“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” is an often-quoted line from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” And if director Walter Hill had stuck to that idea, his “Wild Bill” (1995) would be a great movie, instead of a near miss. Unfortunately, he mixed legend with pure hogwash and the result is a confusing hodgepodge of scenes connected only by the fact that James Butler Hickok (Jeff Bridges) hated it when somebody messed with his hat.
You know a director intends to make a “serious” western when he starts the film out by showing the central character’s funeral. “Wild Bill” begins not only with a funeral, but a funeral shot in high-contrast, grainy black and white. In fact the film keeps switching from color to black and white for numerous flash back scenes, depicting “events” from Bill’s early life, some of which are complete fiction.