The Outlaw

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Mar 14, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


In the roaring days of the Wild West, gunfighter Doc Holliday reunites with his old friend, lawman Pat Garrett, in the sleepy New Mexico town of Lincoln. His horse has been stolen, it turns out, by the infamous Billy the Kid. They manage to catch the notorious outlaw, but Doc stops Pat from killing him, as he’s taken a shine to the handsome young man. The two men eventually ride off together, the humiliated Pat Garrett in pursuit.

The Outlaw is not a good movie, by any means, but it is a fascinatingly odd one. Most of the movie is spent with Doc and Billly playfully stealing a horse back and forth from one another, all while doing everything they possible can not to kiss each other. The homoerotic undertones of The Outlaw aren’t light here at all; watching the movie 75 years after its release, it’s almost impossible to read the movie as anything other than a love story between Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) and his new beau, Billy the Kid (Jake Buetel), and the rage that summons in Doc’s jealous ex, Pat Garrett (It’s a Wonderful Life’s Thomas Mitchell). Not even old Hollywood sex siren Jane Russell’s presence does much to change this impression. Her character, Rio, is rarely regarded as anything more than a huge nuisance to the three men. Her role in the film seems to serve no other purposes than to satisfy director Howard Hughes’ now-legendary boob fandom, and perhaps to distract 1943 audiences from Doc, Pat, and Billy’s longing stares. If you approach the film as a gay Western, it can at worst be viewed as an interesting curio for the time period. Still not a particularly exciting movie – save for the men’s explosive, final argument – but one that feels accidentally ahead of its time.

The poster for The Outlaw, reproduced above on Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray cover, may be the film’s most famous asset. If you’re a fan of old Hollywood westerns, you’ve probably seen that image of Jane Russell lounging on a pile of straw even if you’ve never seen the film itself. The Outlaw made a star of Jane Russell; her cleavage, in fact, and the controversy surrounding just how much of it was visible are what made the film such a big hit in 1943. (Hughes went so far as to invent an uncomfortable, cleavage-enhancing bra for Russell, which she didn’t wear, but was mentioned often during the film’s promotion.) Although clearly the focus of the movie's marketing, Russell's character is little more than set decoration. 

A slow-moving and tonally all-over-the-place Western, The Outlaw is nonetheless an important piece in the film careers of Jane Russell and billionaire Howard Hughes, and one that followers of that Hollywood era owe it to themselves to see at least once. The film wasn’t particularly well-cared-for in the decades since its release, but KLSC’s Blu-ray is probably as good as it’s going to look without an expensive head-to-toe restoration. Bonus features include a trailer gallery and a really good commentary from historian Troy Howarth, which does touch on the movie’s gay undertones.

www.kinolorber.com/film/theoutlaw




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