What is the Corral about?

Well, simply, it is a place to round-up ideas, thoughts, comments and anything else you may like to hear about. My original intention was to have a forum but the time to manage such a gathering is really beyond me at this stage. But via email I can gather up your input and get it into the Corral.

So, would you like to make comment?

What is your favorite western story, either as a book or a movie?

Want to tell us why?

What are you currently reading, watching or listening to (regardless if it is a Western or not)?

What do you want to see in future Western stories (grit or romance, maybe both, gunplay or justice, grim reality or happy endings)?

Anything you would like to see in one of my stories?



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Andre De Toth’s movie The Day of the Outlaw (1959) received a lukewarm response from the film critics and the box office upon release, yet it is now considered by many to be a forgotten gem and measured with the best of Budd Boetticher. For me, that is certainly a big call, because I hold Budd in such high esteem. However, even Budd’s movies were often underappreciated till years later, so there may be a common link between these two gifted directors.

I do, however, ask myself the question, why do some stories, be they in the form of film, play, television or book, come up better in hindsight, often many, many years later?

In regard to this particular movie I can only conclude that its themes of bad behavior was too far ahead of its time, or maybe that should be, too far ahead of the audience. De Toth’s personal view on human nature was clarified in an interview, not long before his death in 2002. He identified that the two stereotypical Western types of good and bad, or white hats and black hats, was not a true reflection of how people live and act. He is also quoted as saying that he saw no difference between genres when it came to making movies, as they were all stories about people, and in The Day of the Outlaw the story is certainly about people and how they uses or try to use situations to their personal advantage, regardless of the costs or consequences to others.

In the De Toth movie Pitfall (1948), Dick Powel plays the part of John Forbes who looks like the average American man living out the American dream in the suburbs, but when bored and searching for a bit of excitement, acts like Don Draper out of Mad Men. The Day of the Outlaw repeats some of these disturbing aspects of human nature, so it is not the sort of movie that seeks to lift your spirits, yet it is pure entertainment in the most dramatic sense.

Filmed in black and white, Day of the Outlaw has that noir feel to it, with a sharp edge that tells you all is not going to bode well for any of the characters. The outdoor scenes, filmed by Russell Harlan who started his cinematography career making Hopalong Cassidy movies, are stunning; and the bitter cold is real, as it was filmed during an icy mid-winter. Making this movie must have been no easy chore for cast and crew. And speaking of cast, this is a who’s who of talent, in both lead and supporting roles. Many of them appeared in some classic movies or went on to work in some very popular television programs. They include the great singer and actor Burl Ives; the stunning Tina Louise or went on to star as Ginger in Gilligan’s Island (1964-67) and is still alive; David Nelson, older brother of Ricky from the famous Nelson family; Jack Lambert who plays a great baddie in the mold of early Lee Marvin in the Boetticher movies, and deserved more roles in his career than he was given; Elisha Cook Jr who was often typecast as the downtrodden little man and did it so well; and one of my all time favourites, the great Robert Ryan. I would walk over broken glass barefoot to see one of his movies on the big silver screen. His Western credits include such great movies as The Naked Spur (1953) with James Stewart and Janet Leigh, and The Wild Bunch (1969) with William Holden and Ernest Borgnine.

But it was not just cast and crew that had to work hard in this movie so did the horses, as the heavy snow conditions are often waist deep. Scenes where the animals struggle to advance through the mountains in deep powder soft snow creates a sense of desperation, which is helped by the music of Alexander Courage who went on to compose the theme music for the original Star Trek series (1966-69 - but now lives on forever).

The script for the movie comes from the Lee Edwin Wells book of the same name, and is adapted to the screen by Philip Yordan, whose other works included Broken Lance (1954), Johnny Guitar (1954) and The Bravados (1958), which was another brooding revenge Western with Gregory Peck in the lead. Wells’ books are still available on Amazon, under the name of Lee E. Wells, and include used and collectable copies of Day of the Outlaw, published in 1955.

If I was to make anything out of what Andre De Toth may have been about with this wonderful movie, and of course I am only surmising here, it may have been that wonderful aspect of creativity that refuses to just duplicate what has been done before. Of course, in hindsight, we all see it as so easy to trail blaze, when in reality it is incredibly risky, not just for the director, actors and crew but for the producers who have to find and seek the funds from investors to get the whole project up and running. When the movie was made, it cost US$400,000, which was no small amount, yet screenwriter Yordan, who was also one of the producers, felt that the budget was to small and lamented what could have been. In this aspect I think he has a point, as the making of this movie under winter conditions near Mount Bachelor in Oregon would have included significant costs in just the sheer logistics of shooting under such harsh conditions.

De Toth was a Hungarian who came to the US via the UK in 1942, at the age of 30, where he had spent several years assisting fellow Hungarian, Alexander Korda, who was later involved in British Lion Films that produced such classics as The Third Man (1949) which is an absolutely must see movie. This is the movie that came from the pen of Graham Greene and has a beautiful Western connection via the Joseph Cotton character, but I will leave that for you to discover – and by the way, the novella that Greene wrote to assist him in writing the screenplay is also a good read.

De Toth was to marry seven times and have nineteen children. Personally, I can’t even wrap my mind around that sort of effort, other than to say that he must have had very deep pockets and been very good at multi-tasking. He was to be the second unit director on Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and played that role again in 1978 in Superman: The Movie. By the time of his death at the age of 90, he had more than enough opportunity to observe the contemporary era of film making, and hopefully reflect with pride on such fabulous Westerns like Ramrod (1947), Carson City (1952), Thunder Over The Plains (1953) and The Bounty Hunter (1954). Many of these movies starred Randolph Scott, and I guess that alone could be seen as a link between De Toth and Boetticher. However, to do so is to be frivolous and damn Andre De Toth with faint praise, and that would be most unfair.

When next searching for a classic Western to watch, why not consider Day of the Outlaw, I think you might be pleasantly surprised at how well it stands up some 54 years on. It may also cause you to ponder on just how far ahead of its times this particular movie was, and its director Andre De Toth. I really think he deserves a little reverence and reflection.

Lee Clinton
June 2013 

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