The Outlaw Review

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Despite the fact that he murdered her brother, Rio (Jane Russell) secretly marries Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel), but tension grow between them and her former lover, Doc Holliday (Walter Huston), as they're pursued through the desert by lawman Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell).


Having deeply resented Howard Hughes's constant interference during the making of Scarface, it was perhaps surprising that Howard Hawks signed up for this much-ballyhoo'd project. Doubtless, he reasoned that Jules Furthman (assisted by an uncredited Ben Hecht) would supply him with another serviceable study of tough men going about their business with rugged cameraderie, as he had done with Only Angels Have Wings. But Hughes made no secret of the fact that he wanted this to be a prestige production and he announced that he was going to unearth a couple of new stars to play Billy the Kid and Rio, in much the same way that David O. Selznick had drummed up publicity with his search for Scarlett O'Hara.

Hawks and cinematographer Lucien Ballard had filmed dozens of 16mm tests and Hughes had already selected his leads when they alighted upon dental assistant, Jane Russell. Hughes became so instantly obsessed with her voluptuous breasts that he had a loop made of her scene with Jack Beutel and decided to pair them in the picture. Indeed, such was his fixation that Hawks walked and the producer decided to direct for the first time since Hell's Angels.  

Much has been made of the Hughes-designed cantilevered bra. But Russell insisted that she never wore it. However, she did allow her physique to be exploited by Hughes's fetishistic direction and in the countless cheesecake stills that he had produced to keep her in the public eye, after the Breen Office and then Hughes's wartime commitments delayed The Outlaw's general release for five years (although it briefly opened in San Francisco in 1943 with the express purpose of scandalising the citizenry and generating more infamy from its hasty closure).  

By eschewing traditional horse opera action in favour of character insight, Furthman's screenplay anticipated the concerns of the 1950s psychological Western. But Hughes's sordid objectification of Russell (which occasionally bordered on misogyny) dominated the ponderous proceedings and while it enjoyed a brief notoriety, the picture has since been consigned to the same erotic footnote as Duel in the Sun.

This Howard Hughes' film was meant to more of a star vehicle for his beautiful young protégé, Russell, and although it does demonstrate her breasts, sorry, acting skills at their best it still remains an enjoyable epic, with strong performances from all t