Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) meets the notorious Billy the Kid (Jack Beutel), who has stolen his horse. Doc's old friend Pat Garrett, now a sheriff, wants to arrest the Kid for murder, but Doc helps his young friend flee to a hideout, where Billy meets Rio (Jane Russell), a beautiful young woman who soon finds herself falling in love with him. As Doc and Billy try to evade the law, they run into a series of adventures involving Indians and gunfights, culminating in a fierce showdown. Under the control of director/ producer Howard Hughes, THE OUTLAW became both a classic Western and a tribute to the charms of its leading lady, 19-year-old Jane Russell, whose cleavage was featured prominently in the film's publicity. As a result, THE OUTLAW became one of the most controversial films of the 1940s, leading to a protracted battle with censors that only added to the film's allure. The story of Pat Garrett, Doc Holliday, and Billy the Kid sharply veers from historical reality but the result is a fun and engaging classic that stands out from other Westerns of the era.
Theatrical release: February, 1943 (San Francisco). Not released theatrically in New York City until September 1947.
Available to buy in the UK.
Filming began on THE OUTLAW in 1940 with Howard Hawks as director and Howard Hughes as producer. After bickering for two weeks, Hawks left the project to begin work on SERGEANT YORK and Hughes took over as director.
THE OUTLAW was Jane Russell's film debut, begun when she was only 19. She was cast after a nationwide talent search by director/ producer Hughes.
Because of the racy implications of much of THE OUTLAW (and the excessive attention given to star Jane Russell's cleavage), Howard Hughes had a series of battles with the censors of the Hayes Office. The film was completed in 1941 but not publicly released until 1943, for only six weeks. The movie was rereleased in 1946 and 1950, not making it to New York City until 1947. A theater manager in one city was even arrested for exhibiting smut, but in the end the censorship battles (often drummed up by Hughes) only increased public curiosity over the film and it became a big box-office success.
Due to various cuts made in the film, running times varied from as short as 95 minutes to as long as 121 minutes. The longest existing cut known today is 117 minutes.
Hughes changed the title to THE OUTLAW from his original, "Billy the Kid," because of a movie of that title produced by MGM in 1941.
Star Jack Beutel had little luck finding work in Hollywood after this role. Director Howard Hawks wanted him for the role played by Montgomery Clift in his film RED RIVER but Beutel was under contract to Howard Hughes, who refused to release him.
Jane Russell later said that director Hughes would order retakes of her scenes, merely in order to watch his starlet over again for his own amusement. During filming she wore a brassiere designed by Hughes himself.
THE OUTLAW was originally to have been released by 20th Century Fox, but the movie's censorship problems caused that deal to collapse. The picture was eventually released by RKO Radio Pictures, which was later purchased and managed by Howard Hughes.
Despite Hughes' interest in Jane Russell's talents, he did not officially meet her until three months after he cast her in the film.
Production dragged on for nine months. Most of the actors became impatient, except for Walter Huston, who was paid by the week.