Judge Mike Rubino is outraged.
"Just one look…I know this is woman I must take."—Carrasco
The Outrage is a little-known Paul Newman project that follows two lovely Hollywood trends from the middle of the last century: first, it's a Western remake of a Japanese samurai movie; second, it features a leading Hollywood star pretending to be a Mexican. ¡Ay, caramba!
The film is a direct, and often shot-for-shot, remake of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon set in post-Civil War America. The story begins one rainy night on an old train platform, as a local preacher (played by a young William Shatner) prepares to flee town. He just finished sitting on a jury that sentenced the Mexican bandito, Carrasco (Newman), to hang for murder, despite conflicting stories from pretty much every witness at the trial. Before the train arrives, he's met by a local prospector (Howard Da Silva) and a loud-mouthed con man (Edward G. Robinson), who insist on reliving the events from the trial. Together, these three men re-examine the testimony, and try to get to the bottom of what exactly happened between Carrasco and the newly wed couple he assaulted.
If you've seen Rashomon, you already know how this all plays out. The story of the bandit assaulting this couple, raping the wife and killing the husband, is played out numerous times throughout the movie. Each time the film returns to the scene of the crime, the details change, the characters act differently, and the events of that day get stranger and stranger. It's an excellent premise, and the original rightfully deserves every ounce of praise it's received over the years. This remake isn't a slouch, either. It's extremely faithful, right down to adapting the role of the medium from the original into a Native American medicine man.
Lending some much needed weight to this project is the excellent direction by Martin Ritt (The Front). His framing and staging is every bit as thoughtful as Kurosawa's, without feeling like a total Gus Van Sant rip-off. The film has a very crisp black and white transfer, with excellent contrast and lighting by veteran cinematographer James Wong Howe (Hud). At times The Outrage feels less like an Americanized Western and more like a foreign film.
That is, until you get a look at Paul Newman. Surprisingly, the only thing really disappointing about the film is Newman's spirited performance. For whatever reason, like Heston in Touch of Evil, Newman plays a ridiculously over-the-top Mexican in brown-face, complete with a stereotypical mustache and sombrero. When the character is first introduced, things don't seem that bad, mainly because Newman isn't doing much more than grumbling. Then, the flashbacks kick in and we see Carrasco really ham it up. It was like Newman was channeling Speedy Gonzales. Instantly, scenes that were supposed to have dramatic weight get an undercurrent of absurd humor. Why not just cast a real Mexican actor and put Paul Newman in a role he was better suited to play, like the murdered Colonel Wakefield (who is played rather well by Laurence Harvey)? As the film builds, and the story unfolds, Newman's over-acting turns the whole thing into a melodrama. Perhaps that's what he was going for, but I couldn't help but chuckle.
The Outrage has some very high production values, and a pretty excellent cast. I'm sorry to say that if it wasn't for Paul Newman's goofy Mexican accent and mustache, this thing may have been "great" instead of merely "pretty good." Oddly enough, this movie is being released because of Newman's involvement as part of Warner Brothers' "Paul Newman Film Series." Don't go looking for any trailers, documentaries, or commentaries, though. This guy's as bare as they come.
If you've always wanted to get the gist of Rashomon, but didn't want to wade through the subtitles and cultural intricacies of Kurosawa's masterpiece, then this is a decent replacement. The production is top-notch, even if Newman's performance is a little much.
Guilty. Or not guilty? Eh, sort it out amongst yourselves.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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