Day of the Outlaw (Timeless, DVD), a 1959 western set in a snowbound mountain town on the high frontier, is one of the toughest, most tension-filled pictures from Andre de Toth, a studio filmmaker who could be counted on to bring a savage edge to his assignments. The town is already coiled like a spring thanks to the tensions between imperious ranch baron Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan) and a farmer (Alan Marshal) stringing barbed wire across the range—Blaise has come to town to either intimidate the proud farmer into back down or killing him to stop the wire—when an outlaw gang bursts in and essentially takes the town hostage. They’re on the run from the cavalry and their leader (Burl Ives) is bleeding out from a bullet wound, barely keeping his cutthroat gang in check.
The isolation of the town, a few building poking out of the muddy streets and surrounded by mountain ranges in the distance, feels even more adrift in the white blanket of snow cover and the wind howls through most every scene, enhancing the sense of desolation. It’s a spare visual design and de Toth leaves the dramatic compositions lean and simple and uncrowded. Ryan’s wound up stillness makes a great contrast to the increasingly jittery gang members, who pace and fiddle and keep moving toward the women. They look like they are about to fly apart like a bomb and start looting and raping, and the still intensity of Ives, who holds his gaze and his ground has he gives orders and watches over it all, is all that keeps it from combusting. A terrific, underappreciated western, it’s been on disc before in an edition now out of print. Timeless brings it back in a solid DVD edition at a bargain price. No supplements.
I profile the Ginger Rogers comedy Tom Dick and Harry (no commas in the title, at least as it shows on screen) for its upcoming showing on Turner Classic Movies.
Tom Dick and Harry (1941) was one of the many romantic comedies to spotlight Ginger Rogers’ underrated talents as a deft comedienne after she left her screen partnership with Fred Astaire and the successful musicals that made her fame. It was her first film after Kitty Foyle (1940), one of her rare dramatic leads, and both a critical and commercial hit for the studio (it would become RKO’s biggest moneymaker of 1940 and earn five Academy Award nominations) and for Rogers herself, who earned her first and only Oscar® nomination for her performance. Tom Dick and Harry would bring her back to light comedy, specifically romantic fantasy. Rogers once again plays a working class girl, though her delightfully dreamy and somewhat dizzy telephone operator Janie is a far cry from Kitty. Janie has a steady boy, an ambitious salesman named Tom (George Murphy), who is eagerly pursuing the American Dream, but she has her own dreams of being swept off her feet by a millionaire. Even after accepting Tom’s marriage proposal, she leaps into dates with two new suitors: Harry (Burgess Meredith), a down-to-earth mechanic that she mistakes for a millionaire when he drives by in a foreign sports car, and actual millionaire playboy R.J. Hamilton, aka Dick (Alan Marshal), who just happens to be one of Harry’s many acquaintances. Keeping with the dream theme, Janie drifts off to sleep with fantasies of married life with all three men, all of them played as elaborate caricatures on cardboard sets like absurdist comedy sketches.