“I don’t run, I don’t hide. I go where I want, I do what I want.”
When his new employer (Colin Keith-Johnston) is gunned down, Billy the Kid (Paul Newman) vows revenge against the men who killed him — but he alienates his mentor, Pat Garrett (John Dehner), when his vengeance disrupts Garrett’s wedding.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Arthur Penn Films
- Paul Newman Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Adapted from Gore Vidal’s TV play “The Death of Billy the Kid”, this feature film debut by Arthur Penn blends “myth-legend and history” by creatively interpreting Billy the Kid’s ascendancy to bad-boy culthood as “a modern-day psychological examination of a troubled youth”. Indeed, as Peary notes, despite being “set in the West”, Left-Handed Gun actually “fits in with fifties juvenile delinquent pictures” given that it deals “with a rebel outcast who is in conflict with society”. It’s notable for Penn’s “audacious camera work”, which effectively broke with traditional Western conventions and paved the way for a new wave of “anti-Westerns”, directly inspiring “Sam Peckinpah, Marlon Brando (in One-Eyed Jacks), and other western directors”. Unfortunately, “Newman’s heavy-handed Method acting” contributes to “the film seeming dated”, and the screenplay (featuring an obligatory love interest for Billy, played by Lita Milan) is far too stagy and contrived for its own good. Most film fanatics will likely be curious to check this film out once, given its historical relevance on several accounts, but Left-Handed Gun isn’t must-see viewing.
Note: As in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), …Gun explicitly features a character meant to show how a Western legend came into notoriety: in this case, Hurd Hatfield’s ‘Moutrie’, a “dime store novelist who adores Billy and wants to make him into a hero”.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- John Dehner as Pat Garrett
- Hurd Hatfield as the pulp novelist who immortalizes Billy
- Effective, innovative camera work
No, though it remains of interest.