The Lost Prince

  • Garrow's Law
  • The Young Victoria
  • The King's Speech
  • The Lost Prince

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Outlaw

This term we have been studying heroes as part of the comparitive module of my history course. I saw this film on iPlayer, and since we are allowed to talk about films in our exam, thought it might be appropriate. It is a rather imagined account of Billy the Kid, the legendary outlaw hero, who is known for shooting well and escaping the law.

It features the debut of the actress Jane Russell, who became a Hollywood sex symbol and pin-up girl. Apparently, the film was made in 1943, featuring half a second when it showed Russell's breasts which was considered too raunchy for the typical Western audience. This caused a huge scandal, and the film was eventually allowed to be shown in San Francisco for one week, before being confined to film legend.

In this sense it was unconventional, in that the woman, Rio, is domineering and able to trick Billy on several occasions and even goes off with him to fight some Indians. Disappointingly, she still clings on to him like a puppy, and runs away with him at the end of the film, even though he trades her for a horse with Doc. 

Jack Beutel, who plays the Kid, is rather sour, and I don't think his acting is convincing. Although he has been given some funny lines, he delivers them with the same whimsical expression. No wonder then it supposedly hampered his career, causing him not to perform in another film for the next seven years. This is the only role in which he is well known

On the other hand, Jane Russell was made famous by this film. That is what I call irony, in that the hero is downcast by his leading actress. Ha ha!

The cast is very small, the film being a small scale in production. Other good performances come from Walter Huston, who plays Doc Holliday. He becomes Billy's friend, after Billy steals his horse. And also, Billy's nemesis, Pat Gattrell, who is played by Thomas Mitchell.

One thing that slightly annoyed me about the film, was the fact that it had no actual plot. I don't want to give too much away for those of you who have seen it, and actually want to see it but basically; Billy the Kid has stolen Doc's horse, Doc is friends with Pat, Doc is angry but then is won over by the Kid's humour and for some reason starts protecting him against Pat. He gives him a place to sleep, where he first meets Rio. Later, he has a confrontation with a man at a bar because he is stupid and follows him into a room at the back of the bar. The man tries to kill Billy through trickery, but Billy gets to his gun first and shoots him. Pat comes after Billy for the murder, when Doc tries to defend him, Billy gets shot in a cross fire (unheroic or what!). Then he is taken in by Doc, sleeps with his girlfriend, (who at first I  thought was his daughter because she is so much younger than he is, and he kissed her and talked to her like he was her father). Billy is in a daze (and apparently they also get married, but Billy does not know it - that is not really explained) and Doc gets angry when he finds out what Billy and Rio have done!

Billy offers Doc a choice between the horse, Red, and Rio. Billy then says he is disappointed when Doc goes for the horse, because he liked the horse. This makes Rio angry, and causes her to put sand in his pack, instead of water! The two go off into the mountains, for some reason, where Pat has set a trap for Billy, but Billy forms one of his own in the form of Rio. But it backfires because Billy refuses to accept he has feelings for Rio, and he gets arrested. On the way back, after an argument, Billy takes a beating from Doc because he considers him a friend. This causes Doc to forget all the things Billy has to done to him, and put down  his arms. Pat is jealous because he wants to be friends with Doc, they nearly duel, and are about to make up, when Pat shoots Doc accidentally. Doc dies a heroic death, 'not on the bed', and is buried in a grave marked as Billy's. Pat then tries to trick Billy into giving him his gun, in exchange for Doc's and a safe passage out of town. But Billy does not fall for it, and instead of killing Pat, ties him up, and leaves. As he is leaving, he has a change of heart about Rio, after checking to see that the water is not sand, and takes her with him, riding into the wilderness.

It has the traditional Western concepts of honour and friendship, the characters seem to follow the codes of conduct set by the West. But first of all, Doc is an invented character, as is Rio, I think. So the whole plot has been made up in order to fit in with the genre of a Western. It seems a rather tame Western, both in terms of killing Indians, and general shootings. It seems to be much more focused on ideas of friendship and betrayal, than typical concepts of Westerns.

Is Billy the Kid the hero, or is Doc? Because he dies fighting for a cause, in order to defend Billy (God knows why, because Billy treats him terribly). In my opinion, Billy is a rubbish friend, who has stolen his horse and his girl friend. I am not sure why Doc would want to die for that, but he does. Billy seems more interested in his horse, and he does not seem too upset when Doc dies, because he gets his horse, (and Rio)! So I think Billy the Kid is stupid, selfish and egotistical. Maybe a 1940s audience would have judged it differently, but I don't think this is a likeable representation.

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