Billy the Kid hits Rio
"The Outlaw" maybe a movie which is set in the west and feature the recognizable characters of Pat Garrett, Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid but it is not really a western. Instead "The Outlaw" is a movie about sex, implied sexual liaisons and director Howard Hughes adoration of Jane Russell's shapely figure which dominates every single scene she appears in. It's also a comedy delivering humour from the unlikely friendship which forms between Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid which expands into a story about friendship and jealousy. As such watching "The Outlaw" as a western is disappointing, but then get beyond that disappointment and "The Outlaw" becomes entertaining because it is amusing.
When Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) shows up in Lincoln looking for his stolen horse, New Mexico town sheriff Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell - The Black Swan) is happy to see his best friend show up and even happier when they discover that Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel) is the person with Doc's stolen horse. But then Doc and Billy become the unlikeliest of friends much to Pat's annoyance, becoming jealous of the young Billy for taking Doc away from him. When the atmosphere in Lincoln becomes a little too heated and Billy gets shot Doc takes him back to his place where his girl Rio (Jane Russell - The Tall Men) lives. But despite Billy's arrogance she falls for him and causes a strain on his friendship with Doc especially as Pat and his Marshall's are on their trail.
Ignoring the sex side of "The Outlaw" for the moment and what you have is a storyline which is built around friendship and jealousy most noticeably Pat Garrett becoming jealous of Billy the Kid when Doc Holliday becomes his best friend. It almost seems a childish storyline, the sort of juvenile jealousy you expect between children when one friend finds a new best friend but it strangely works. And the reason why it works is that whilst the majority of the movie focuses on the humorous friendship of Doc and Billy who play a game of one-upmanship over possessions it culminates quite brilliantly as Pat's jealousy surfaces to cause major problems. It's not the most compelling of stories and definitely not what you expect from a western but in a way being different makes it interesting.
What also makes it interesting is the games of one-upmanship between Doc and Billy which starts with Doc trying to get his horse back from Billy. There is a gentle humour to it all as Doc tries to out wit the young gunslinger which carries on throughout the whole movie especially when Billy ends up having an affair with Docs girl Rio. It is almost playful how they interact constantly unsure of each other but then also in a way respecting each other for their legendary status as gun men.
But to be frank all this takes a back seat because "The Outlaw" is all about sex and considering when it was made it is surprisingly shocking. You don't see anyone having sex, it's all implied, but with what is suggested to be a rape scene in a barn and then further encounters in Rio's home as she falls for Billy makes for quite a surprise. In a way watching it now all of this implied sex is a bit corny, with fade outs when anything happens but it is still surprising. And it is also surprising that for a movie released in the 1940s that Jane Russell's shapely figure dominates all her scenes. I know this is wrong to say but it is hard to take your eyes off of Russell's shapely bust and when that isn't in focus her beauty takes over. It is little wonder when released in the 1940s; director Howard Hughes had a long battle to get it shown with many states banning it.
As for the acting well to be honest for the most it is forgettable despite being enjoyable. There is something about Jack Buetel as Billy the Kid which is reminiscent of a young James Stewart but it lacks the smoothness and so often Buetel comes across as quite nervous. Although saying that the humour of his interactions with Walter Huston as Doc Holliday is great fun but then again Walter Huston seems to struggle to make his character more than 2 dimensional. 2 Dimensional is not a criticism you can have of Jane Russell who whilst playing a relatively simple love interest dominates every single scene for a couple of obvious reasons. But the biggest disappointment for me is the under use of Thomas Mitchell whose great comic timing seems wasted as Pat Garrett, absent from so many of the scenes.
What this all boils down to is that if you watch "The Outlaw" as western there is a good chance you will be disappointed as it's not really a western. But the humour of the one-upmanship between Doc and Billy as well as the jealousy of Pat makes it amusing. And whilst dated the whole sex aspect is quite surprising and Jane Russell is captivating if it is mainly for Howard Hughes adoration of her busty figure.