Day of the Outlaw (1959)

Day of the Outlaw (1959)At first I couldn’t get into this sparse western that saw Robert Ryan riding into a to town that was hostile to his presence, always bringing trouble with him. Even the woman who once loved him wanted him to leave and not return. And then it clicked Day of the Outlaw (1959) is another open to interpretation New Wave western, after only seeing Johnny Guitar (1954) as the only other example of the genre.

The need to ride out-of-town Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan) and his right hand man Dan (Nehemiah Persoff) is soon put on hold when a rebel army captain rides in through the thick and dangerous snow, turning everything upside-down. Lead by the powerful presence that is Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives) whose band of men are ready to snap at any moment.

Made worse by the temporary law that Bruhn lays down, hiding all the liquor and guns. Not even time with the ladies for the men, instead they are penned into the empty general store, everyone has their place in this town now that the rebel captain has arrived, coming with a bullet to the lung.  Left in the hands of the town barber and doctor who doesn’t have the skill to save his life. The operation is one of the screens most gruesome, going cold turkey with no anaesthetic, choosing instead to talk to the only man who will stand up to him and his gang; Blaise Starrett.

A tense western that pushes the characters to the extreme that shows up the limits of a man and what they can be capable off if put to the test. On the final journey through the heavy snow, its Blaise Starrett who leads these unwanted men into uncertainty. Captain Bruhn knows this could be it for him and his gang but leads these tired and frustrated men to slowly turn on themselves. Only Starrett stays cool under the pressure of this life of death situation as they all turn on each other and perish in the harsh elements that consume these men.

Day of the Outlaw really shows up what a man is capable of, our own personal limits, physically and emotionally. It’s not just the outlaws who cross the into unknown territory, the good law abiding townspeople also cross into the blurry area of what is morally right or wrong.


2 responses

  1. I’ve never seen this film. I took a class on the western as an undergraduate. We watched The Wild Bunch, Stagecoach, and films of that ilk. I’ll look for this.

    May 3, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    • It’s not one of the more famous/classics of the genre, more of an experimental film. Sometime last year I downloaded a series of lectures via itunesU regarding Westerns, given by Richard Slotkin, very informative, covers more about the legends the genre creates. Covers both of these films, wish I was there when he gave the lectures.

      May 3, 2013 at 4:03 pm

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