Sunday 3 February 2008

The Outrage (1964)

Now here's one I've been waiting for for a long while and it quickly proves to be as interesting as I'd hoped, with some striking black and white cinematography, courtesy of veteran James Wong Howe. Is it as good as is it interesting? Well there's the rub. We discover the cast as they appear, as there are no names opening the film, just a title. We don't even know that we're in Silver Gulch until it's pointed out to us, at a train station in the rain where people are waiting to leave.

First we see the dour preacher played by William Shatner in full stage mode, decrying the lack of impact he's had on his congregation in a voice that sounds like he's reading aloud. You know the one, the one that he used when he 'sang' Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. There's a lucid conman played by an old and bearded Edward G Robinson in full faculty of his powers, as he pretty much always was. Every time I review one of his movies I end up saying the same thing: how did the Academy pass him over yet again for at least a nomination. Then there's an old prospector played by Howard Da Silva. He's the one that finds the body.

The body belongs to Colonel Wakefield, a gentleman who travels through the border country with his beautiful wife, played by Laurence Harvey and Claire Bloom respectively. They fall prey to a notorious Mexican bandit, Juan Corrasco, who suckers them into a trap and has his way with them. Corrasco is portrayed by Paul Newman, and the only thing more amazing than his playing a Mexican bandit is that he does a really good job. He's a better Mexican than Charlton Heston ever was, that's for sure.

Luckily this film was made in 1964 so the whole message of the film isn't just mangled beyond all recognition. It fits alongside things like High Noon and The Ox-Bow Incident that tell a much more human story than the average western. There are some telling lines that point in the right direction. When Carrasco is chained to a post being tried, we hear 'justice doesn't need a courthouse or trappings of any kind, only order and truth.' When Nina Wakefield testifies, the judge says 'nothing matters but the truth'. As anyone who's seen Rashomon could tell you, the question is: 'what is truth?' We watch four versions of the story and we're still left to make up our own minds as to what the real story was.

You can tell from the direction that Kurosawa didn't translate his own film for the American audience. It's by far the weakest part of this version. There are too many shots that do precisely nothing and at one point Claire Bloom even bumps into the camera. Yet given the competition he set himself up against, he was almost doomed to failure from moment one. This year came out in 1964, the same year that Sergio Leone turned Yojimbo into A Fistful of Dollars, and four years earlier John Sturges had made The Magnificent Seven out of The Seven Samurai. That's some powerful company, and while this one doesn't reach the same heights it is still a powerful remake, due primarily to the visuals and the acting of the whole ensemble cast.

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