blaise for his lack of mercy. "You won't find mercy anywhere in Wyoming" he retorts. Bitter indeed. It is the sound of a bottle hitting the wood floor that will leave Helen a widow and rid Blaise of an annoying farmer, but the bottle is suddenly interrupted by true threat in the form of outlaw Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives) and his gang. At this point, De Toth's narrative takes a dramatic and refreshingly unexpected shift.

Bruhn, like Blaise, is a dying breed and is literally dying from a gunshot wound received in a recent bank robbery. Stark tension permeates "Day of the Outlaw" as Bruhn faces certain death under a paramount struggle to maintain control of his gang and the situation. The feeling of claustrophobia is a prism to both Bruhn and Blaise. They engage in a battle of wills while finding an uncomfortable, identifying ground. Both men discover their own fallibility in the process and willingly take a contrarian, fatalistic course of action, which then shifts the narrative to its bleak and cynical finale.

The final quarter of the film is replete with desolate symbology. Insatiable greed is juxtaposed against Russel Harden's sumptuous camera work of the merciless, ominous landscape. Underneath the shifting terrain lies a steely, determined goal of self-obliteration.

"Day of the Outlaw" vividly stays with you long after the credits have faded, imprinting an indelible image of coarse whites. It may indeed be De Toth's finest work, and that is saying quite a bit.



* Copyright 2010 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *