Cast & Crew
In Wyoming cattle country, as rancher Blaise Starrett rides into town on a snowy day, he sees a spool of barbed wire in farmer Hal Crane's wagon, prompting him to tell his partner, Dan, that he has warned Crane that he will not stand for wire fences. At the general store, Starrett chastises the owner for selling wire to Crane. Although the owner sympathizes with the hard-working farmers, he confesses that he tried to dissuade Crane from buying the wire. When Crane's wife Helen arrives, Ernine, the owner's daughter, tries to break the tension by inviting them for coffee. Momentarily left alone with Starrett, Helen coldly says that she no longer loves him and regrets their affair. Starrett does not believe her, but she insists that she will remain Hal's wife. When Starrett later goes to the town's hotel and saloon, he finds Dan at the bar, standing next to a can of kerosene. Suspecting foul play, Hal and several of the townsmen warn Starrett not to use the kerosene to burn Hal's wagon. As Hal and Starrett continue to make vague threats to each other, Helen enters the hotel. Starrett then rebukes the townsmen, saying that he and Dan came to the territory over twenty years ago and will not let "pot bellied farmers" take away their hard-fought freedom. A short time later, Helen enters Starrett's upstairs room and begs him not to kill Hal, promising to resume their relationship in exchange for her husband's life. Although she gives him a passionate kiss, he only momentarily responds, saying that Hal eventually would come after her and the end result would be the same. Later, when Starrett goes downstairs, he finds Dan passed out and starts to pick up the can of kerosene. Hal again warns him not to burn his wagon. They are on the verge of a gunfight when a shotgun-wielding band of seven men enter the hotel, led by former army officer Jack Bruhn. Bruhn reveals that they are being pursued by the cavalry, and, after one of his men kills a townsman who draws his gun, introduces his men by describing their sociopathic personalities. Only Shorty, a man who served under Bruhn in the army and Gene, an innocent young man new to the band, are not brutal killers. Bruhn, who is a strict disciplinarian, promises that there will be no more killings if the town cooperates and lets his men rest. Despite his men's pleas, Bruhn says that there will be no women and no liquor, then demands that the liquor be hidden and the four townswomen be taken to the general store. Despite his strong demeanor, Bruhn has been badly wounded and asks for a doctor. Veterinarian Doc Langer, the town's only citizen with medical knowledge, fears removing the bullet in Bruhn's chest and secretly asks Starrett if he should kill Bruhn. Knowing that Bruhn's disciplinary hold on his men is the only thing keeping the town from being destroyed, Starrett urges Doc to keep Bruhn alive. After refusing liquor to deaden his pain during the operation, Bruhn talks about his past to Starrett, recounting his days at West Point and alluding to a massacre of an entire Mormon town, an incident that Starrett remembers. After the bullet is removed, Bruhn asks Gene to sit with him while he sleeps and asks Starrett to check on his men. Later that day, Clagett, one of the farmers, decides to ride out of town because his wife is home alone and is shot by Bruhn's men. The townsmen now decide that it is unsafe for the women to stay, so the women start to walk away from town while Starrett reasons with Gene that the women are not safe from the two most brutal of the band, Tex and Pace. Although Gene is sympathetic, he says he must obey Bruhn. Shots then ring out, forcing the women to stop and awakening Bruhn, who is angry that Starrett did not believe that he would keep the women safe. When his men start to approach the women, Bruhn orders them back, and the women return to the store, after which Bruhn lets Tex fight Starrett, using fists instead of guns. After Starrett bests Tex, Bruhn lets two of his men pummel Starrett until he passes out. Still angry, Bruhn then takes the only child in town, Ernine's younger brother Bobby, as a hostage in the hotel. Gene assures the frantic Ernine that he will watch over Bobby. Later, Helen goes to Starrett, who is recuperating from the fight, and tells him how grateful Hal is for everything Starrett has done. Meanwhile, inside the hotel, Tex and Pace start to twist Bobby's arm, hoping he will reveal the location of the liquor. Gene forces them to stop just as Ernine