Jane Russell says “Vote!”

And when Jane brings out the big guns, you’d better listen!

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THE OUTLAW (1943) – It’s a tussle (with Russell) to get through

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The following is my entry in The 4th Annual SEX! (now that I have your attention) Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from June 15-17, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ entries about movies that subtly suggest sex rather than graphically depicting it!

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In the 1940’s, moviegoers went to The Outlaw to see Jane Russell’s much-ballyhooed breasts. What they got was the Brokeback Mountain of its time. Sad to say, there’s more chemistry between the three male leads than there is between Russell (playing sassy Rio) and Jack Buetel (as Billy the Kid).

Although the movie is most remembered as a Howard Hughes production — Russell was a receptionist in the office of Hughes’ chiropodist, and Hughes immediately became obsessed with her bust and the idea of exploiting it — The Outlaw actually has some powerhouse credits behind the camera. These include screenwriters Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht (both uncredited) and Jules Furthman (To Have and Have Not); photographer Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane); and composer Victor Young (The Palm Beach Story). How Hughes could assemble a group like that, with the added insurance of Russell’s cavernous cleavage, and come up with such a blah movie is beyond my comprehension.

The story begins in Lincoln, NM, where Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) is the sheriff. Garrett greets his old friend Doc Holliday (Walter Huston), who is looking for his stolen horse. It turns out that Billy the Kid  has the horse, though he claims to have bought it fair and square. Even though Doc and Billy spend the rest of the movie vying for the horse, they quickly become close friends, much to the consternation of Garrett, who now feels left out of the, er, threesome.

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The movie’s first shot of Russell. Roll in the hay, anyone?

At one point, Billy decides to sleep out in the barn to protect the horse from getting stolen by Doc. He ends up having a scrape with Rio (which obviously inspired the movie’s famous tagline, “How’d you like to tussle with Russell?”). It turns out that Billy had killed Rio’s brother, and she wants vengeance and tries to stab Billy with a pitchfork. But Billy overpowers her, and the movie suggests (rather nonchalantly, IMHO) that Billy rapes her as well.

The next day, Billy gets in a gun battle in town and ends up getting shot by Pat, forcing Doc to shoot two of Pat’s men. Doc takes the wounded Billy to his home to recuperate, and as it turns out, Rio is there, the movie imply that Rio is Doc’s live-in lover. (How did they get that one past the censors?)

Doc asks Rio to take care of Billy while he rides off to escape Pat’s posse. At first, it appears that Rio is going to murder Billy, but instead she nurses him through a month-long coma. Doc has told Rio to keep Billy from getting chills that would kill him, and so — to the gratification of salivating moviegoers — Rio begins to take off her clothes, declaring, “I’ll keep him warm.” Because of course, in a script by three male screenwriters, it’s only natural that Rio would fall in love with the guy who raped her.

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The close-up that gave Russell instant screen immortality.

Eventually Doc returns to find that Rio is in love with Billy, and after that, it’s a contest as to which dreary romantic rivalry will eventually win out — Rio and Billy, Rio and Doc, or (let’s face it) Doc and the embittered Pat.

At this blog, I’ve previously declared what I refer to as “The Adrienne Barbeau Theorem” — that theorem being that big breasts, in and of themselves, are not a compelling enough reason to sit through a terrible movie. The Outlaw proves that theorem in spades. 

‘40s males must have been delighted with the views they got of Russell’s blossoming bosom, but the story that bookends those views is so dull, it doesn’t even make for good movie camp. The publicity stills of Russell reclining among bales of hay (including the image at the top of this review) are far sexier than anything in the movie. Russell’s character is a cipher, and she even more so. One would never have guessed from this movie debut that Russell could be a very good actress and comedienne, she’s so one-note here.

Finally, the males in the movie are a perfect example of why I don’t like Westerns. They aim their guns at each other and talk more about shooting each other than they actually do. You’d think their ammo was macho conversation rather than bullets. What is it about boys and their toys?

