Directed by William Witney
Screen Play by John K. Butler & Richard Wormster
Based upon an Esquire magazine story by Todhunter Ballard
Music: R. Dale Butts
Cast: John Derek (Jeff Cosgrave), Joan Evans (Judy Polsen), Jim Davis (Major Linton Cosgrave), Catherine McLeod (Alice Austin), Ben Cooper (The Kid), Slim Pickens (Boone Polsen), Bob Steele (Dude Rankin), Harry Carey, Jr. (Bert), Frank Ferguson (Chad Polsen), James Millican (Cal Prince)
Having been formed from a merger of several small film companies in 1935, Republic Pictures hit the ground running, immediately scoring huge success with their Gene Autry Western series. They followed this success with The Three Mesquiteers the next year and into the 40s with popular series heroes Don Barry, Wild Bill Elliott, Rocky Lane and, especially, Roy Rogers.
Right from the start, Republic was making a cross-section of film types even though their specialty was the Western. I often feel that Republic was at its very best with their B-Western series – their ‘comfort zone’, if you like. Some of their later, bigger-budgeted Westerns seem a little ’overblown’ by comparison with the smaller, tighter-budgeted action fests. Jubilee Trail comes to mind. This was certainly not always the case, however, and one film that I certainly feel has the spirit and the energy of their smaller fry is 1954’s The Outcast.
The fact that the film was directed by action-ace Wild Bill Witney would have had a lot to do with it certainly. The action is captured beautifully in Republic’s Trucolor hues by expert cinematographer Reggie Lanning. The screenplay was co-written by John K. Butler and Richard Wormser from an Esquire Magazine story by Todhunter Ballard. The story concerns the return to Colorado of Jet Cosgrave (John Derek) after years away with the strong intent of reclaiming his rightful heritage, the vast Circle C Ranch, from his uncle Major Cosgrave (Jim Davis) who had forged Jet’s father’s will to gain control.
Into this main thread we find the arrival of the Major’s new intended (played by Catherine McLeod) whose affections gradually turn away from the Major when she sees how vicious and crooked he really is, towards Jet. There is another woman on the scene though who has set her sights firmly on Jet! Essentially this is a ‘range war’ western (I like those) and whilst you can always say ‘this plot is familiar’ where westerns are concerned, it is really all about how that plot plays out and how well it is dealt with.
For me, this is a Western I am always happy to re-watch every few years as it just ‘ticks all the boxes’ for me. The storyline and the attendant action are not contrived but natural and the action which is plentiful is expertly-handled by Witney. The supporting cast reads like a “Who’s Who” of the western – Bob Steele, Harry Carey jr, James Millican, Ben Cooper, Frank Ferguson, Hank Worden… I am again struck by how good John Derek is in the leading role. He made a number of good Westerns for different studios and it struck me that he would have been a terrific Western lead for one studio, along the lines of Audie Murphy (and just as good). Good actor and he handles the gunplay and horseback stuff like a real seasoned westerner.
The Outcast is sadly one of those many fine Republic films that are not available on DVD in the US market. The only option is an Italian release that is on sale on Amazon UK for around $200! Thankfully, the BBC transmitted the movie some years ago in the UK and I recorded it. The print is fine and the Trucolor comes across OK. This is one of those films we need to see released by someone who cares.
If a solid, well-made western made by folks who knew how to do it is your thing then this one is worth seeking out (if you can).
Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry, but is an English lifelong movie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). Main passions are the western and detective/mystery/film noir. Enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.