Russell’s attributes aside, The Outlaw concerns Sheriff Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) and his pursuit of Billy the Kid. The foreboding music that accompanies Hughes’ introduction of Garrett gives a hint as to where our director’s sympathies lie. It seems everyone’s sympathies are with the legendary outlaw rather than the lawman who shot him down. When Garrett’s old friend, Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) pays a visit, his horse is stolen. Despite damning evidence that the Kid is the thief--after all, he is now riding the horse--Doc, rather than express anger, takes an instant and unexplained liking to the famed outlaw. When Billy punches out Garrett, Doc seems amused, and when Garrett tries to arrest Billy for the theft of the horse, Holliday, who initially offers his help, backs out, valuing his new acquaintance with the Kid more than his long friendship with Garrett.
The rest of the movie finds the Kid moving in on Doc’s half-breed honey (Russell) with Doc encouraging the relationship and even offering the Kid advice on courtship. Meanwhile, Garrett remains in pursuit, capturing the Kid more than once, but never quite succeeding in getting the best of him.
There is an annoyingly whimsical score by Victor Young that seems determined to point out when a scene is supposed to be amusing (none of them are), and acting that ranges from poor to disastrous. Huston, normally a great character actor, grates on the nerves with his supposedly amusing and wise depiction of Holliday. As portrayed here, there is nothing amusing or wise about the man. He betrays his friend and contentedly watches him be humiliated at the hands of an outlaw whose appeal, as portrayed by Jack Beutel, is a mystery. Beutel is as animated as a still photograph, underdeveloped and out of focus, lacking charm or any other attractive trait. Poor Thomas Mitchell looks foolish in his ten gallon hat, and is treated like a fool throughout. As for Russell, her bosoms perform admirably, more so than the rest of her.
Jules Furthman’s screenplay presents Billy the Kid as a misunderstood but decent kid which is probably the way the loony Hughes saw himself. As a director, he’s certainly no Howard Hawks (who supposedly worked on the film uncredited), and though he may be a tad more professional that Ed Wood, he fails to be as entertaining. The one competent craftsman on board is Gregg Toland whose cinematography is on a level that the rest of the movie fails to reach.
The Outlaw is strictly a western for boobs (pun intended), and their admirers.
Brian W. Fairbanks
© Copyright 1999 Brian W. Fairbanks