The Outsider (1961)

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THE OUTSIDER is a title that’s been used a half-dozen times. In this 1961 instance, it’s in play for the story of Ira Hayes, the best-known of the US Marines who raised the flag in the famous Iwo Jima photo.

A Pima Indian boy, at 19, Hayes first trip off the Arizona reservation was to boot camp during WW2. Next stop was the jungle misery of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, followed by the  volcanic cauldron of Iwo Jima in February 1945. Fate had Hayes as one of the six men who raised the flag atop the smoking peak of Mt. Suribachi. It intervened to spare his life, unlike 6,000 other Marines who died there.  It took him on a spirit boggling whirlwind of personal appearance tours across the US to sell War Bonds, and left him a nerve-shattered alcoholic wreck back on the reservation. Fate’s parting touch saw him literally dead drunk, dying of exposure at age 32, one month shy of ten years after he was immortalized in one of the most iconic photos ever taken.

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Efficiently directed by  Delbert Mann, the small-scale 108 minute drama won respectful reviews for the sincere performance of Tony Curtis as Hayes and did marginal business, a shy 121st for the year.  It remains a footnote today, lost in the shadow of Clint Eastwood’s 2006 Flags Of Our Fathers, with Adam Beach (a Canadian from the Salteux First Nations branch of the Ojibwe, generally known as Chippewa). Curtis’ committed good work (maybe a tad earnest in the earlier scenes, handicapped as he was 36 playing 22) is now always tagged & bagged with ‘whitewashing’, thanks not just to lineage but obvious skin darkening makeup and hair & eyebrow accentuation. He considered it some of his best dramatic acting.*

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The script throws in doses of fiction (no surprise),mainly in the form of a buddy played by James Franciscus (getting the build-up at 27). Action scenes are minimal, location filming was done at the Pima-Maricopa reservation in Arizona and at Camp Pendleton. The sad finale takes some license insofar as strict physical placement of Hayes location, but it makes a punch-packing point. The cost of heroism runs high, and a blend of combat trauma, sudden celebrity, equally quick disposal, what now would be called PTSD, alienation, poverty and booze is enough to fell the best of us.  Also in the cast: Gregory Walcott, Bruce Bennett, Paul Comi, Stanley Adams and Vince Edwards (just starting Ben Casey ).  Uncredited in bits are Ted Bessell, Lynda Day George (her first part,17) and Lance Henriksen (his first part,21). Grosses tallied $2,200,000.

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*Curtis also showcased his versatility that year with The Great Imposter, another biopic that was later overshadowed by an updating in Catch Me If You Can, about a different but similar character.  He followed with the epic costume drama Taras Bulba in 1962 and then bagged serious to concentrated on comedy—fourteen in a row—before hitting heavy drama again in 1968s The Boston Strangler.

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