Andre de Toth is probably best known as the one-eyed director who made one of the first 3D movies from a big studio, “House Of Wax”, though he was responsible for a string of Westerns and thrillers that continue to be watchable to this day.

De Toth’s “Day Of The Outlaw” is a nicely paced film that somehow slipped through the cracks when it was released in 1959, despite having a fine cast that included Robert Ryan and Burl Ives and a moody script from Philip Yordan that placed it more in the realm of psychological Westerns.

This is one of the few Westerns set in a snow-bound town, with the weather playing a key element in the story. Ryan is now best remembered for his supporting roles in some of the biggest Westerns and war movies made in the 1960s, including “The Professionals” and “The Dirty Dozen”, and here he’s the leading man but not quite the man with the white hat.

Blaise Starrett (Ryan) rides into a town that he helped set up to face off with farmer Hal Crane (Alan Marshal) over the latter’s plans to fence off the open range. Starrett’s antagonism to the farmer may not be as simple as a matter of protecting his way of life – he had an affair with Crane’s wife Helen (Tina Louise) in the past and still seems to carry a torch for her.

Things build up to the inevitable shoot-out between Starrett and Crane but before any guns can be drawn, the town is taken over by Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives) and his band of murderous outlaws, who are on the run from the army after having stolen $40,000. Bruhn, who is wounded, forces the local veterinarian to operate on him and holes up in the town to rest.

As the weather takes a turn for the worse and Bruhn’s men get restless over his orders not to touch liquor or any of town’s women, Starrett claims he can lead them over the nearby mountains so that they can escape the troops pursuing them.

“Day Of The Outlaw” has its share of Western stereotypes – Bruhn, who seems to care little for the men in his gang, treating them with contempt because of their baser instincts; fresh-faced gang member Gene (played by singer Ricky Nelson’s older brother David) who goes out of his way to protect a young woman and her brother; the scared residents of the town who aren’t willing to stand up to the outlaws. 

But De Toth’s skilful direction, Russell Harlan’s beautiful black-and-white cinematography, the taut script and the snow-bound setting – with many scenes filmed on location in winter, horses and men struggling against the force of nature – help keep things moving at a cracking pace.

Recommended for all fans of Robert Ryan and psychological Westerns.

For more on the films of Andre de Toth, go here.

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