Sagebrushamon

Retrospectively THE OUTRAGE, Martin Ritt’s western version of RASHOMON, is so nakedly a bad idea it’s hard to imagine intelligent adults not seeing it, but they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight until after they’d made it, when it was too late, and anyway, it’s kind of amazing as an example of what John Waters might call a failed art movie. The amazingness is mostly to do with James Wong Howe but the film didn’t direct itself.

Claire Bloom as “the wife” throws herself off a cliff and her underwater experience looks like this —

–and furthermore the soundtrack is a whistling wind with a trace of coyote howl. Absolutely mad, and even more extreme than anything in Kurosawa’s original, which is already a stylistic tour de force with only a few equals in all of cinema.

There’s something weirdly academic about it all, maybe because I know the original so well, so there’s a “Well, here’s this bit,” feeling about it all. Much of it is even more shot-for-shot faithful than Leone’s take on Kurosawa, even with extreme widescreen and a lot of really interesting shallow focus stuff added to the mix. The story gimmick is so dominant that I began to suspect that Kurosawa was walking a precipice with a rather dry film threatening to result if he lost his footing. But he had Mifune.

Ritt has Newman, wearing a William Tuttle nose and trying very hard to be a Mexican bandit. Mifune was theatrical as hell but he did it all physically, there was no disguise. It’s interesting to see Newman attempt this, but it’s bad for the movie and the obvious answer — hire a Mexican — is in this case the correct one. Hell, Martin Ritt had friends who weren’t Mexican but wouldn’t have been embarrassing — Yul Brynner, Anthony Quinn… It’s not meant to be a racist caricature but how would you feel watching it with a Mexican?

Still, it is an unreasonably gorgeous-looking thing. Was William Shatner’s mother startled by Laurence Olivier or something? What’s with his strange faltering, rising pitch delivery? His Captain Kirk did all that without making me think he was about to burst into song, but here…

Edward G. Robinson has all the best lines. Shatner has the best closeups.

THE OUTRAGE stars Fast Eddie Felson; Raymond Shaw; The Lady Anne; Dr. Clitterhouse; James Tiberius Kirk; Chickamaw; Smerdjakov; and Teeler Yacey.

6 Responses to “Sagebrushamon”

  1. Bryce Suderow Says:

    My impression is that Ritt is not a very good Director

  2. Anthony Quinn was half Mexican, wasn’t he? So he’d have been ideal providing firm handling from Ritt to quash his tendency to overact.

  3. I don’t know how quashable Quinn was, but yes, he could have played this role well. It’s not like Newman is subtle in the role.

    What Ritt have you seen, MH? We just enjoyed Pete n’ Tillie, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is excellent, Hud isn’t my cup of tea but it’s very well handled… Spike Lee, asked whether The Color Purple needed a black director, said no, Martin Ritt could have managed it better than Spielberg.

    I think he’s an excellent director but I agree with his later conclusion that this movie shouldn’t have happened. But I’m still kind of glad it exists.

  4. Eli Wallach made the best fake Mexican. Ritt should’ve cast Pedro Armendariz. He was Mexican and spoke fluent English.

  5. How is it Roger Corman didn’t do this in 1962? Dick Miller for Newman, Nicholson for Laurence Harvey, Jackie Joseph for Claire Bloom, and either Boris Karloff or Peter Lorre for Edward G. Robinson. Shatner stays, tho.

  6. Can we have Beverly Garland? Corman did eventually make his own Kurosawa joint, Battle Beyond the Stars, which was OK. He would have been put off by the need to buy the story rights to Rashomon.

    But Mario Bava had the solution to that: Four Times That Night uses the varying-accounts format for a softcore comedy, and was loose enough that the litigious AK never objected, or perhaps never heard of it.

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