Release year: 1943
Director: Howard Hughes
Screenwriter: Jules Furthman
Starring: Jack Buetel, Jane Russell, Thomas Mitchell, Walter Huston, Mimi Aguglia, Joe Sawyer, Gene Rizzi, Bobby Callahan
Old friends Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) and Doc Holliday (Walter Houston) fall out when Doc starts an unlikely friendship with gunslinger Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel). But the two new friends quarrel as well as Billy finds it difficult to stay away from Doc’s things, not at least his beautiful girl Rio (Jane Russell).
The second and last movie directed by Howard Hughes (the other is Hell’s Angels from 1930) is today perhaps most famous for the controversy surrounding its release where it was held back for five years due to Jane Russell’s bosom, which the Hollywood Production Code Administration found to be too prominently on display. There is no denying that Russell, here in her dëbut role, is alluring and after watching the movie it should be no surprise why the movie led to her instantly becoming a sex symbol, but the idea of the movie being a ‘sex western’ or offensive seems ridiculus with today’s eyes, which will see the movie as quite innocent. However, Russell is good and she is gorgeous and incredibly hard to look away from as she steals your attention everytime she is on screen and gives an engaging and passionate performance. Whenever she is off screen the movie seems to lose a lot of its charm and with its two hours running time seems overlong and dull. Buetel (Rose of Cimarron, 1952), Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948) and especially Mitchell (Stagecoach, 1939) do a good job but isn’t given much to work with, with the movie seemingly trying to be both a straight western as well as a love triangle without succeeding much with either of the two. To make matters worse the soundtrack is a mix of Tchaikovsky and weird cartoonish sound effects that leaves you confused about what Hughes was trying to do with the film. Only really working when the sultry Russell is on screen which, despite being quite often, never seems to be often enough.
Howard Hughes found the camera didn’t do justice to Jane Russell’s bosom and used his engineering skills to create an underwire bra to emphasize them. Russell has later told in her 1988 autobiography that she never wore the bra in the movie. It hurt so much that she only had it on for a few minutes before she secretly changed into her own bra with tightened shoulder straps and stuffed with tissues. Hughes never knew the difference.
Picture copyright: RKO