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Three disparate travelers, a disillusioned preacher, an unsuccessful prospector, and a larcenous, cynical con man, meet at a decrepit railroad station in the 1870s Southwest. The prospector and the preacher were witnesses at the singularly memorable rape and murder trial of the notorious Mexican outlaw Carasco. The bandit duped an aristocratic Southerner into believing he knew the location of a lost Aztec treasure. The greedy "gentleman" allows himself to be tied up while Carasco deflowers his wife. These events lead to the stabbing of the husband and are related by the three eyewitnesses to the atrocity: the infamous bandit, the newlywed wife, and the dead man through an Indian shaman. Whose version of the events is true? Possibly there was a fourth witness, but can his version be trusted? Written by
Although director Martin Ritt and actor Paul Newman had collaborated successfully on "Hud," "Hombre," and several earlier films, their ill-advised remake of Kurosawa's classic, "Rashomon," misfired. Michael Kanin's screenplay retained the outline of the Japanese film, but moved the locale to the American Old West. Three men at a deserted railroad station discuss a recent incident between a Mexican outlaw and a genteel Southern couple, while they await a late-arriving train. A rape and a death had occurred, but the facts differ vastly among the four versions told by the participants and an observer.
Ritt assembled a stellar cast that included not only Newman, but Claire Bloom, Laurence Harvey, Edward G. Robinson, William Shatner, Howard Da Silva, and Paul Fix. Unfortunately, only Robinson excels as a con man waiting with Shatner and Da Silva for the train. A hammy Newman overplays the outlaw, Carrasco, with a thick Frito-Bandito accent in a role better suited for Anthony Quinn. Claire Bloom, whose perfect make-up never fails her in the desert heat, gives a stagy performance as though auditioning for the part of Blanche DuBois. Harvey and Shatner are, well, Harvey and Shatner, wooden. Shatner in particular, plays the preacher, who intones every line as though imparting Great Words of Wisdom from on high. Aided in no small part by Shatner, "The Outrage" plods along sluggishly and makes the relatively short running time seem endless.
The film's greatest asset is James Wong Howe's elegant Oscar-worthy black-and-white cinematography. Howe's carefully composed shots of landscapes, textures, and faces are worthy of being framed and hung alongside the work of great Western photographers. However, beyond the cinematography, a spare score by Alex North, and Robinson's lively performance, "The Outrage" is slow ponderous going. Die-hard Newman fans will want to make a campy double feature of this with "The Silver Chalice," but serious students of Kurosawa best return to the original masterpiece.
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