An itinerant priest is mired in the sins of Silver Gulch, desperately seeking a miracle to restore his faith in God…and humanity. Director Martin Ritt remakes Kurosawa’s RASHOMON as a Western, replacing Japanese social mores with American values, as he cross-examines four witnesses to a violent crime.
Please see my review for the Kurosawa film for my dissection of the film’s themes and subtext: here I will examine the differences between the two, explaining why THE OUTRAGE is a lesser creation though not necessarily a failure.
The cast includes William Shatner as the forlorn priest, a subdued and aching performance in the days before being typecast; Paul Newman as the outlaw Carrasco, unfortunately resorting to stereotype as the criminal, his Spanish accent an embarrassment; Laurence Harvey as the impotent husband, his character bland and underdeveloped though his eyes are always expressive; Claire Bloom as the victim, too shrill with a faltering Southern accent that disappears in the midst of conversations; Howard Da Silva as the prospector, his grizzled visage depicting the weary years of suffering; and Edward G. Robinson as the talkative Con Man who reflects the cruel truth a despicable world. The actors fall into caricature but it’s mostly Shatner and Da Silva who deserve our empathy, and it’s the strength of their performances that makes the revelation dramatic. Newman is no Mifune, and though Mifune also over-plays his part, Newman’s seems contrived and clichéd.
Martin Ritt structures the film very much like the original but without the artistry; he condenses important elements and lengthens the exposition. This film is nine minutes longer than the original while excising the lengthy tracking shots and chiaroscuro ingredients, and fills the time with annoying explanation. Ritt mirrors a few of Kurosawa’s compositions: the low angle shot of the dead husband’s convulsed hand, and he shoots directly into the sun for effect…but not the same effect. Ritt reminds the audience of the blazing heat, while Kurosawa used the sun as metaphor concerning spiritual light and concealing darkness. As a Western, one element that adds to the story is the landscape of prickly cacti and sand, as nature becomes an instrument of physical pain and confrontation. The widescreen black & white cinematography is excellent, utilizing many close-ups including several short but frantic tracking shots, while the editing remains visually elusive.
The film’s major flaw is in being too talky. Where RASHOMON allows the viewer to come to a conclusion, Ritt hammers home the theme with a six-shooter mentality. The result is a monotone narrative that is more boring than interesting, removing the viewer as active participant. And what is the outrage? Is it the violent act? Or the intentional lies told by the witnesses? Or is it the original sin of human nature? The title forces the audience to consider the reality of the act instead of the act of reality; a subtle paradigm shift that diminishes the thematic power.
Overall, THE OUTRAGE is an interesting film that stands on its own as parable but is a pale reflection of the original.
Final Grade: (B-)