Friday, July 13, 2018

THE WINTER IN JULY BLOGATHON: Day of the Outlaw (1959)


Debbie Vega is at it again as Moon in Gemini hosts The Winter in July Blogathon on July 13, 14 and 15. It's all about films that take place in the winter so click HERE to get your chills.


"You don't find much mercy anywhere in Wyoming."
- Blaise Starrett

Rancher Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan) has come to town. The town of Bitters, Wyoming is a collection of buildings and twenty or so citizens from outlying farms. A warm breeze brings the promise of springtime, but there will be one last storm before the end of this long winter.

"What have you been thinking about all winter? Barbed wire or Crane's pretty wife, Helen?"
- Dan

Starrett is a rage-filled man. A farmer named Hal Crane plans to fence his land with barbed wire. The brooding Starrett will kill Crane before he lets that happens. Dan (Nehemiah Persoff), Starrett's trusted friend and foreman is heartsick over Starrett's intention.


"You back your orders with guns. You want another man's wife but the man has to be dead before you'll take her."
- Helen Crane

Starrett and Helen Crane's (Tina Louise) affair ended practically before it started, but they have let their illicit feelings simmer over the past months and now the entire town knows a showdown is coming. The people of Bitters are neither innocent bystanders nor salacious gossipers. Blaise Starrett was a man who tamed the land and is a leader in the community. They want to be his friend and they want him to be a good neighbour. They will not stand for a killing.


"Now listen, do as you're told and you can go about your business just like we're not here, almost."
- Captain Jack Bruhn

The private squabbles in the town take a back seat to the arrival of a gang of outlaws. Former Captain Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives) leads a gang that is on the run from the Cavalry. They have loot in the amount of forty thousand dollars, and more than one murder victim left on the trail. Bruhn lets the populace know that the kind of men he commands could tear the town apart, and only he can handle them.


"Strange how one word can change a man's life. I could have ordered "Retreat"! My command was "Fire!"
- Captain Jack Bruhn

Bruhn's powers of command over his men and the town are displayed early. He demands that the liquor be locked up and his men must keep away from the four women in Bitters. Amazingly, Bruhn, for all his control and bluster, has a bullet lodged in his chest. The only doctor in town is a veterinarian who agrees to remove the bullet. Not the best of circumstances and there is no anesthesia. We learn in a conversation of distraction during the operation that while serving in the Army, Bruhn was the commander under something now known as the Mormon Massacre.

Bruhn is in bad shape after the operation. Morphine is helping with the pain but Doc Langer (Dabbs Greer) explains to Starrett that once morphine no long helps, Bruhn will start coughing and then it is a matter of time before his lungs rip and he dies. Without Bruhn, the gang will ravage the town.


"I don't think you want those women to get hurt. I don't think Bruhn wants it either."
- Blaise Starrett

Desperation leads to a plan to get the women out of town. Delayed by the guard just long enough for the other outlaws to recognize that something is wrong, the hastily made plan was marked for failure. Bruhn demands a reckoning but it doesn't work out as planned. It is Blaise Starrett who lays a beating on the biggest bully in the gang, Tex (Jack Lambert). In retaliation, Starrett is then beaten by two of the gang.


"Don't worry about the boy. I'll take care of him. I promise."
- Gene

Now that the acknowledged leader of the townsfolk is out of commission, Bruhn takes a young boy, Bobby (Michael McGreevy) the son of Vic who runs the General Store, as a hostage to keep folks in line. Bobby's older sister Ernine (Venetia Stevenson) is concerned about him and sneaks into the hotel  where the outlaws have holed up. She only succeeds in putting herself and others in danger. It appears she really can trust the youngest and newest member of the gang, Gene (David Nelson). He worships Bruhn but keeps himself apart from the others.


"We've got this town under out thumb but we ain't gettin' no pleasure. Two more days like this is gonna seem like two more years. Maybe not even you can keep us in line, Bruhn."
- Tex

Bruhn, in his weakened condition, is cajoled by the gang into letting the women come over to the hotel for a party. There is no way this won't get out of hand. The raucous music and shouting from the hotel draws the bedridden Starrett's attention. Bruhn still has the upper hand over his men, but this time he had to draw a gun.


"There's another way through the mountains. No trail, no pass, but there's a way. I've been through it."
                                                                                                                                         - Blaise Starrett

Starrett has a bold and reckless plan to lure the gang out of Bitters by promising to guide them to a trail through the mountains. Bruhn has no other option but to follow him into the wilderness. Behind them is the Cavalry; they can only go forward. Bruhn, five henchmen and their guide ride into the snowy mountains.


"If you go, you'll never come back. There's no way through that mountain."
- Ernine

A moment of weakness leads Ernine to tell young Gene that he was doomed if he left. Out of loyalty, Gene tells Captain Bruhn who then confronts Blaise Starrett. Of the seven men riding into the storm, only those three are aware they are on a trail to nowhere.

Bruhn was also aware that he did not have long to live because of his wound. Men can create their own destiny and destiny can play its own hand of cards. In the case of these characters, actions and events will lead to redemption in very strange and ironic ways. Redemption through love and redemption in its truest sense of cleansing the soul.

Burl Ives

Day of the Outlaw was written by Philip Yordan and based on a novel by Lee E. Wells. Director Andre De Toth used Oregon and Arizona for location shooting of this spare and engrossing film. Together with Russell Harlan, a three-time Oscar nominee for his black and white cinematography, they captured the outer world of the winter elements working its oppressive power on the inner world of fear, doubt and anger welling within the characters. Alexander Courage's score is sweeping and emotional, with an interesting motif of a gentle, yet insistent timing at a key moment in the finale. The movie feels both open and claustrophobic as the far mountains seem a million miles away, yet right on top of Bitters.

