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Film Club: The Outrage (Ritt, 1964)

The OutrageThis February’s Akira Kurosawa film club title is The Outrage (1964), the Martin Ritt directed remake of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, which we watched last month.

Calling The Outrage a remake of Rashomon in fact simplifies the things somewhat. Kurosawa’s 1950 film was adapted into a Broadway play in 1959 by Fay Kanin and Michael Kanin. Simply titled Rashomon, it claimed to be using Akutagawa’s original stories as its source, but according to Martinez (47) the work is really adapted from Kurosawa. On a personal note, I have not read the play, but have ordered it: it is available fairly cheap from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and The Book Depository, among other places.

The play was turned into two TV films, first in the US in 1960 with Sidney Lumet directing, and then again in the UK in 1961 with Rudolph Cartier helming the production. Michael Kanin was then hired to work on the screenplay for a feature film, which would become The Outrage, and which recognizes Kurosawa’s version, although fails to credit Kurosawa’s co-author Shinobu Hashimoto.

The Outrage transports the events of Rashomon to the US-Mexican border and into the old west setting. Apart from this change of milieu, the screenplay is fairly faithful to Kurosawa’s original film, and doesn’t add much new. Unfortunately, the film does suffer from somewhat lower production values throughout, and is as a result quite uneven, especially when it comes to acting. Aesthetically, it could be said that the film resembles more European cinema than Hollywood of its time.

The Outrage is available in region 1 DVD from Amazon.com, and in region 2 from Amazon.co.uk, among other places. Good background reading for the film is the previously mentioned book by Martinez, which concentrates on remakes of Kurosawa’s films, and therefore also discusses The Outrage.

Next month, we will continue with the Kurosawa chronology, and will be watching The Idiot, Kurosawa’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novel of the same name. For its availability, see Kurosawa DVDs.


Discussion

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Vili Maunula

Just a word of warning: The Book Depository link that I gave earlier for the play Rashomon by Fay and Michael Kanin appears to have been false. I received my packet today, but it turns out that they had mixed up something and what I actually got was Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Which is a great play, of course, but not what I ordered. Looking at the original link now, it seems that it’s actually Stoppard’s play which is pictured on the product page, although all the other details are about Rashomon.

I have changed the link now to another edition that The Book Depository has for Rashomon. I hope that it works better, and I’m terribly sorry if someone else ordered from The Book Depository and ends up not getting what they wanted.

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Vili Maunula

The Book Depository reminded me again why I buy most of my books through them: some three hours after I first contacted them, they have given me a refund, apologised for the trouble, and told me to keep Rosencrantz, which I can now give to someone as a gift, since I already have a copy or two lying around. 🙂

I’ll try the other edition of the Rashomon play now. Fingers crossed!

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Longstone

I picked up a copy of The Outrage from amazon for just over ÂŁ1 ( someone split a box set I guess ) and having just watched Tampopo , I was in a ” western ” sort of mood so gave it a look.
I pretty much agree totally with Vili’s summary above. I was surprised how close it stuck to Kurosawa’s version for a Hollywood remake but yes the acting didn’t seem particularly good.
I guess it’s a little unfair but William Shatner seemed poor , the problem is his voice and face are so stuck in my head as Kirk from endless childhood T.V. repeats of Star Trek, I found it impossible to stop thinking this was some sort of Star Trek time slip story. Plus I’ve heard his dodgy L.P. a few times where he murders some sixties covers and acts out some Shakespeare to music and this kept reminding me of that .. ha ha
I suspect the film wouldn’t have gone down well with western fans when it was released as it’s more of a dialogue piece that does come across more like a stage play with just a handful of sets and not too much action . I certainly see the suggestion that the film seems more European than Hollywood with the minimal sets and extended dialogs.

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Ugetsu

I got a copy via Amazon too, but it cost me 9 euro. It looks like it is part of a box set that was split up. I haven’t had time to watch it yet, but I’m intrigued already. I wonder if it was based more on the later stage version than the original film?

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Amnesty11

So interesting to me about how Television and Film were so smitten with the Western for about a decade. Of course I grew up in that time period and so fondly remember the “flavor” of Western as being De rigueur: Bonanza, Big Valley (my first crush was on Nick Barkley!), High Chaparral, Matt Dillon, Rawhide, all the Clint Eastwood movies I guess the crime dramas now take the place of that theme.

