Shabby, contrived, cornball western, but a marvelous curiosity. The movie as such is forgettable, but Howard Hughes's cynically brilliant commodification of Jane Russell's bosom was a triumph of Hollywood marketing and a harbinger of things to come. THE OUTLAW is a very loose retelling of
the legend of Billy The Kid (Jack Beutel), with Walter Huston as Doc Holliday and Thomas Mitchell as lawman Pat Garrett. When the devastating Rio (Russell) enters the picture, old friends Billy and Doc are soon at each other's throats.
Hughes hired Howard Hawks to direct, nagged him to distraction, then took over the reins himself, presiding over the set with a demented attention to detail. Despite the best efforts of cameraman Gregg Toland, the resulting film is static and amateurish; the publicity campaign surrounding its
release, however, was a masterpiece. Armed with stills of 19-year-old Russell revealing a remarkable decolletage (while stooping to pick up a pair of milk pails!), Hughes spent tens of thousands of dollars purposely to agitate the censor and arouse public indignation. He released the film in San
Francisco in 1943 after United Artists refused to distribute it; it was quickly closed down by civic groups (which is just what he wanted). Meanwhile, legendary publicist Russell Birdwell leased thousands of billboards from coast to coast for three years, plastering a suggestive photo of the
scantily clad Russell reclining on a bed of hay, gun in hand. By 1946, when Hughes finally released the film, audiences flocked to theaters, hoping to answer the question splashed across every newspaper ad: "What are the two reasons for Jane Russell's rise to stardom?"
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