In this movie, there’s actually eight!
With Tarantino’s frosty western gorefest about to splatter all over us in glorious 70mm (it opens in the UK while I’ll be busy shooting my own, much, much smaller film), and with this being the season when I quite like looking at snow without having to touch it, I popped Andre DeToth’s DAY OF THE OUTLAW in the Panasonic, wowing Fiona, who is not normally an enthusiast of the oater. “Am I mellowing, or was that really good?” she asked, afterwards.
The story, credited to Philip Yordan (a talented guy, but he fronted for so many blacklistees I’m never sure he’s the actual author), based on a novel by Lee E. Wells, depends on a silly coincidence — plot #1, a standard cattle men versus farmers fight, with an adulterous love affair thrown in, gets interrupted just as the central figures, including tower of spasming muscle and venom Robert Ryan, square off for a climactic duel. Plot #2 now commences, in which this one-horse town is held hostage by Burl Ives and his band of savages, a Quantrill’s Raiders bunch of psychos, introduced by Ives in a cool/scary/hilarious role call.
This new plot is much more compelling and high-stakes, and it has the advantage of making the rather unappealing antagonists of plot #1 — fuming near-psycho Ryan and peevish Alan Marshal — become relatively sympathetic, so bad are the bad guys and so awful is their new situation.
For people who don’t care for plot, this movie would serve as a good illustration of the value of a strong dramatic situation. As Billy Wilder put it, “A guy comes in the door, you got nothing. He comes in the window, you got a situation.”
DeToth, that fearsome bullet-headed Hungarian cyclops — many Hollywood directors were tough eggs, not many conspired, as DeToth seems to have done, to get his leading man decapitated (on HOUSE OF WAX), benefits from the script, the cast, and Alexander Courage’s glittering music and Russell Harlan’s cinematography. The landscapes are impressive, but so are the compositions for straightforward compositions. Though DeToth is a little happier to hold a flat two-shot than he ought to be, I think, he also delivers packed and dynamic shots that bristle with tension.
The empty chairs formerly occupied by Tina-Louise’s husband and child earn their place in the shot as a kind of barrier between T-L and RR.