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Eureka Entertainment follows up their re-release of Shane with the re-release of another Wyoming set Western, Day of the Outlaw. Although they are set in the same state and genre, Shane and Day of the Outlaw are very different beasts.
Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan) is a cattleman and former lawman who is in conflict with a local farmer, Hal Crane (Alan Marshal). Their relationship is made even worse because Blaise had an affair with Hal’s wife, Helen (Tina Louise). Just as they are about come to blows, a gang of bandits lead by Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives) invades the town and it is up to Blaise to protect the town and its women from the sadistic members of Bruhn’s gang.
Day of the Outlaw is essentially a home invasion movie in the form of a Western. The townspeople are held hostage and suffer from the whims of the bandits. The movie was directed by André de Toth who was best known for making House of Wax, one of the best known 3D movies from the 50s and Day of the Outlaw does have a certain horror edge to it. The town is a powder-keg just ready to go off with Bruhn having the power to unleash his men any time he wants. One of the most unsettling scenes in the movie is the dance scene with the women of the town being forced to dance with the outlaws. The women have looks of fear and disgust during the whole sequence as the outlaws grope and force themselves upon them.
Day of the Outlaw is a movie that is very focused on its characters, showing a mixed picture. Blaise is a man of violence, willing to use force and is resentful that the townspeople did not appreciate his work at bringing law-and-order to the town. Bruhn was portrayed as a complex character. As the leader of the outlaws, he was willing to hold people, including a young boy and could wreak havoc if he wanted, but keeps his line, having the presence to control these psychopaths. As Bruhn’s described in the movie he is a man, not an animal. The youngest member of Bruhn’s gang, Gene (David Nelson), is also portrayed sympathetically, a handsome man who has compassion and takes a liking for a young woman who lives in the town.
The characters of Tex (Jack Lambert) and Pace (Lance Fuller) were the villains of the piece, sociopaths who looking to drink and mate. Their actions in the movie included threatening a young boy to find themselves booze, kissing and licking women against their will, it was clear they wanted to do more with them. They were so good at playing these vile excuses that it does raise questions as to how could someone keep them under control. Other members of the outlaw gang are also portrayed in a sinister light, such as the Native American member who is described as hating white men but loves white women – you can read between the lines.
The acting in Shane was based on subtle looks and gestures – the approach Day of the Outlaw takes is one of monologues and big speeches. Both are very different but equally valid forms of acting and Day of the Outlaw does have some standout acting moments like Blaise’s impassioned speech about how ungrateful the townspeople are and also when Bruhn confesses the war crimes he committed.
Day of the Outlaw was actually filmed in Oregon during the middle of the harsh winter. These conditions were perfectly utilised for the final third as the outlaws look for an escape route in the mountains. It gets progressively harder the further they go, their horses start sinking deeper into the snow – it was great at showing the hard struggle in these conditions, amplified by the loud, constant wind. It was a hard slog for the outlaws to go through and it must have been difficult for the crew. When the crew asked for danger money de Toth responded by directing topless in the middle of winter.
Day of the Outlaw is a Western that lacks in action and gunfights. It is more about Blaise trying to defend people without violence. When Blaise is about to showdown, it ends up being interrupted at the crucial moment. There is only one fist fight which was overly choreographed with over-the-top sound effects, although the wide shots of the fight were better, showing what it should have been, a street brawl. Blaise is overpowered and he has to outwit, trick and bluff the outlaws to save the town.
Day of the Outlaw was a personal favorite of directors like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino and it is different from a typical adventure Western. There are certain elements of Day of the Outlaw that made it into The Hateful Eight – from the winter setting and the characters trying to figure each other out.
Day of the Outlaw is solid, if a minor entry in the Western genre. It has a intriguing premise and works as a thriller with a horror edge. But its dance scene was a bit too effective at being creepy.
Special Features: The Blu-ray is sparse with extras, having a video appreciation from French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier and the usual booklet.