THE OUTLAW (1943)

   Jane Russell, Jack Buetel, Howard Hughes (director)
   The plot of this film is rather simple. Billy the Kid (Buetel) and Rio (Russell) attempt to outwit Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell), with Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) thrown in the mix. But what the film is known for has little to do with the plot; Jane Russell played what was, up to 1943, the most deliberately erotic role ever in a Western. After World War II, directors and producers introduced more erotic elements into Westerns for marketing purposes. This film was re-released in 1946 and in 1950 to huge box office sales. Before the war, Destry Rides Again(1939) had proven a huge success partly for Marlene Dietrich’s suggestive work.
   Howard Hughes marketed The Outlaw with Russell’s sex appeal, using blatant suggestiveness, and her well-endowed chest in a special bra designed by Hughes, as its sole advertising angle. Its production was widely publicized and the censors caused problems at every turn. In fact, the 2004 biographical film about Hughes, The Aviator, dramatizes the problems encountered by The Outlaw. The film came out as a fairly accurate portrayal of Billy the Kid, but the overt eroticism was a new dimension for Westerns. Throughout the film, Billy and Rio banter suggestively, and at times Billy even becomes sadistic. In retrospect we see a film in which Rio is minimized as a person and serves only as a machine for gratifying lust. One scene in particular displays this fact: Doc and Billy play cards and wonder which the winner would rather have, a horse or Rio. They decide the horse has more value.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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