"I made the introduction of Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday on location, and then Hughes messed up the rest." - Howard Hawks on The Outlaw
The Outlaw (1943) Full Movie
The Outlaw - 1943 (Original Poster)
Released: February 5, 1943 Running time 116 minutes
Of all the movies Howard Hawks directed over his long career, “Scarface” was his favorite. Working with Howard Hughes for the first time, Hawks was given the freedom to put his unique vision on film without restrictions or interference.
Nine years later, when the two Howards came together to make “The Outlaw” much had changed.
The obsessive-compulsive disorder that would come to dominate the later years of Howard Hughes had already begun to alter his sense of reality. Various sources report he became fixated on the size of peas at about this time; going so far as to designing a special fork to sort them by size before eating them.
Hawks’ hopes of obtaining any measure of artistic freedom while working for Hughes on this project were doomed by this personality change.
Director: Howard Hughes and Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Producer: Howard Hughes
Screenplay: Jules Furthman, Uncredited: Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht
Music: Victor Young (uncredited)
Cinematography: Gregg Toland and Lucien Ballard (uncredited)
Editor: Wallace Grissell
Set Decoration: Perry Ferguson
Howard Hughes Productions
In the beginning, though, things got off to a promising start.
Hawks and Hughes agreed to tell a fanciful tale involving Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Pat Garrett, and a fictitious girl, Rio, who captures Billy’s heart.
Hawks brought in trusted screenwriter Jules Furthman to write the screenplay and turned his attention to casting.
Since he and Hughes agreed that Billy and Rio would be played by unknowns, Hawks set up a space at Howard Hughes’ offices at 7000 Romaine in Hollywood and began looking at dozens of young hopefuls. When he made his final choice, he called 23-year old Jack Buetel and 19-year old Jane Russell and asked them to meet him at his office.
“Well, you two kids have the parts,” he told them. Jane Russell later recalled that Hawks was “so calm and quiet, but his eyes were twinkling, bright blue.”
On their way out of the building, the two excited actors noticed a tall, thin man leaning on a wall in the hallway. He looked them over and then disappeared into Howard Hawks’ office without saying a word. That man was Howard Hughes. Neither youngster then realized what an impact he would later have on both of their lives.
Although Hughes agreed with his director’s casting decisions, he soon became disgruntled with the early work Hawks filmed in Arizona. Hughes started nitpicking about location shots, costumes, and the personality of Billy the Kid.
Film historians disagree about how Hawks ended up leaving the film; some say he was fired, some say he quit. All agree that it was the decision was mutual. Either way, two weeks into production he met with Buetel and Russell to inform them that he was off the picture and reassure them that he wanted to work with both of them again someday and he meant it.
Howard Hughes took over directing the picture and made life miserable for every one on the set. His inexperience as a director drove the old pros crazy and confused the two newcomers.
Hughes quickly discarded the western outfits that Hawks had picked. He dressed Buetel in tight leather and designed a special cantilevered bra to emphasize Russell’s bust. The actress has since claimed that she never wore the contraption during filming but that didn’t stop Hughes from trying to exploit her form. He instructed cameraman Greg Toland to devise shots that would allow viewers to stare down her cleavage and used her voluptuous 38D-24-36 figure as a key component of the movie’s advertising campaign.
This obsessive sexploitation led to numerous problems with national and state censors. Although Hughes completed filming in the spring of 1941, the film was not released until February 5, 1943. Due to censorship issues it was quickly withdrawn and not released again until 1946.
Despite his limitations as a director, Hughes had the foresight to sign the two young actors that Howard Hawks discovered to seven year contracts. Jane Russell became a popular World War II pinup girl during this period. She would later work with Hawks in “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.”
Except for publicity tours for “The Outlaw,” James Buetel virtually disappeared.
In 1946, when Howard Hawks was casting “Red River,” he asked Hughes if he could borrow Buetel to play the part of Matt Garth opposite John Wayne. He received the same response given to any producer or director who asked about using James Buetel in a movie, “Buetel is not available.” James Buetel would not appear in another film while under contract to Howard Hughes. Although he did receive some television work in the 1950s after his contract had expired, his early potential withered on the vine. Why Hughes smothered James Buetel’s movie career remains a Hollywood mystery.
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.