arrives. She tries to take Bobby to the store, but the boy says that Gene is "all right" and he does not mind staying. Pace then tries to force himself on Ernine, but Gene pulls a gun and tells Ernine to leave. Just then, Bruhn comes down from his room and chastises Pace. Although he still refuses to allow his men to drink or molest the women, Bruhn reluctantly agrees to let the men invite the women to dance with them that evening. Although Shorty, Gene and Bruhn politely dance with Ernine, Helen and the other women, Pace and Tex treat the women brutishly. When Starrett, who has been recuperating, learns what is happening, he barges into the hotel and stops them, telling Bruhn that the weather is clearing and the Cavalry will soon arrive. He then convinces Bruhn that letting the men stay might cause another "Mormon massacre" and offers to lead them to freedom through a treacherous mountain pass. The next morning, as they are about to leave, Helen asks Starrett why he is sacrificing himself and he replies that he did not like what he saw in the mirror after she left his hotel room. Meanwhile, Gene says goodbye to Ernine, who asks him to stay. When he promises to come back, she reveals that there is no safe passage. Gene immediately tells Bruhn, but Bruhn says nothing to the other men. As they ride through the snowy pass, Tex's horse collapses. Realizing that they are doomed and not wanting Gene to die with them, Bruhn tells him to give Tex his horse and follow the trail back. When Bruhn falls from his horse, Shorty goes to him, after which Tex shoots and kills Bruhn. Tex then forces Starrett to continue with them after Starrett whispers "Thank you, Captain Bruhn." One by one, the men are killed by the greed of the others, who want all of the gold from their robbery, until only Tex, Pace and Starrett are alive. During a fierce blizzard, Tex and Pace shoot at Starrett as he tries to escape, then try to start a fire. When Pace, who has no matches, shoots at the wood to start the fire, the horses run off, but the fire still will not start. Pace and Tex seek shelter against a crag, but by morning Pace has frozen to death and Tex is barely able to move. Tex takes his rifle and aims in the distance at Starrett, who has mounted one of the horses, but he cannot hold onto the gun and collapses on a snow bank. When Starrett reaches his ranch, Dan and Gene greet him, and Gene says that he would like to stay and work for him.
Edward R. Martin
Lyle B. Reifsnider
Richard M. Rubin
Day of the Outlaw - Robert Ryan in the 1959 Western DAY OF THE OUTLAW on DVD
"Emotional weight" seems to be the key difference between the two movies. Track of the Cat is fascinating but works a little better on an intellectual rather than emotional level; Day of the Outlaw is truly outstanding because it works so well on both. Its characters and story are intense, its atmosphere and setting are utterly believable, and its emotional effect is palpable and raw. Watching it, one feels one is up there in the screen, and it's a scary, riveting feeling.
The movie is smartly constructed. Rancher Robert Ryan lives on the outskirts of a tiny Wyoming town, and he is angry that his cattle drives are being impeded by a neighbor's new barbed-wire fence. He also has a romantic history with the neighbor's wife (Tina Louise), and his anger may in fact actually be an expression of the bitterness and loneliness he feels because he can't have her. In any event, he rides into town with his foreman (Nehemiah Persoff, excellent) one winter's day, and the few other townspeople immediately sense Ryan's anger about to explode. With the whole town on edge, things come to a head when Ryan challenges his neighbor and two other men to a gunfight in a saloon.
And right at that moment, Burl Ives makes one hell of an entrance! He and his band of outlaws storm into the saloon and immediately take the town hostage; for the rest of the film, the drama centers around whether the townspeople can survive the invasion. Ives is a renegade Union army captain who is on the run with his men, and a meaner, scarier, more psychotic bunch you couldn't imagine. These guys are just aching to rape all the women and loot the town, and it is only Ives' control of them that prevents this. But Ives has been wounded by a gunshot, and his survival is tenuous. The only doctor in town is a horse doctor, and he tries his best to keep Ives alive (which includes a terrifying operation) so that Ryan can buy time to figure out what to do.
