Written by: Carroll Jenkins on July 9th, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1943
Director: Howard Hughes
Writer: Jules Furthman
Cast: Jack Buetel, Jane Russell, Thomas Mitchell, Walter Huston, Mimi Aguglia, Joe Sawyer, Gene Rizzi
DVD released: June 16th, 2009
Approximate running time: 117 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Legend Films
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $14.95
The strawberry roan is more important to the story than Rio (Jane Russell), but it is Russell’s sultry appearance and ample cleavage that make this horse opera an icon of American cinema. It was filmed in early ’41, but didn’t see release until two years later due to censorship problems. It’s not a good film, but is a strangely compelling experience.
The score is terrible and better suited to a Looney Toons cartoon than a feature film. There is hardly any action, but there’s lots of talk. The ludicrous dialog is akin to something Ed Wood, Jr. would write. The sets are small, the back projection is horrible, and it looks like the second unit might have filmed some Indians from away off, but you can’t really tell for certain.
But, like an Ed Wood film, there are intriguing aspects that make the whole mess not only bearable, but even memorable. Walter Huston was one of the screen’s greatest character actors. He plays the part straight but with a twinkle in his eye that says, “can you believe this thing?”. Jane Russell scowls and pouts throughout, and Mimi Aguglia steals every scene as Aunt Guadalupe. Jack Buetel is adequate as Billy the Kid, and Thomas Mitchell hams it up as a histrionic Pat Garrett.
Perhaps Howard Hughes had all the original elements destroyed, because the source here looks like the same worn-out print that’s been circulating for decades. It has been digitally scrubbed, and aside from a few soft scenes, looks pretty fair. It is the full 117 minute version. Dialog is fine, and English subs are available. If your interest in the film is purely for the cheesecake, then you should probably go for the colorized version. Jane’s skin tones look quite natural, and that’s the important part. She does a commentary track on the 2nd disc.
Just like the chicken that wants to peck Billy’s eyes out while Aunt Guadalupe laughs, you know you should leave this one alone, but it’s morbidly fascinating. After the first viewing, when you discover that nothing ever happens throughout the entire film, then you are free to marvel at this one-of-a-kind relic.