The Crank: ‘The Last Outlaw’ Program Notes (10/25/12 Screening)

The Crank is a graduate student organization that runs weekly screenings of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s extensive holdings. The Crank shows films that either are not widely available on video or are such spectacular specimens of nitrate and celluloid that merely to see them on a television set would be a crime both to the student of film and to the canon of film history.

On the surface, William Christy Cabanne’s The Last Outlaw is another in a long series of B-Westerns. One need not dig deeply, however, to realize its significance. Cabanne’s film triumphs over B-movie mundanity thanks to a unique combination of its roots in silent films, along with its unique post-Western setting. Harry Carey stars as Dean Payton, a former outlaw who has just been released from prison after 25 years. Once a bank robber, Payton finds himself to be a relic of the Old West. He soon finds, though, that there are others like him—notably his former nemesis, Cal Yates. With Yates now demoted from Sheriff, new scientific methods of crime solving have been put in place. Along with Chuck Wilson (Hoot Gibson), the two cowboys find that their old ways still have some use when it becomes up to them to put a stop to villain Al Goss.

While the setting may have been post-Western, where singing cowboys are heard on the radio and the hero must dodge passing cars, the genre itself had yet to reveal its biggest star, John Wayne, whose first film, Stagecoach, would come out three years later. However, by this point famous Westerns of the silent era had long since passed. But the film’s creators were superstars of that era who had yet to cease working and wouldn’t let the advent of sound diminish their status. In fact, the film itself is a remake of John Ford’s 1919 silent western of the same name. Continue reading “The Crank: ‘The Last Outlaw’ Program Notes (10/25/12 Screening)” »