Meanwhile, one of Ives' men, played by David Nelson, wants out of the gang but still feels loyalty to his boss. (The real-life son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, he bears a striking resemblance to his brother Ricky Nelson.) Nelson's character is at heart a decent guy, and he forms a mutual attraction with the innkeeper's daughter played by Venetia Stevenson (in real life a knockout British model and the daughter of Anna Lee). In the extraordinary, drawn-out ending to this film, the knee-deep snow seems to have the last word, and its blinding presence both stifles the fury of some characters and offers a clean slate for others.
The richness of the characters make the picture very rewarding. Everyone seems to be on edge in one way or another, but in the key players there is a deeper complexity. What has turned Burl Ives' captain into the leader of such a bunch of hooligans? What amount of loss does Robert Ryan feel every day? Moments in the film make us ponder these questions. At one point, Ryan tells Tina Louise about her husband, "I can't feel sorry for someone I hate." Coming from Ryan, that statement reveals an inner torment that perhaps this actor expressed better than any other. It's a complex line that seems to also say he wishes he could feel sorry for him, which in turn perhaps means that he actually does feel sorry for him a little bit, though he could never say so outright. Robert Ryan delivered this kind of complexity to role upon role, whenever the writing allowed it, and Day of the Outlaw does allow it: the screenplay is by Philip Yordan, veteran of many Anthony Mann westerns and epics.
The directing is by Andre De Toth, still one of the great underknown American film directors of the studio era. With De Toth at the helm, the visuals help create and reinforce the emotions of this film. De Toth puts across the feeling that any of these characters could snap, and explode into violence, at any moment. It's much like Clint Eastwood's later Unforgiven (1992), in fact, and there is one sequence here that surely influenced that later film: when Ives orders his men to brutally beat and kick Robert Ryan in the middle of the street as everyone watches in horror, one is reminded of Gene Hackman doing the same to Richard Harris in a very similarly-staged sequence.
Also like Unforgiven, Day of the Outlaw has an intricately constructed town. It feels spatially alive somehow. De Toth knew how important the town set would be, and he went to great pains to make it look right. He had the town built in Oregon several months before filming so that the structures would be naturally weathered by rain and snow, not artificially dressed by crewmen. When De Toth learned that the workers had neglected to follow his compass headings for the layouts of the streets, he had them rebuild it! "Shooting it as it was built would've added additional weeks to the shooting," De Toth reasoned, much to the consternation of his producers.
In a book-length interview with Anthony Slide, De Toth also recalled his attraction to this story: "Is it worse being the jailer instead of the prisoner? Is it worse being incarcerated by white snow in white silence, or by the blankness of black silence? With that frame of mind, I wanted to explore the bizarre situation of a group of outlaws on a getaway, terrorizing a small western village, and then, by a quirk of nature, becoming equally the prisoners of a white silence in the middle of nowhere."
Perhaps inevitably, Day of the Outlaw has been quietly slipped onto DVD without any fanfare from its distributor, Fox Home Entertainment, which now handles these MGM catalogue titles. There are no extras, no liner notes, no commentary - which is too bad, because Tina Louise, David Nelson and Nehemiah Persoff are still with us and could have provided some interesting backstory. But at least it's available, in a good-quality print (despite occasional minor wear) and at a reasonable price. Another western masterpiece of the era, Man of the West (1958), has also just been given a bare-bones release. That sophisticated film is one of Anthony Mann's finest, and both of these are essential viewing. I can't recommend them more strongly.
For more information about The Day of the Outlaw, visit MGM Home Entertainment. To order The Day of the Outlaw, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Day of the Outlaw - Robert Ryan in the 1959 Western DAY OF THE OUTLAW on DVD
Day of the Outlaw
Robert Ryan stars as Blaise Starrett, hard, bitter and remote as only Ryan could play him. A cattleman, he's out to settle scores with Hal Crane (Alan Marshal), head of a small town of settlers putting out barbed wire and starting farms. Complicating the rivalry is the fact that Starrett was once the lover of Crane's young wife (Tina Louise). On the surface, it's rather standard fare for a fifties Western but the first twist comes from the locale. The action is set in Wyoming in the middle of winter. No dusty, sun baked streets here, just white snow and patches of ice lending a deathly quiet and slowing all movement to a slog.
