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Brand New 2K Restoration! This controversial and legendary western launched the career of sex goddess Jane Russell (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and is infamous due to its violations of the Production Code. The Outlaw follows the friendship of Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel, Rose of Cimarron) and fellow outlaw Doc Holliday (Walter Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), as they both pursue the affections of Holliday's girlfriend, Rio (Russell), while being chased through the desert by Sheriff Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell, Stagecoach) and his posse. Financed and directed by reclusive tycoon Howard Hughes (Hell's Angels), his second and final directing effort--the film's release was delayed several years due to censorship issues and public outroar relating to Russell's abundant cleavage! It finally received a wide release by United Artists in 1946 and became a big box office hit. Legendary filmmaker Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo) co-directed the film with Hughes, but was not credited.
-Audio Commentary by Film Historian Troy Howarth
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The story centers around the relationships between four people: Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel), Doc Holiday (Walter Huston), Sheriff Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) and Rio McDonald (Jane Russell). Basically, the plotline has Holiday trying to get back his horse which was stolen by the Kid. In the process, friendships are made and broken and loyalties are tested.
This was the screen debut for Buetel and Russell, and they both deliver engaging performances in what remains their most memorable film. Veteran character actors Huston and Mitchell are likewise excellent, as usual. There's a great chemistry between all of them, and although Hughes got the onscreen credit, much of the direction has to be attributed to Howard Hawks, who had a special knack for "buddy" movies. The script by Jules Furtham is sprinkled with wry humor, and the photography by the great Greg Toland is exceptional.
While the sexual innuendo is tame by today's standards, THE OUTLAW can be better appreciated for its intimate character study and its romanticized depiction of the Old West and the legend of Billy the Kid. Even so, it must be acknowledged that Jane Russell still sizzles the screen, and figures prominently (pun intended) as a catalyst for the ups and downs in the relationship between Buetel and Huston. That cuckoo clock showdown between the two of them is one of my favorite scenes in a western.
Legend Films' Two-Disc Special Edition of THE OUTLAW finally does the film justice with both a restored and enhanced black and white version as well as a colorized one. I've gone through several copies from different distributors, and this edition from Legend is by far the best. Of course, I prefer the original black and white which is outstanding here, but I have to say the color is pretty darn good, and gives the movie a vintage, '40's Technicolor look. The second disc is the movie again with a video interview and commentary by Jane Russell and Terry Moore in which they relate insights and anecdotes about Howard Hughes, Howard Hawks, Jack Buetel, Walter Huston, Thomas Mitchell and the making of the film.
THE OUTLAW is a great classic, and this very affordable DVD set finally gives us the most complete, pristine presentation available on home video. Highly recommended.
UPDATE: March 7, 2018
If you are a fan of THE OUTLAW (as I am), then you will definitely want to pick up the excellent new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. While the transfer is not exactly pristine, the improvement over the above DVD is noticeable enough, displaying a pleasing, filmic look without any DNR scrubbing. Greg Toland's rich, deep focus cinematography benefits from the HD boost, and one can better appreciate finer details in the image. The audio commentary by Troy Howarth is quite informative regarding the film's production and huge promotional campaign. The original trailer is also included.
It seems Howard Hughes made it to get a movie not approved by the censors as he did anything else. Jane Russell's cleavage did a lot to help in that department. It was considered very racy for the 1940s but is very tame by today's standards. So it really ends up being more of a cult classic than anything else.
Since Amazon tends to lump all the reviews together, the version of the DVD I have is the black and white version. It is very light on extras, just a few cast bios and an interactive quiz. Aside from those it is just the movie itself.
Only the factory-original colorizations are worth buying. A few individuals have been attempting to sell very poor quality conversions of TV and VHS colorized movies to DVD mode. Unless you buy a rare original colorized VHS yourself to watch and/or convert it yourself, you need to avoid buying any from the rascals selling low-quality conversions not worth watching. If you know what you are doing you can convert a VHS for your own personal enjoyment--just need to buy the software and hardware and a rare out-of-print colorized VHS tape. Lets hope for more factory-original conversions made available commercially which are so wonderful to watch.
Seeing Jane Russell again was an added treat.
A good movie to see once, but not one I would spend the time to watch again.