 

 

 

 

Jane Russell Friday # 48

Regular readers of this blog know that I used to subject them to “Jane Russell Friday,” wherein every Friday, I would post a different photo of voluptuous 1940’s actress Jane Russell. I gave up on that practice a long while back. However, recently a Facebook friend of mine sent me an ad for a Jane Russell-themed pillow that is actually available for sale online, and I couldn’t resist posting the photo for it here.

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Man, I could get into a pillow fight with this thing all by myself…

Joan Rivers interviews Jane Russell, 1986

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The Internet is just the gift that keeps on giving! I was “surfing” around YouTube today and came across this oddity/rarity/wowity: Joan Rivers interviewing Jane Russell on her short-lived FOX talk show “The Late Show” in 1986.

This interview has two noteworthy highlights (and no, I don’t mean those, for a change). One is that Russell was 65 years old at the time of this interview, and IMHO, she still looked damned spectacular.

Secondly: Regular readers of this blog well know that I have been long been mesmerized by Russell and her stunningly zaftig physique. But if you think I’m obsessed with her, I have nothing on Joan Rivers. Practically every other remark made here by Rivers — with help from another guest, snarky film critic Rex Reed — refers either to Russell’s famous breasts or to the underpinnings required to hold them up. Surprisingly, Russell remains a good sport throughout.

So, for either the quality of the talk or its more aesthetic aspects, enjoy the interview!

My 5 favorite movie actors

Five Stars Blogathon

The following is my contribution to the third annual Five Stars Blogathon, being hosted by the blog Classic Film & TV Cafe on May 16, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ rapturous reviews of their five all-time favorite movie stars!

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Jodie Foster. Whenever I see Jodie Foster on the screen, I see a fiery woman who is very smart and who is frequently frustrated at having to deal with the less intelligent people in life. Since I often have that same viewpoint of suffering fools non-gladly, I cherish its portrayal on the screen.

Furthermore, she’s so intense that (a) you can’t take your eyes off of her, and (b) you believe every role she plays — whether it’s an underage hooker in over her head in Taxi Driver, the single mother of a brilliant but socially inept child in Little Man Tate, or a starry-eyed astronomer in Contact. In short, Foster makes intelligence sexy.

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Jane Russell. Jane Russell’s brash persona was of its time. She’d have never become a star in our sexually-explicit-yet-politically-correct era, where actresses can show off all the skin they want and then punch out any guy who looks at them as a sex object. Jane was what she was — built, brassy, and non-apologetic about all of it.

(One story goes that, on the set of the movie His Kind of Woman [1951], Russell, Vincent Price, and Robert Mitchum were being interviewed by a sob-sister reporter. As it happened, the trio were all sitting inside a room on the ledge of a second-story window, trying to catch a breeze. When the reporter asked how Russell could reconcile her Christianity with her worldly movie roles, Jane countered with, “Can’t I be a Christian and still have big tits?” Mitchum laughed so hard that Price had to grab hold of him to keep him from falling out the window.)

These days, any guy who deigns to admit that anything turns him on is branded a pervert. But I’ll be glad to say it — Russell’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude, combined with her fulsome physique, get me roiled up every time. Try watching the very first shot of her big number in the Bob Hope comedy Son of Paleface (1952) — with the camera panning up her long, glorious legs as va-va-voom music plays on the soundtrack — and see how nonchalant you remain.

Russell was also a decent actress, and even a good comedienne, when given the opportunity in gems such as SOP and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. At the risk of sounding completely sexist, they don’t make ‘em like Russell anymore — so let’s be grateful that some people had a camera pointed at her when they did.

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John Goodman. I first saw John Goodman in David Byrne’s offbeat comedy True Stories (1986). Goodman played Louis Fyne, a shy, overweight cleanroom technician who does a video advertising for a mate. The first thing that struck me was how stereotypical the role seemed. The second thing to strike me was how Goodman quietly transcended the role’s hoariness and really made you feel for this poor schmuck.

