Until a couple of weeks ago, I was one of those heard but not seen people. Now I’m not, and I’m poorer for it. Not only did I waste 116 minutes of my life watching this turkey, but it’s costing me another 20 minutes to write this post.
So how bad is it? So bad I couldn’t bear to watch it in one, or even two, sittings. It eventually took four, spread out over a week and a half, before I finally reached the end.
The first horrible thing about it, the thing that smacks you in the face in the first few minutes and never lets up, is the heavy-handed soundtrack. Every detail of the action, every raised eyebrow and every twitch of the finger, is trumpeted by the music. There’s even a coronet making laughing sounds (ala a Three Stooges short) every time we’re supposed to be amused. This film could be played on the radio and you wouldn’t miss a thing, except the thing it’s most famous for - Jane Russell’s you-know-whats.
Which brings up the film’s second major flaw, the casting. Walter Huston is actually pretty good as Doc Holliday, but everyone else is a joke. Thomas Mitchell, who would make a fine Bozo the Clown, makes a ridiculous Pat Garrett. And Jack Buetel as Billy the Kid? They’d have been better off casting Bugs Bunny. Buetel poses and slouches and mumbles and looks moody, with no redeeming entertainment value. And finally, Jane Russell, who gets top billing, is there only because of her bod. Her range of expression goes all the way from sullen to pouting and back again. (You can tell she’s pouting when she thrusts out her lower lip.)
And if you can stand the music and the cast long enough, you’ll be appalled by the story. Or lack thereof. Near as I could tell, it boils down to this: Pat and Doc are old friends. Doc meets Billy and they become friendly rivals. Pat wants to arrest Billy but Doc objects. Eventually Doc winds up dead. Billy rides away and Pat’s sad. THE END.
But wait. What about Jane Russell? What’s she doing there? Not a damn thing. She has no part in the story. She’s just there for the men to ignore, to pout about it, and to occasionally thrust her you-know-whats in front of the camera.
A lot of folks on the Internet talk about this film depicting a homoerotic triangle between Pat, Doc and Billy. I couldn’t see it, and figured they must be imagining it - until near the end, when Doc and Billy do everything but kiss, and Pat nearly wets his pants with jealousy. Yep, those Internet folks are right.
I’m thinking Howard Hughes was mighty dang lucky this movie was yanked out of theaters for being too racy in 1943. Otherwise, it would have passed quietly into well-deserved obscurity, instead of being a box office bonanza when it was re-released in 1946.
Bottom Line: I want my 116 minutes back. I’ll suffer the loss of this 20 minutes of typing, because I discovered something I like about his movie: It’s fun to loathe.
For less Overhyped Films, see this week's lineup at SWEET FREEDOM.
Mitchell, Huston, you-know-whats, Buetel.