But what was it about Westerns that made them so enjoyable? Was it the simplicity? The real thrust of man vs. nature (man tames wilderness)? And of course, always, man vs. man – (sherrif vs. bad guy). In Outrage, I found that the Western theme felt amazingly dated and forced. In Rashoman, even though also a “period piece” it felt believable. It transported me to that time period and I got lost in it. In Outrage, I felt uber-aware that it was a certain theme and very forced.

I guess like Longstone said, it’s partly the acting. William Shatner is, well, William Shatner. Same bad acting in every single thing he does. (This is not to say that good old Will isn’t adored by me and countless thousands for that very reason…) And Paul Newman. Well, bad acting? I just think terribly cast is all. Mr. Newman did a pretty good job, and once I got over the ice blue eyes on a grimy south of the border charachter, I guess I relaxed into it. But it bugged me. I guess it’s how I always feel when a white person is all made up to play a person of color – especially back in the day. It’s all a matter of cultural and social norms of the day, but still – it really feels so off.

As far as the film making goes, it felt like a television show. It didn’t have the richness, tone, depth of the original to me. I think partly it was the Western theme, which felt cheesy and set the tone for the production.

Oddly, I was sitting in my den a few days after viewing it and noticed a “People Magazine” posthumous tribute to Paul Newman. I must have picked it up a few years back. Flipping through the mag with dozens and dozens of pics of the man — it was interesting to note that some of his most panned films had him in period costuming. I think he played Paul Newman better than he every played any “method” character.

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Vili Maunula

For some reason, my brain never made the link of connecting William Shatner of The Outrage to the William Shatner of Star Trek. Then again, I must have seen something like three or four full Star Trek episodes in my life, and maybe one or two of the films, so I’m not very familiar with the whole thing.

Nevertheless, William Shatner in The Outrage was terribly wooden also to me, even if I didn’t realise who he was. And as I mentioned in the introduction, I thought that the acting throughout the film was quite uneven. For instance, I can’t make up my mind if I like or dislike Paul Newman as the bandit — some parts are really good, others cringeworthy. But I do agree with Amnesty that the problem seems to be mainly with the script and not Newman.

My least favourite character and performance is Claire Bloom as the southern lady. She’s like from a completely different film than the others, and a little bit all over the place. Again, knowing how Bloom could act when given the opportunity, I wouldn’t necessarily blame her for the inconsistencies.

Speaking of inconsistencies, there is also the direction. There are some clever shots in the film, but somehow the direction feels a little directionless, and fails to maintain the kind of fluidity that Rashomon has.

Now, I wouldn’t say that The Outrage is a bad film, but it seems a little bit like a wasted opportunity. Unlike The Magnificent Seven, it never quite seems to own its source material. The result is, like Amnesty said, a little TV-like. Speaking of which, it would be interesting to see the TV adaptations of the play that preceded the feature film.

I still haven’t gotten my copy of the play, by the way. But to answer Ugetsu’s question: while the film is (to my understanding) quite a direct adaptation of the play, this really is just Rashomon with a new setting (and poorer execution). That’s perhaps the main problem with The Outrage: it doesn’t build on the original, and mainly just copies it.

I think that only the prospector’s second story is substantially different from what its counterpart (the woodcutter’s second story) was in Rashomon. It sheds quite a bit more light to the husband-wife relationship, and in doing so changes our perception of the rape (or seduction).

What do you think, do these changes have any actual impact on the overall theme and story? In what way do they alter our relationship with the female character? Do we perceive her as stronger or weaker than her Japanese counterpart?

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Amnesty11

I’m traveling right now (karate tournament with my son) — I want to watch Outrage again (or at least skim) before I respond. Great questions!

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Ugetsu

I’ve just watched it… will think a bit more about it before starting up a thread or two on it, but my initial thoughts are to agree very much with Vili and Amnesty.

