Day of the Outlaw

Robert Ryan in Day of the Outlaw (dir. André De Toth, 1959).

Mike McGreevey and Burl Ives.

Tina Louise.

Robert Ryan.

Frank DeKova as "Denver": "I want to look at you."

Robert Ryan sneers at old flame Tina Louise, who's contemptuous of his lack of mercy: "You won't find much mercy anywhere in Wyoming." De Toth's version of Wyoming (I have no idea where it was filmed) is bleak indeed: with all its snow and long shots and low-contrast black-and-white it looks a lot like Peter Brook's King Lear. That is to say, it looks great.

Ryan looks great too: grizzled, cool, and surly. Tina Louise has not yet surrendered her identity to become Ginger on Gilligan's Island, and at times she takes on the delicate gravity of a Sargent painting. Elisha Cook graces us with his presence for about ten seconds. David Nelson, son of Ozzie and Harriet, plays a clean-cut young outlaw you don't believe could have lasted five minutes among the gang of ruffians he rides into town with on the run from the cavalry. That scurvy crew includes Jack Lambert, who played "The Claw" in Dick Tracy's Dilemma and "Dum Dum Clarke" in Siodmak's The Killers; Lance Fuller, from This Island Earth and Slightly Scarlet; and Frank DeKova, as a grotesque (I think he's supposed to be an Indian) named Denver, who's oddly sensitive in a psychotic way. And, yes, Burl Ives as a renegade Union officer in charge of them all! All we ever find out about Ives' character, Jack Bruhn, is that he led a massacre of Mormon settlers in Utah. We don't learn why, and we're not let very far into the dark chamber of Bruhn's troubled conscience. His men are clamoring for alcohol and rough sex with the local wives and daughters of the townfolk, but he holds them tightly in check, even as he's suffering from a serious bullet wound. This power he has over them isn't really explained either, beyond the casual observation that they "need" him," but he makes it believable. He's a very reasonable outlaw, and scarier for it.

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