I did a post for Friday's Forgotten Books for the novel upon which the 1959 film DAY OF THE OUTLAW was based this past Friday. It followed a review done by Ron Scheer at Buddies In The Saddle for Overlooked Movies back in March. A fine review, if you haven’t read it, you should. I’d had the film in my DVR queue so long, it was the oldest thing I had recorded(and I record a lot of movies and shows), that I’d really forgotten about it. The review and my finding it spurred me to watch it. I have to say that this movie, while keeping the same basic plot, is one of the most changed movies based on novels that I can ever remember seeing and this will be less a review than a look at the differences between the novel and the movie. It stars Robert Ryan, Tina Louise, and Burl Ives in the predominant roles with minor roles filled by old stalwarts Elisha Cook, Jr., Frank DeKova(of F Troop fame), Nehemiah Persoff, Dabbs Greer, and finally a young David Nelson(of Ozzie and Harriet fame) as Gene, the newest member of the outlaw band.
The two biggest differences are in Robert Ryan’s and Nehemiah Persoff’s roles. Blaise Starrett(Ryan) was a minor character in the novel and Dan(Murdock in the novel, no last name in the film(Persoff)) the major character. They reversed then in the film. Blaise is still a hard-edged character, but some of his ruthlessness, not all, is toned down. Dan only appears in a handful of scenes. They had a friendly/adversarial relationship in the novel over a woman in town. That character is gone in the movie.
In the novel, Hal Crane was another rancher and Blaise wanted his land however he could get it, buying it on the cheap or just taking it. In the film, Crane is a farmer with a wagon load of barbed wire that Blaise promised to burn in the morning. Mrs. Crane(Louise) is the woman between the two men, possibly the real reason Blaise is so hard on Crane. There’s an attraction between Mrs. Crane and him, but he won’t do anything as long as the husband is alive.
Jack Bruhn was an outlaw leader in the novel. In the movie, he’s Captain Jack Bruhn, ex-cavalry and dressed appropriately, his men and he fleeing the army after some sort of robbery. Comments are made about some sort of Mormon massacre in his past that he led, possibly the reason he’s ex-cavalry. In the novel, one of his men was wounded and he was seeking help for him. Here in the movie, it is he that’s wounded. The only doctor in town is a vet who doesn’t have the proper tools and know-how to get the bullet out. Bruhn is dying and all he can do is give him something to ease the pain. He doesn’t tell any of the gang of their leader’s condition. They’re barely holding off, still a bit afraid of Bruhn, who’s ambulatory enough that he looks fine. If he dies, Blaise knows all hell will break loose.
The resolution of the dilemma is entirely different from the novel.
On it’s own, not a bad little movie. Filmed in black-and-white, it’s directed by Andre De Toth from a script by Philip Yordan. All in all though, while I enjoyed this one, as a reader, I think I preferred the novel. Possibly if I’d seen the movie first…
For more overlooked movies, check out Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.
Can’t seem to find a trailer on Youtube, but here’s the opening credits: