Western, Drama, Romance | 116 mins | Released: 1943
Director: Howard Hughes
Starring: Jack Buetel, Thomas Mitchell, Jane Russell, Walter Huston, Mimi Aguglia, Joe Sawyer, Gene Rizzi
Our Rating: 6
Black & White
In The Outlaw, Sheriff Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) welcomes his old friend Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) to Lincoln, New Mexico. Doc is looking for his stolen horse and finds it in the possession of Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel). Despite this, the two gunfighters take a liking to each other, much to Pat’s disgust. This does not prevent Doc from trying to steal the horse back late that night, but Billy is waiting for him outside the barn.
After that, Billy decides to sleep in the barn, and is shot at. He overpowers his ambusher, who turns out to be curvaceous young Rio McDonald (Jane Russell), out to avenge her dead brother.
The next day, a stranger offers to shoot Pat in the back while Billy distracts the lawman. However, he is only setting the Kid up. Billy, suspicious as always, guns him down just before being shot himself. There are no witnesses, and Pat tries to arrest Billy. Pat does not understand when Doc sides with the Kid. As the pair begin to leave, Pat shoots Billy, forcing Doc to shoot the gun out of his hand and kill two of Pat’s men.
Doc flees with Billy to the home of Rio and her aunt, Guadalupe (Mimi Aguglia). With a posse after them, Doc rides away. Instead of killing the unconscious Kid, Rio instead nurses him back to health, a process that takes a month. By the time Doc returns, Rio has fallen in love with her patient. Doc is furious that Billy has stolen his girlfriend. After Doc’s anger subsides a bit, the Kid gives him a choice: the horse or Rio. To Billy’s annoyance, Doc picks the horse. Angered that both men value the animal more than her, Rio fills their canteens with sand. The two ride off without noticing.
On the trail, they find themselves being pursued by Pat and a posse. The pair surmises that Rio tipped the sheriff off. Doc kills a few men from long range, but leaves Pat unharmed.
When Doc wakes up one morning, he finds Billy gone and Pat waiting to handcuff him and take him back. Stopping at Rio’s, the two men find that Billy has left Rio tied up in sight of water out of revenge. Suspecting that Billy loves Rio (even if he himself does not realize it) and will return to free her, Pat waits. Sure enough, the Kid comes back and is also captured.
On the way back to town, however, they find hostile Mescaleros all around. Pat reluctantly frees his prisoners and returns their revolvers after extracting a promise from Doc that he will give them back and make Billy do the same. They manage to elude the Indians, but Doc refuses to honor his word.
As Doc tries to leave with his horse, Billy stops him. The two men decide to duel it out, with a pleased Pat expecting Billy to lose. However, as they await the signal (the end of a cuckoo clock signalling eight o’clock), Billy realizes that Doc is a true friend, and moves his hands away from his guns. Doc tries to provoke him, inflicting minor wounds in one hand and both ears, but the Kid still will not fire. The two reconcile. Furious, Pat calls Doc out, despite not having a chance. Doc does not attempt to shoot his friend and is himself fatally wounded. Pat is aghast.
After Doc is buried, Pat offers to give Billy their friend’s revolvers. He also persuades Billy to give him his guns, saying that he can then claim that it is Billy in the grave. The Kid can leave his past behind him and have a fresh start in life. However, it is all a trick. Pat had removed the firing pins from Doc’s revolvers. Fortunately for Billy, while comparing the guns, he had inadvertently switched one of Doc’s for his. As a result, neither his gun nor Pat’s fires. Billy pulls out a second, working gun. He handcuffs Pat, judging that the lawman will still state that Billy is dead rather than admit the Kid left him helpless. As he is riding away, Billy stops and looks back; an overjoyed Rio gets on his horse.
The Outlaw is a 1943 American Western film, directed by Howard Hughes and starring Jane Russell. The supporting cast includes Jack Buetel, Thomas Mitchell, and Walter Huston. Hughes also produced the film, while Howard Hawks served as an uncredited co-director. The film is notable as Russell’s breakthrough role, turning the young actress into a sex symbol and a Hollywood icon.
The film is notable as Russell’s breakthrough role, turning the young actress into a sex symbol and a Hollywood icon.
In 1941, while filming The Outlaw, Hughes felt that the camera did not do justice to Jane Russell’s large bust. He employed his engineering skills to design a new-cantilevered underwire bra to emphasize her assets. Hughes added curved structural steel rods that were sewn into the brassiere under each breast cup. The rods were connected to the bra’s shoulder straps. The arrangement allowed the breasts to be pulled upward and made it possible to move the shoulder straps away from the neck. The design allowed for a larger amount of bosom to be freely exposed. Contrary to many media reports afterward, Russell did not wear the bra during filming. According to her 1988 autobiography, she said the bra was so uncomfortable that she secretly discarded it. She wrote that the “ridiculous” contraption hurt so much that she wore it only a few minutes. She instead wore her own bra, padded the cups with tissue, tightened the shoulder straps, and returned to the set. She later said, “I never wore it in The Outlaw, and he never knew. He wasn’t going to take my clothes off to check if I had it on. I just told him I did.” The famed bra ended up in a Hollywood museum—a false witness to the push-up myth.
Although the film was completed in February 1941, Hughes had considerable trouble getting it approved by Hollywood Production Code Administration due to its heavy emphasis on and prominent display of Russell’s breasts. The Production Administration set the standard for morally acceptable content in motion pictures and they ordered cuts to the film. Hughes reluctantly removed about 40 feet, or a half-minute, of footage that prominently featured Russell’s bosom. However, Century-Fox cancelled their agreement with Hughes to release The Outlaw. Hughes stood to lose millions of dollars. Ever the resourceful businessman, he schemed to create a public outcry for his film to be banned. Hughes had all his managers call ministers, women’s clubs and housewives telling them about the ‘lewd picture’ Hughes was about to release starring Jane Russell. The public responded by protesting and trying to have the film banned, which turned into just the publicity Hughes needed to create demand for the film and get it released. The resulting controversy generated enough interest to get The Outlaw into the theaters for one week in 1943, when it was pulled due to violations of the Production Code. It was finally released widely on 23 April 1946, when United Artists premiered the film in San Francisco, when it became a box office hit.
Hughes’ lawyers sued Classic Film Museum, Inc. and Alan J. Taylor for unlawful distribution of Hell’s Angels, Scarface, and The Outlaw. When it emerged that The Outlaw had fallen into the public domain in 1971 for lack of renewal, the case was quickly settled, with Classic Film Museum agreeing to stop any distribution of the two copyrighted titles, and Hughes withdrawing its claim on The Outlaw.
The film was colorized twice. The first colorization was released by Hal Roach Studios in 1988. The second colorized version, produced by Legend Films, was released to DVD on 16 June 2009, featuring both the newly colorized edition, and a restored black and white edition of the film. The new DVD version also featured an audio commentary by Jane Russell and Hughes’ alleged wife, actress Terry Moore. Russell approved of the colorization, stating: “The color looked great. It was not too strong, like in many of the early colorized movies that made the films look cheap.”