Warner Home Video has recently released a series of Paul Newman titles that have not previously been available on DVD. We'll be taking a look at some of these titles, beginning with the 1964 western The Outrage.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Paul Newman and director Martin Ritt collaborated on six films of varying quality between the years 1958 and 1967, when both men were at the prime of the careers. One of their most notable misfires was The Outrage, an ambitious 1964 remake of Akira Kurosawa's classic Rashomon redefined as a western. Kurasawa's film told of the kidnapping of an innocent couple by a bandit. The woman is raped and the husband is murdered. However, as various people recall the incident, it becomes clear there are radically different versions of what happened and who was responsible for the death. The premise of remaking the story as a Hollywood production starring Newman probably seemed like a winning proposal for MGM, given the film's envelope-pushing content regarding sex. Martin Ritt rounded up an impressive array of talented people ranging from the legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe to composer Alex North and actors Laurence Harvey, Claire Bloom and Edward G. Robinson. However, it was neither a critical or financial success - though it did allow Newman to stretch his acting abilities by playing a notorious Mexican bandito.
German theatrical poster
The film's chief asset is the stunning black and white cinematography and some spirited performances. Newman plays the villain as though he graduated from the Eli Wallach School of Banditry - his charisma and sense of humor masks a sadistic nature. He is actually quite effective in the role, with the guise of the character differing quite a bit depending upon whose version of the incident is being retold. In this case, the flashbacks take place among three men (Edward G. Robinson, William Shatner and Howard Da Silva) who are waiting in an isolated train station. Robinson is a cynical con man who goads the other two men to relate the various versions of the incident, though it becomes apparent that both may be hiding the truth for their own selfish reasons. The first time the rape/murder is played out, the scene is fairly chilling and engrossing. However, as the story unravels, the viewer sees the situation recounted three more times, at least once in a broadly comical vein (not easy to do when the subject is rape and murder). By this point, the proceedings have become tedious and the scenario monotonous. Making matters more frustrating is the fact that certain key storylines aren't satisfactorily concluded and the determination of the principals to make this an "important" film results in it playing rather pretentiously. On the positive side, Claire Bloom is terrific as the wife, playing the difficult part as both helpless victim and sexually promiscuous temptress who initiates her own rape to humiliate her husband. As the latter, Laurence Harvey has little to do but stand bound and gagged to a tree while the storyline plays out, though he and Newman do manage to engage in an exciting and well-staged fight sequence. In supporting roles, William Shatner underplays(yes, underplays) his part and allows Da Silva and Robinson to steal the scenes he shares with them. Robinson is particularly good in an unsympathetic role as the fouled-mouthed patent medicine salesman.
The Outrage is an artistic failure, but as with any collaboration between Newman and Ritt (who would go on to make the far superior Hombre), its not without merit or interest. Warners's DVD of the film is most welcome and the transfer is outstanding, however, at least a few extras would have been appreciated. This one doesn't even boast "scene selections" from the menu which only allows "Play" as an option! - Lee Pfeiffer Click here to order discounted from Amazon.