The second twist comes just as Starrett and Crane square off for their big showdown. Before the two men can draw their guns, a gang of outlaws invade the town, collecting all the guns and holding everyone hostage. The gang's leader, renegade Union officer Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives), is the only one keeping the gang from drinking all the whiskey and taking the town's women as their prizes. Unfortunately, he may be dying from a gunshot wound. Now the antagonistic cattleman and farmer, along with Bruhn, have to form new alliances to keep disaster at bay. However, it is the freezing cold outside that is actually sealing their fate.
Director Andre De Toth was a Hungarian director who fled to the United States during World War II and is probably best known for having directed the most famous 3-D film, House of Wax (1953), despite being blind in one eye. In Anthony Slide's 1996 book De Toth on De Toth, the director recalled the making of Day of the Outlaw:
"[The producers] didn't understand where I was heading - a sphere I had been exploring for some time: is it worse being the jailer, instead of the prisoner? Is it worse being incarcerated by white snow in white silence, or by the blankness of black silence? Which of the human flock would fall apart first under the tightening band of their communal deep freeze?
"I wanted the town to be built and ready to shoot three, four months before the start date. I wanted the weather, the rain and snow to age the buildings, not painters' spray and cotton wool for snow on the roofs. The weather and the natural snow were cheaper than studio material and labor.
"I built a small Western town in my backyard, Oregon. But when they built it, they ignored the compass headings I had given them for the layout of the streets and they built the town in the wrong direction. Shooting it as it was built would've added additional weeks to the shooting, so I ordered the damned joint to be rebuilt. UA and Bob Ryan understood the short days of winter shooting, the saving it entailed using minimal artificial lights and the quality it gained. I didn't want the virgin snow to be defiled by the tracks of the poor electricians dragging cables and lamps on overtime."
De Toth also had to fight the producers to shoot the movie in black-and-white: "It was a story of tension and fear, survival in a prison of snow. Had I shot it in color, the green pine trees covered with snow, the soft glow of candles, the dancing tongues of flames in the fireplaces would have radiated warmth and safety and the joy of peace on earth. A 'Merry Christmas' card from fairy-tale land."
The director's meticulous care created one of the great Westerns of the Fifties, constantly surprising and creating a bone-deep chill that makes Day of the Outlaw memorable long after so many of the other hastily-made Westerns of that time have been forgotten.
Director: Andre de Toth
Producers: Sidney Harmon, Philip Yordan
Screenplay: Philip Yordan, based on the novel by Lee Wells
Cinematography: Russell Harlan
Editor: Robert Lawrence
Music: Alexander Courage
Cast: Robert Ryan (Blaise Starrett), Burl Ives (Jack Bruhn), Tina Louise (Helen Crane), Alan Marshal (Hal Crane), David Nelson (Gene)
by Brian Cady
Day of the Outlaw
TCM Remembers Andre de Toth
Born in Mako, Hungary to the son of a civil engineer, De Toth showed an early artistic bent, having his first exhibit of paintings and sculpture at age 14 and seeing his first play produced at age 18. After obtaining his law degree from the University of Budapest, he began acting, writing and working as a cameraman for cinematographer Istvan Eiben. In 1939, he went to England, where he worked as a second unit director for Alexander Korda on The Thief of Bagdad and other films. De Toth immigrated to Hollywood in the early '40s, and worked with Korda on The Jungle Book (1942) and several other films.
He made his Hollywood directing debut with the 1943 feature, Passport to Suez, a propaganda thriller about the Nazis wanting to bomb the Suez Canal.
