Monday, September 7, 2020

The Outsider

There's been a decided shift over the decades with how Indigenous peoples have been depicted in Hollywood. The days of brownface have since been eradicated (for the most part) in favor of actually casting Indigenous actors in roles beyond the bloodthirsty savage stereotype. Still, there's a strange fascination in seeing earlier titles.

Now Delbert Mann's The Outsider has Tony Curtis as Iwo Jima flag raiser Ira Hayes. Having a Hungarian-American Jew from the Bronx play a Pima Native American wouldn't fly today (the only real similarity both men have is that they served in World War II, albeit different branches) but that's not to disregard Curtis' work here, far from it. Being more of a physical actor (as in more aware of body language), he conveys the discomfort Ira experiences from being in the public eye.

Speaking of which, The Outsider provides more of a depiction of how one buckles under the pressure from being put on a pedestal. Instead of offering him help as he slips into alcoholism, those that Ira encounters look down on him for not being the example of an American hero he should be. How much of that is true is hard to say but one thing's certain: had Hayes gotten help, he probably would've lived longer than 32.

Mann however can't quite break free from his television past, and it shows from time to time in The Outsider. Most of the actors feel confined in their actions and deliveries, almost as if they weren't allowed to be relaxed. It's jarring in comparison to Marty's easy nature.

The Outsider is far from great but Curtis' performance makes it bearable. Being made before knowledge of PTSD was better known, it probably explains the film's ham-fisted approach on the matter. Still, it's not a complete slog.

My Rating: ***1/2

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