Day of the Outlaw

Day of the Outlaw ★★★★

Unforgiving, grim western. So much for the frontier: it may as well take place at the end of the world. Fitting then that its climax is a departure from town, onward out of frame to the impassable mountains - death alone lies o'er the horizon and to walk it may as well be walking off the face of the earth. The film has a matter-of-fact harshness akin to later, more defined revisionist westerns - its shifting sense of morality, the sheer blunt tribalism (if not animalism) of its subjects and the ultimately ambivalent extent of man's apparent superiority over his own nature. Its era atypical reduction of apparent innate human morality makes for discomforting viewing, reaching an apex in the scenes of very explicit sexual intimidation. The environmental mood of the snowy wilderness - beautiful yet inhospitable, glazed in harsh winter light and cold mountain air - seems to infect every facet of visible human behaviour. Burl Ives in all his rotund glory is a wonderful camera subject, like a wounded old dog with a slipping authority over his rabid pack.

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