I think the acting is largely awful – and knowing as we do the actors are pretty good, you have to blame the script/direction. But the scriptwriters (a husband and wife team) were pretty experienced and the director made some very good films before and after The Outrage. Claire Bloom made me appreciate just how very good Michiko Kyo was in the original (interestingly, an ethnic Japanese actress was cast in the original TV play which seems to have been the basis for The Outrage). Blooms performance was all over the place and Newman and Shatner were a bit embarrassing I thought. Laurence Harvey was the only one I think who came out of it with a modicum of credit.

I think there were times that the film almost took off for me – the scene of the wifes attempt to drown herself in the river, and the husbands suicide were very well done, making me wonder why Ritt couldn’t replicate it elsewhere… after all, there was a perfect template to follow. Much of it had a feeling of a first draft which hadn’t really been thought through, which it couldn’t be as it was (at least) the third version according to imdb (there were two TV versions of Rashomon, one BBC, one American, both by the same scriptwriters). And one was directed by Sidney Lumet! Such a shame those two versions don’t seem to be available. What I found striking was that some very theatrical language was kept in the film – we are regularly ‘told’ things which were just shown in Kurosawa’s version. It seems very clumsy of the film makers to do this – perhaps they just didn’t trust the audience to understand?

The most obvious failure of the film is that it seemed reluctant to accept the ambiguity at the heart of the original film (and the original short story) in essentially telling us that the final version was indeed the truth – this deflated the whole ending for me. It made it all seem quite trite and simplistic. The choice of a western setting also seemed to me to be very obvious, and took away the universality of the original. The almost fairytale setting of the original made it seem more real for me in an odd sort of way, as it allowed for a multiplicity of interpretations – unlike the specific setting of The Outrage.

So far as I know the only detailed comparison of the two films are in Martinez. I think her analysis is very good, but she seems pretty puzzled (as am I) as to what on earth they were trying to say with the film. Apparently, both screenwriters and director had a track record of being liberals and writing strong female led stories, but you wouldn’t guess this from the film.

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Vili Maunula

Ugetsu: there were two TV versions of Rashomon, one BBC, one American, both by the same scriptwriters

Do you know if the Kanins were actually involved with those productions? My understanding is that while the two TV versions were based on the play, the Kanins themselves were not involved? But I’m not sure where I got that idea.

Ugetsu: The most obvious failure of the film is that it seemed reluctant to accept the ambiguity at the heart of the original film (and the original short story) in essentially telling us that the final version was indeed the truth – this deflated the whole ending for me.

What do you think the film does differently from Rashomon to give us this feeling of less ambiguity? Also my reaction with The Outrage was that the final version of the story seems like the intended truth, yet I’m not sure why I get that feeling. Is it because the prospector’s second story is longer than the woodcutter’s and includes details that the prospector would have no reason to falsify? Or is it simply because we have come to expect Rashomon to be unsolvable after having been told by so many critics that it is?

Ugetsu: So far as I know the only detailed comparison of the two films are in Martinez

As your link points to the announcement of the publication, I’ll just add a link to my review as well, in case someone is interested. 🙂 It’s a great book.

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Ugetsu

Vili

Do you know if the Kanins were actually involved with those productions? My understanding is that while the two TV versions were based on the play, the Kanins themselves were not involved?

imdb lists the Kanins as responsible for the adaption (not crediting Kurosawa or Hashimoto) in the BBC TV version, while they are credited as authors of the play in the US version. Since it seems that in at least one of those versions one or more ethnic Japanese were cast, I assume these versions don’t have the same setting as The Outrage. It would seem therefore that the Kanins had more than one attempt at the same material.

What do you think the film does differently from Rashomon to give us this feeling of less ambiguity? Also my reaction with The Outrage was that the final version of the story seems like the intended truth, yet I’m not sure why I get that feeling. Is it because the prospector’s second story is longer than the woodcutter’s and includes details that the prospector would have no reason to falsify? Or is it simply because we have come to expect Rashomon to be unsolvable after having been told by so many critics that it is?

I don’t have time to go through a comparison of the two again, but my initial reaction was the same as Martinez, page 52:

‘In fact, when the prospector tells us his version and, pushed by the conman, also admits that he stole the dagger (something we never know for sure about the woodcutter) because he has so many children and so little money, we believe him to be basically an honest man. His version, in which the woman forces the men to fight by insulting them both, is now marked otu as the final, true version – we know what happened now, despite the preacher’s calm acceptance that we can’t ever know truth’.

