Hungarian-born director André de Toth only had one eye, but that didn’t stop him making westerns and dramas that were always visually stunning. Day of the Outlaw is a typically detached but gutsy western, dominated by commanding performances from Robert Ryan and Burl Ives as two ruthless outlaws who find different forms of redemption.
Ryan stars as Blaise Starrett, a cattleman living in a remote frontier town, while Ives is Jack Bruhn, a renegade cavalry officer now in charge of a gang of outlaws. Although Starrett had been engaged in a dispute with a fellow rancher which he planned to resolve by killing the other man, he now faces a greater problem: Bruhn has ordered his men to behave themselves (he forbids them to drink, loot or rape), but he’s fatally wounded and hasn’t long to live.
Recognising that the other outlaws will run amok in the town, Starrett decides to sacrifice himself and offers to lead the group to a non-existent escape route through the snow-covered mountains. When Bruhn dies on the way out of town, Starrett is left with a group of men who will kill him if they realise his plan. On the other hand, they may just kill him anyway. He continues on the hazardous journey, hoping that the outlaws will turn on each other.
Both a study of an isolated community and a chilling portrait of good and evil, Day of the Outlaw is one of the best B westerns of the fifties. Its stylish depiction of the harshness of life in the west foreshadows the sixties spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone.
USA / 1958
Director: André de Toth
Writer: Philip Yordan, based on the novel by Lee Wells
Cast: Burl Ives, Robert Ryan, Tina Louise, Nehemiah Persoff, David Nelson, Venetia Stevenson, Jack Lambert