Outrage, The: Martin Ritt’s Remake of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Starring Paul Newman

 Paul Newman reteamed with his favorite director Martin Ritt (“Hud”) in Outrage, an unsuccessful American screen version of the landmark Akira Kurosawa film, “Rashomon” (See My review). 

 

Rod Steiger had played the role of the bandit-rapist on Broadway, with Claire Bloom (the n his wife).  Newman took over the Steiger part for the film, with Claire Bloom in her original role and Laurence Harvey as her husband. 

 

Ritt’s version, unlike either the original Japanese film (based on a play), which was set in ancient Japan, relocated the story to the late 19th century West.  Predictably, critical response was mixed-to-negative.  The picture also was criticized for the changing the site to a Western milieu, which was not suitable.

 

Newman went to Mexico to research the part, studying the language and manners and customs of the inhabitants.  He and Ritt worked carefully on the movie, but Newman’s overwrought performance is flawed, relying too heavily on accent and mannerisms that ultimately detract from the character and the poignant tale. 

 

Like the Japanese tale, “Outrage” relates a murder and a rape, which a number of people claim to have witnessed.  In the first scene, a clergyman (William Shatner), a prospector (Howard Da Silva), and a confidence man (Edward G. Robinson) discuss at Western railway depot the trial of Juan Carrasco (Paul Newman), a notorious outlaw.  Carrasco has been sentenced to death for murdering a traveler (Laurence Harvey) and raping his wife (Claire Bloom). 

 

But the trial had proven strangely ambiguous, because three witnesses to the crime offered three different versions of what actually happened.  Carrasco claims that Carrasco had tied up the husband, raped the wife, then killed the husband in a duel.  The wife maintains that Carrasco had raped her and fled; then, enraged, she had killed her husband when he had accused her of encouraging her assailant.  In contrast, an elderly Native American (Paul Fix) declares that he found the husband dying (with a knife in his chest) and that the husband told him he had stabbed himself out of shame.

 

After further discussion, the three men at the depot discover an abandoned baby, and the con man tries to steal the gold found on the child.   It turns out that the prospector who had witnessed the crime didn’t testify because he had purloined the jewel-encrusted dagger from the dying traveler.  According to the prospector, Carrasco was remorseful after the rape and begged the wife to leave with him.  The wife then goaded her husband and Carrasco into a fight, during which the husband had accidentally fallen on the dagger. The prospector offers to raise the abandoned child even though he has other children. 

 

In the end, the clergyman’s faith in humanity, shaken by the trial, is reaffirmed in the face of this offer.  Despite a careful examination of truth’s many facets and implications, the story does not offer a clear resolution or emotional catharsis, which frustrated American viewers, causing the film’s commercial failure.