Outlaw [1943]

Little regarded in its day (1959) and released on DVD utterly without fanfare, The Day of the Outlaw is a knockout, an unusual western with a compelling story, a host of fine actors, and a sinister vibe that just won't quit. The setting is a tiny, snowbound Wyoming outpost called Bitters--a most appropriate name, at least when it comes to Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan), a hard-edged rancher who bitterly resents the farmers whose barbed wire fences hamper his cattle drives. The fact that one of the farmers is married to the love of Blaise's life, Helen (Tina Louise--yep, that's Ginger from Gilligan's Island; also in the cast are David Nelson, Ozzie's son and Ricky's older brother, and model Venetia Stevenson, who would later marry Don Everly), doesn't help his disposition any. In fact, Blaise is getting ready to kill his rival when big trouble comes to Bitters in the form of a gang of bank robbers on the run from the law. Led by a former Cavalry officer named Bruhn (a commanding performance by Burl Ives), these are some nasty, repellent dudes; only Bruhn's iron hand keeps them from laying waste to the town, especially its women, of whom there are just four. But he's been mortally wounded, which means it's only a matter of time before the inmates take over the asylum; indeed, watching these brutes as the lure of whiskey and womenfolk threatens to turn them into gun-toting Beavises and Butt-heads creates an almost tangible tension that makes the film hard to watch but impossible to turn away from. The black & white cinematography only adds to the bleakness, and Hungarian director Andre De Toth's sure hand results in several terrific scenes, especially the Saturday night "dance" (where the women desperately try to fight off the outlaws' loutish advances) and the extended final sequence, which finds Blaise helping the bad guys escape--or so they think--across the snow-covered mountains. Riveting stuff. --Sam Graham

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