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Strawberry roan

Billy the Kid to Rio: “Will you keep your eyes open? Will you look right at me as I do it?”

I more or less randomly watched The Outlaw today; it was on this set of Western classics I picked up last weekend on Jack Gulick’s advice. Fifty movies for thirty bucks was too good a deal to pass up.

Billy the Kid

When I cracked open the box, I noticed The Outlaw. I like Howard Hughes, or at least his legend, so I popped it in. I only expected a cheesy Western with a lot of Jane Russell. Imagine my surprise when I got a Billy the Kid played by a guy who looks like a fey Johnny Depp and more subtext than you can shake Lucy Lawless at.

“Doc, if you’re not already fixed up, you can bunk with me tonight.”

“No thanks, Billy, I’ve got a girl. She and her aunt just moved in town. You got a girl, Billy?”

“No, I ain’t got nothing, except that horse.”

“You can’t fool me, a good looking boy like you… you must have a girl somewhere.”

“No, I don’t trust ‘em.”

So the first act of the movie is about how Doc Holliday decides to partner up with Billy the Kid, deserting his old friend Pat Garrett. The second act is Doc and Billy arguing over the beautiful Rio (this is where Jane Russell comes in) and Doc’s strawberry roan; it’s unclear which is more important. The third act resolves it all.

Pat Garrett: “You and me never had any trouble ‘till he came along.”

Besides being charged with tension, it’s actually a pretty decent movie. The final faceoff sequence is about as good as anyone could want. The gunslingers use their weapons like the words they can’t always find, to argue and to sting and to wound. I gasped a couple of times, but then again, I’m suggestible.

The coda doesn’t work quite, but I imagine that’s what you get when you fire Howard Hawks as director and try to finish a movie yourself. I could have done without the over-aggressive score, too. Regardless, none of that stopped me from enjoying the movie a lot.

Tasty. See it if you get a chance.

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