Right after that movie, Goodman went balls-out as a nutso escaped convict in the Coen Bros.’ comedy Raising Arizona (1987), and that cemented my love for the guy. After that, he had a huge string of roles where he could seemingly do no wrong — a former high-school quarterback in Everybody’s All-American, a cop who partnered with Al Pacino in Sea of Love, and of course, lovable working-class stiff Dan Connor on the sitcom “Roseanne.” It seemed as though Goodman began all of these roles by planting a tiny seed of truth within his character — so that, no matter how outrageous the situation got, you really believed in and felt for this guy.

Unfortunately, Goodman’s turn from mild-mannered character actor to major star resulted in him starring in some really embarrassing movies — King Ralph, The Babe, and the truly painful The Flintstones. But still, when Goodman is really into a worthy role, he still feels like someone you want to give a big bear-hug and buy him a beer.

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Charles Durning. In his earlier movies, Durning seemed intent on playing the man you love to hate — whether he was a corrupt cop in The Sting (1973), or the owner of a frog-leg fast-food chain who set his sights on Kermit the Frog as his chain’s spokesperson in The Muppet Movie (1979).

Then, in the 1980’s, it was as though a weight lifted off Durning’s shoulders, and he was suddenly doing roles that couldn’t help but endear him to you — the wily senator in the “Sidestep” number of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), the widower won over by Dustin Hoffman’s man-disguised-as-a-woman in Tootsie (1982), and the laconic small-town doctor in Burt Reynolds’ late-80’s sitcom “Evening Shade.” He seemed to bask in his own charm, and the joy spread to his audience. I smiled every time he came on the screen.

But his biggest role, because it was real life, was as a deservedly decorated World War II veteran. For many years, he served as a spokesman on PBS’ Memorial Day concerts, recounting stories of fellow soldiers who never made it back home. With each passing year, you could see the toll it took on Durning to perform this task, but he carried on with it grandly. This culminated in what I think was his finest hour — his Emmy-nominated guest turn on “CSI,” where he played a WWII veteran who was, after several decades, still wracked with guilt over the death of a fellow soldier.

Like John Goodman at his best, Durning had such an authentic Everyman quality that you couldn’t help but be won over by him.

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Stan Laurel. I am a classic-comedy buff, and I mulled over this final choice for ages. There are many comedians from that era who transcended their low-comedy origins and became larger than life — Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Groucho Marx, and W.C. Fields, to name a few. I picked Stan Laurel out of this group because he developed such an endearing characterization in partnership with Oliver Hardy, you felt you could believe in simple-but-charming Stanley even if Ollie wasn’t there with him.

(Witness the minute or so at the end of the Laurel & Hardy comedy The Flying Deuces [1939], where Stanley is a lonely vagabond traversing the countryside. It’s just enough of a solo turn that you wish he could have done an entire movie of that character by himself.)

Laurel started out in vaudeville with Charlie Chaplin, and his early movie work consisted of Chaplin-like gags minus Chaplin’s plausibility or heart. When Laurel was first teamed with Hardy, he was hesitant about it, because he had established himself as a writer-director and preferred to work behind the camera. But then he created the character that endeared him to generations of movie fans.

Stanley’s likable dumbness is probably his saving grace as well. When Ollie lords it over him, he seems to convince himself that it’s his friend’s way of looking out for him. And if you doubt Laurel’s depth of performance, watch the final 10 minutes of the L&H comedy A Chump at Oxford (1940), where he becomes a completely different person: a condescending British genius who turns the tables on Ollie and makes him feel like the dummy for a change.

Laurel & Hardy buffs will tell you there’s a reason they continue watching those movies long after they’ve memorized the gags. It’s that extra touch of movie magic, much of it provided by Laurel as the uncredited writer-director-editor of those movies. What’s not to love?