André de Toth was a Hungarian director who is best remembered for his films throughout the ’40s and ’50s which for the most part were either Westerns or Film Noir. He also directed the cult 3D classic House of Wax which of course starred Vincent Price and remains probably his best known film. Quentin Tarantino is a noted fan of de Toth so much so he dedicated the script of Reservoir Dogs to him and his latest The Hateful Eight seems to take some inspiration from Day of the Outlaw.
Day of the Outlaw comes at the start of the revisionist westerns that would blow up later in the ’60s and ’70s with films like The Wild Bunch and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. These early revisionist westerns such as Johnny Guitar, Forty Guns and even like something the complex psychological performance of John Wayne in The Searchers are films which would start turning the classic western on its head. Day of the Outlaw is also one of the first snow westerns like The Great Silence or The Hateful Eight.
Robert Ryan one of the classic hard-boiled actors of the ’50s plays Blaise Starrett comes between a landowner and his wife. However when a gang of outlaws show up in the small town of Bitters Starrett must defend the townsfolk who have been taken hostage by the outlaws. There is a ride into the snow that ends the film which is one of the most beautiful and downbeat climaxes of ’50s cinema.
Ryan is fantastic as he was always was, I wish there were still actors of his ilk around today. Burl Ives plays the lead of the outlaws which the right amount of arrogant menace. Elisha Cook, Jr. also has a small role as the town barber who was one of the best character actors of ’40s and ’50s and whose work should be held in higher esteem.
De Toth’s direction really comes into full show during the last 30 minutes where they trek through the snow. Russell Harlan shot the film who worked a lot with Howard Hawks but also shot films like To Kill a Mockingbird and Elvis’ best film King Creole. The film was made on a shoestring out in the Oregon woods which give it an extra desolate look which helps the downbeat nature of the film. It wasn’t a hit when it came out and got poor reviews but over the years it’s became a cult western rightfully. The disc is fairly barebones but it includes a video interview with French director Bernard Tavernier and also a booklet on the film with a new essay on the film and a 1994 interview with De Toth.