Impressed with his ability, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, put the director under contract for one film and the result, None Shall Escape (1944), launched his Hollywood career. This tense, sensitive drama about a Nazi officer made to examine his actions was fascinating in its structure: Set after the war's end, the film centers around the trial of a Nazi butcher, Wilhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox), in Poland and makes excellent use of flashbacks illustrating the prosecution's testimony to form the bulk of the film. In a way, the film predicted the Nuremberg Trials after the war.
de Toth earned considerable critical acclaim with the taut, intense noir thriller Pitfall (1948) which he co-wrote. Starring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr, this story of a bored insurance salesman who embarks on an affair because he feels stifled in his picture-perfect home (a devoted wife, son, nice house, successful career, etc.) was striking as one of the first films to examine the American dream gone sour. De Toth followed that with a shared Oscar nomination with William Bowers for Best Original Motion Picture Story for The Gunfighter (1950), a haunting character study of a killer (Gregory Peck) trying to live down his past.
His biggest commercial hit came with House of Wax (1953), the movie that launched Vincent Price's horror film career and is still regarded as the best of all three-dimensional films to be released during that period. Unlike other directors who seemed to be dabbling with a new technique, De Toth emphasized character and plot over the special effects: Price was a sculptor rebuilding his wax figure collection (destroyed by fire) by making statues out of his murder victims. The one-eyed de Toth was an odd choice to helm a 3-D film as he could not experience the stereoscopic process, having lost an eye in his youth, but he persevered and it was the most successful 3-D film of its day.
De Toth followed that hit with some fine films: Crime Wave (1954), a hostage thriller that boasts some fine performances by Sterling Hayden and Gene Nelson and excellent location shooting on the streets of Los Angeles; The Indian Fighter (1955) an exciting Kirk Douglas vehicle about a wagon master leading his train through rough territory that won accolades for depicting the Native Americans with more depth than contemporary directors; and Day of the Outlaw (1959), the stark, stylish, low budget western about an outlaw (Burl Ives) and his gang taking over taking a small town and matching wits with one of its citizens (Robert Ryan). For many, this film best articulated many of the recurring themes in De Toth's work that would be evaluated only decades later by film scholars: survival, betrayal, the capacity for evil and complexities of human relationships.
In the early sixties film work became increasingly scarce for De Toth and he found himself relegated to directing for television: Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip and The Westerner. Tired of the limitations he was finding in Hollywood, De Toth headed to Europe in the '60s, where he found work as an uncredited consultant and location scout on David Lean's extravagant Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He directed a few films abroad, the best of which was the World War II action film Play Dirty (1968), starring Michael Caine, and then he more or less retired from active filmmaking. It was not until recently that De Toth began to receive critical recognition for his entertaining body of work. The last few years have seen several retrospectives and he enjoyed a renewed popularity at film festivals from Scotland to San Francisco. His contributions to film were recognized with the 1995 life achievement prize by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the publication of his autobiography, Fragments: Portraits From the Inside, as well as an interview book, De Toth on De Toth, by Anthony Slide. De Toth was married for a time to Veronica Lake (1944-1952) with whom he had two children. He is survived by his wife, Ann Green.
by Michael T. Toole
TCM Remembers Andre de Toth
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the film was partially shot on location in Bend, OR, while interiors were shot at the Kling Studios in Hollywood. Although the Variety review and some other contemporary sources list the first name of the character played by Robert Ryan as "Maise," at several places within the film he is called "Blaise." Actor Nehemiah Persoff, whose onscreen credit reads "And Nehemiah Persoff as Dan," is the only actor credited onscreen with a character name. A Hollywood Reporter news item adds Robert Tetrick to the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been verified.
Although a November 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that actor-singer Burl Ives would be writing and singing the film's title song, there was neither a title nor any other song within the film. A September 9, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that releasing company United Artists had protested against local newspaper Los Angeles Examiner for "arbitrarily censoring" ads for the film, which prominently featured actress Tina Louise in a costume with a plunging neckline [there was no such costume in the film]. In retaliation, UA threatened to reduce the size of its ad from the "forty-inch" ad being carried by Los Angeles Times and other local newspapers to only six inches for Los Angeles Examiner. The article went on to explain that the editors had apologized to UA executives and promised not to censor their ads in the future. The following day, the original ad ran in its entirety.
Released in United States 1959
Released in United States 1959