This is the first screen adaptation I’ve seen of Bret Harte’s classic Western story, though I’ve considered translating it to cinema myself for many years. It was originally going to be one of the 12 Westerns but I couldn’t crack how to do the story, even pondering if it might translate into a tragic musical at one point. As recently as this past year, I re-explored the possibilities of making a new adaptation so it’s fascinating to see how they handled the material in this 1952 attempt.

For the most part, the results are successful. The filmmakers add a crime element to the plot, spicing it up with more conflict and lessening the bleak outlook of Harte’s tale. After the characters are established, the film settles into a one-location suspense drama. Newman and company use the space well, building tension as the outcasts scrounge for food, heat, and eventually must face off against a greater threat. Some of the screenplay’s devices (the gun in the fireplace, etc.) work very well and the climactic action scene is one to remember. I realized halfway through that sequence that there was no music, no grand score as their usually is at heightened moments in these 50s Westerns. The minimal approach, only dialog and sound effects, makes the scene much more impactful.

This viewing of course re-ignites my imagination of what I might do with an OUTCASTS adaptation. And also makes me curious how the others turned out too.

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