Robert Ryan

Robert Ryan and Burl Ives are the leads in this story as two men with a lot to atone for in their lives. They are more alike than they could first imagine. Tina Louise is lovely to look at, as the character of Helen should be, and subtly portrays that character's conflict and her integrity.

Helen Westcott, Nehemiah Persoff, Alan Marshal
Betsy Jones-Moreland, Tina Louise, Michael McGreevy, Don Elson

The ensemble of townspeople played by Dabs Greer, Robert Cornthwaite, Donald Elson, Elisha Cook Jr., Venetia Stevenson, Michael McGreevy, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Helen Westcott, Nehemiah Persoff as Dan, and Alan Marshal as Hal Crane are achingly believable.

Jack Lambert

Bruhn's gang of outlaws is comprised of familiar-faced character actors of substance and ability. Jack Lambert as Tex is outstanding. Also, Frank DeKova, Lance Fuller, Paul Wexler and Jack Woody. David Nelson is young Gene, a character out of place with these cutthroats, who will play a major role in the life of his Captain.

Winter is also a character in Day of the Outlaw; omniscient and menacing. People are buried beneath cloaks and coats. The breath of humans and animals alike is clearly visible. Snow in drifts and falling and blowing impedes movement. The wind can be seen even in set-bound locations and when we are brought inside the buildings, the sound of the wind is the background music for conversations and fear. Winter is here.


















18 comments:

  1. My idea of hell would not be fire but ice. I hate being cold! If I lived in a place like Bitters, hemmed in my stone giants with nothing but freezing temps and that white vista, I think I might get a little crazy.

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    1. Winter would feel never-ending in a place like that.

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  2. Tina Louise! It's so easy to forget sometimes that those seven stranded castaways had careers before they took that three-hour tour. I would watch this just to see her do drama. How would you rate her as an actress?

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    1. I would rate Tina very highly. She is outstanding here. Have you seen God's Little Acre? Quite the florid melodrama, but when the cast includes, as it does here, Robert Ryan and Tina Louise it is mesmerizing.

      PS: You made me recall that Tina guested on one of my favourite episodes of Ironside. Beware the Wiles of the Stranger from Season 3. Tina's character and Mark are on the run. Who will catch up with them first, the team or the bad guys?

      PS again: Speaking of castaways, I saw Dawn Wells in a play back in 1984 with Ken Howard. It was a mystery by Bernard Slade (The Partridge Family, Same Time Next Year). He was the detective, and she was SPOILER the murderer. Good stuff.

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  3. There seems to be a Robert Ryan movie I haven't seen. How did that happen? Thanks for alerting me to this one. I'll track it down.

    Ryan is one of my favorite actors. I'd watch him in anything, but as it's a Western I'll certainly watch it. I like Tina Louise too. She was not just another pretty face. If you can, check her out in The Hangman, a Western with Robert Taylor.

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    1. How have I not seen The Hangman? Today, we have done each other a favour.

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  4. Ah, I hadn't seen this for a long while, so thanks much for this post! I actually recall I was in bed sick with a cold, so seeing those screen caps made me chuckle a bit because I wanted to go make some chicken soup. :D

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  5. Funny how the body remembers. I know if I were watching this on the hottest day of the year I would be reaching for a sweater.

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  6. Robert Ryan and Burl Ives together in a film?! Awesome! This I must see.

    I liked what you said about the film feeling wide-open and claustrophobic at the same time, with the ever-present mountains. Not all films can successfully pull off that sort of thing. Thanks for recommending ANOTHER film!

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    1. My pleasure. Somewhere in the universe Andre de Toth is beaming at you with that one good eye.

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  7. Paddy Lee, it's cold outside, anyway in this really good intense movie, it is. You gave us another fine write-up of a classic psychological Western. THE DAY OF THE OUTLAW is an underrated gem. I also liked your statement about the feeling of the movie, "wide-open and claustrophobic at the same time." Yes, this is good wordsmithing on your part.

    What can I say about Robert Ryan? He was one of the great actors of the Post World War II Era.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words.

      Robert Ryan is worthy of all praise. In our family I consider him a legacy actor. My father was a huge fan and the first time I saw (Bad Day at Black Rock) I was already prepared for greatness.

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  8. This is such a great article on this great movie! One of those thoughtful, piercing Hollywood Westerns from the 1950s that reconfigured the genre, and beautifully directed by deToth, it really should be better known. Thanks for drawing attention to it!

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    1. Thank you so much. It is an incredible movie and I sincerely hope those who haven't seen it will be intrigued by the post.

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  9. I've been fascinated by Robert Ryan ever since I saw him in 'Crossfire'. His performance was so intense it was impossible to look away. I've never come across 'Day of the Outlaw' before and it sounds great. Definitely moving it to my 'must-see' list.

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    1. I cannot think of any instance, from his early appearances in Randolph Scott westerns to his final in The Iceman Cometh where Robert Ryan was anything less than totally compelling. Day of the Outlaw I would count as one of his most fascinating. Enjoy.

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  10. Really terrific post on a movie I really love. Some of the best performances, across the board, or any 50s Western. And that's really saying something.

    You're so right about winter being a character here. De Toth and Harlan do such a great job of putting the bone-chilling cold on the screen. It's hard to believe someone wanted to shoot this in color.

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    1. Thank you for the compliment which means so much to me coming from you, such a fan of this film.

      Black and White is the perfect aesthetic for this story. It wouldn't create the same emotion otherwise.

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THE WINTER IN JULY BLOGATHON: Day of the Outlaw (1959)

Debbie Vega is at it again as  Moon in Gemini  hosts  The Winter in July Blogathon  on July 13, 14 and 15. It's all about films th...