Sunday, September 15, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Day of the Outlaw (1959) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The superb Western DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1959) is now available in an outstanding Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber.

I saw this film for the very first time just about a year ago, writing about it for Classic Movie Hub in a column titled "Snowy Westerns and Day of the Outlaw." I was happy to revisit the film relatively soon after my first viewing as it's that good...I feel as though I'm making up for lost time!

DAY OF THE OUTLAW, directed by Andre De Toth, is as stark a Western as any I've seen, yet it's also a film of surpassing visual beauty, filled with excellent performances.

After weeks stuck on their ranches and farms due to the winter weather, local settlers arrive in the town of Bitters, Wyoming. Rancher Blaise Starrett (the great Robert Ryan) is itching to kill farmer Hal Crane (Alan Marshal), who's fenced off land, but he's also got another reason he'd like to get Crane out of the way: He once had an affair with Crane's wife Helen (Tina Louise), who now regrets it and henceforth intends to live up to her marriage vows.

Just as Starrett and Crane are on the verge of a gunfight, Captain Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives) and his gang of cutthroats burst into the saloon, and the film's focus shifts wildly. Bruhn and his men are killers loaded down with stolen gold, with the cavalry on their trail.

Suddenly and most unexpectedly Starrett and Crane are on the same side, trying to stay alive while dealing with a vicious group of men (including Jack Lambert, Lance Fuller, and Frank DeKova) who think nothing of killing and would also like to have their way with the town's few women (Venetia Stevenson, Helen Westcott, and Betsy Jones-Moreland, in addition to Louise). Only young Gene (David Nelson), who is quietly attracted to Ernine (Stevenson), seems to have redeeming qualities.

As long as Bruhn's alive, he's got control over his men, but he's weakened from a bullet wound, and the local vet (Dabbs Greer) who removes the bullet warns Starrett that Bruhn could die of internal bleeding. If Bruhn dies, all bets are off on what will become of the townspeople.

Starrett, chastened by the experience, plots to draw the gang away from the town by offering to guide them over the mountains; it's a trip he may not survive, for more reasons than one.

Having reviewed WAGON MASTER (1950) last weekend, I was struck anew at some of the plot similarities, with an outlaw gang just barely restrained by a "father figure" type; both films are also visually beautiful, but the comparisons end there. The movies essentially tell flip sides of a similar story; in WAGON MASTER, a happy, cohesive group of people are invaded, while in DAY OF THE OUTLAW, "farmer and cowman" enemies are forced to unite in order to survive the invading evil. DAY OF THE OUTLAW also provides an interesting twist near the end regarding the outlaw leader, which won't be revealed here.

The performances are uniformly good, especially Ryan's haggard yet charismatic, intelligent Starrett, but what really sets DAY OF THE OUTLAW apart is its wintry look. The shots of the men trudging through the snow, filmed in black and white by Russell Harlan, are simply stunning, looking at times almost like paintings.  The movie is a must-see for the visuals alone, shot in Oregon and Northern Arizona, but happily there's much more to it than that.

The screenplay of this 92-minute film was by Philip Yordan, based on a novel by Lee E. Wells. The supporting cast also includes Mike McGreevey, Elisha Cook Jr., and Nehemiah Persoff, who recently turned 100!

The excellent commentary track by Jeremy Arnold analyzes how the film was shot while simultaneously filling viewers in on the backgrounds of the cast. Several actors who worked on the film are still living, and Arnold was able to interview most of them and incorporate their memories into his talk. His discussion of the use of wide shots versus closeups was also quite interesting.

I really enjoyed rewatching the film and gleaning additional insights thanks to this track. And for those worried about the horses in the final scenes -- I was! -- Arnold shares interesting info gleaned from research at the Academy Library. He is nothing if not thorough!

The disc also contains the movie trailer and a gallery of trailers for five additional Westerns available from Kino Lorber.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Of course the outlaw leader is not Edgar Buchanan but Burl Ives - a mere slip of the 'pen' of course, Laura!

The contrast between "WAGONMASTER" and this film possibly reflects changed attitudes between 1950 and 1960. The western had reached a wonderful level of maturity over that decade even though its decline was on the horizon as the 60s arrived.

This film is superb on so many levels.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Whoops, where was my brain, Jerry! Fixing that "slip of the pen" right now LOL.

Very interesting thoughts on the difference time made in the two stories.

Thanks very much!!

Best wishes,

12:01 AM  
Blogger Ricardo Cantoral said...

A terrific indoor Western. The contrast between Bruhn's icy demeanour and his volatile men kept the tension high throughout the film. I also loved the chemistry between Ryan and Ives.

1:47 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Fascinating characters in one of the most memorable western of its or any other era.

On chilly days, I will say to myself "Okay, you're cold but you're not Jack Lambert at the end of Day of the Outlaw cold." Another way movies sneak their way into our everyday lives.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Ricardo, agree with all you said. Glad to know you enjoyed it too.

Caftan Woman, I love that. I'll have to remember that line. :)

Best wishes,

11:31 PM  

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