From memory, the key differences at the end are:

1. We are told more quickly that the prospector lied about the dagger, and the other characters seem to consider this to be a blot on his character, not specifically something that casts doubt on his version of events. With the Woodcutter, his (possible) guilt in stealing the dagger is used by the Commoner to implicitly cast doubt on the veracity of his whole story.

2. The Preacher at the end seems to consider the facts of the case to be closed, unlike the Rashomon priest, who seemed just as disturbed by the Woodcutters account as the others. There seems a subtle change whereby in the end the Woodcutter saves the priests faith in humanity by carrying out an act of goodness, whereas the Prospector comes clean to add veracity to his account, to prove he is the most honest of all the witnesses.

As Martinez points out, this means the Outrage firmly casts the blame for the events in the wood on the Wife, ensuring that of the three stereotypes (Mexican Bandit, effete Southern Gentleman, manipulative Southern Belle/White Trash), that of the hysterical, manipulative southern one is the one confirmed as ‘true’, opening the film to a far more misogynistic interpretation than Rashomon (Martinez takes issue with Mellens feminist criticism of the character of the Wife in Rashomon).

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Vili Maunula

Ugetsu: imdb lists the Kanins as responsible for the adaption (not crediting Kurosawa or Hashimoto) in the BBC TV version, while they are credited as authors of the play in the US version. Since it seems that in at least one of those versions one or more ethnic Japanese were cast, I assume these versions don’t have the same setting as The Outrage. It would seem therefore that the Kanins had more than one attempt at the same material.

I am usually a little sceptical about IMDb’s listings, especially for old TV films, as the data is often quite unreliable. It could be that their work was simply directly adapted from Broadway. Or, it could be that the also worked on one or both of the TV versions. I don’t know. In any case, The Outrage is certainly another adaptation, based on the earlier play (and Kurosawa, and Akutagawa), but rewritten. Note also that only Michael Kanin actually gets the screenwriting credit for The Outrage.

I actually received the Kanins’ play Rashomon yesterday, and while I have not had the time to read it yet, it does take place in medieval Japan. Considering that the TV films were still called Rashomon, the assumption that their setting was not the same as The Outrage‘s sounds very probable to me.

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lawless

Coming here late, as I watched the movie a month or more ago but didn’t post. My reaction to the movie wasn’t as negative as everyone else’s. Those of you who know me will probably not be surprised about that.

Yes, some of the acting was wooden, though I liked Paul Newman better than everyone else did; I spent the movie thinking he must not have played the bandit because the bandit didn’t look like him, especially the eyes. Then I found out he was the bandit and figured he must have been wearing contact lenses.

The Outrage clearly is not the masterpiece Rashomon is, and the edges have been shaved off the differences in the stories, although I don’t agree that it unequivocally points to the final version as being the truth. I think that’s the result of the combination of the different versions being less dissimilar and its position as the final version.

But it’s well-filmed and, other than the problems with the reduction of ambiguity, has what I consider a decent script in the sense of believable and not laughable dialog. I don’t care for the pat ending with the preacher either, but I also don’t like Roshomon’s ending. I think it undermines the tone set by the movie. Mostly, though, I like it for making the wife a more believable character. Even allowing for cultural differences, I don’t find the wife in Rashomon very believable. In fact, I find all the characters in Rashomon somewhat enigmatic because we don’t learn any of their backstory. But this discussion ties in better with some of the other threads, so I’ll expand on it there

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Greasy Rat

The ending of Rashomon was intended to have a cloud cover the sun, I heard. But then after waiting the cloud never came, so the crew was like, “Screw it, we’ll go with that.”

“Yes, some of the acting was wooden, though I liked Paul Newman better than everyone else did; I spent the movie thinking he must not have played the bandit because the bandit didn’t look like him, especially the eyes. Then I found out he was the bandit and figured he must have been wearing contact lenses.”

From what I’ve seen, he did seem to take Toshiro Mifune’s performance as Tajomaru and directly translate it a bit.

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