The Outrage (1964)

2010 #116
Martin Ritt | 92 mins | TV | 12

The OutrageIf you’ve ever seen Akira Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon, the opening minutes of The Outrage will leave you in no doubt that you’re watching a Hollywood remake. From the dilapidated-location-in-heavy-rain opening scene on, Michael Kanin’s screenplay sticks closely to Kurosawa’s, and Martin Ritt’s direction doesn’t stray too far either. But don’t mistake this effort for a thoroughly pointless rehash a la Gus Van Sant’s Psycho — though it can’t better the original, The Outrage has much going for it.

Naturally the story is as fascinating as ever, not just for the fact it offers different versions of what happened, but for what the protagonists feel the need to modify in their accounts — after all, they’re happy to confess to several crimes, so why obscure the facts in other ways. Was Rashomon so conclusive, though? I don’t remember it being so. Yes, The Outrage’s final retelling is still just one person’s perspective, but it’s set up as an objective and definitive one. Plus I didn’t get what was going on with the crying baby, which I seem to remember being in Rashomon but I don’t recall being baffled by. Maybe that’s just me.

Kanin’s reconfiguration of the story as a Western is seamless thanks to numerous intelligent tweaks and changes — if you didn’t know this wasn’t the tale’s original location, you’d have no reason to suspect otherwise. Ritt backs it up with some striking cinematography. It might not be as innovative as Kurosawa’s camera-into-the-sun antics, but he still produces a good-looking and meticulously composed picture.

Paul Newman is excellent, unrecognisable under thorough makeup and consistent characterisation as Mexican outlaw Carrasco. The rest of the fairly starry cast are also very good, the majority treated to interestingly conflicted or gradually revealed characters, not least Claire Bloom as the rape victim and possible murderess — and possibly many other things, depending which version you choose to believe; and possibly all of them, too.

The Outrage doesn’t seem to be very well remembered, rarely seeming to qualify even as a footnote in discussion of Rashomon (unlike, say, The Magnificent Seven for Seven Samurai), which I think is unfair. There wasn’t much chance Ritt’s film could outdo the original at its own game, but what it does manage is the almost-as-impressive achievement of retelling the story differently, and well.

4 out of 5

The Outrage is showing on More4 tomorrow, Wednesday 15th December, at 11:20am.

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