In this version of the Billy the Kid legend, Billy, after shooting down land baron William Donovan's henchmen for killing Billy's boss, is hunted down and captured by his friend, Sheriff ... See full summary »
In this version of the Billy the Kid legend, Billy, after shooting down land baron William Donovan's henchmen for killing Billy's boss, is hunted down and captured by his friend, Sheriff Pat Garrett. He escapes and is on his way to Mexico when Garrett, recapturing him, must decide whether to bring him in or to let him go. Written by
Doug Sederberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Famous silent screen actor and history buff,William S. Hart, was hired by the studios as a tech adviser and to coach Johnny Mack Brown for his role as Billy the Kid. During a publicity photo shoot, Brown is seen holding Hart's most prize possession from his gun collection: a revolver that once belonged to Billy the Kid. It later turned out that Mr. Hart was bamboozled, the gun was manufactured years after Billy the Kid's death. Despite not being Billy the Kid's gun, the revolver continued to be on display at the William S. Hart Museum. In the 1990s, the museum was broken into and the entire gun collection was stolen. See more »
British homesteaders in Lincoln County, New Mexico, find that their best protection against the local murderous sheriff is a shy young cowboy called BILLY THE KID.
Director King Vidor produced for MGM one of the first epic talkie Westerns, with plenty of action and violence and frequent musical forays to explore the new medium of sound. The acting is good and the authentic outdoor locations are expansive & eye-catching.
In one of his best roles, Johnny Mack Brown portrays Billy as a quiet, dependable fellow, deadly with a gun but reluctant to boast or brag, attractive to the ladies and a determined seeker for justice over evil. Everything one could want in a Cowboy Hero. He's also just a little bit dull. This allows Wallace Beery, as Billy's friendly nemesis Pat Garrett, to steal the film, using his doughy face and shapeless body to great effect. Beery was right on the edge of becoming a major movie star and it was roles like this that would push him over the edge.
Lovely Kay Johnson is on hand as the wife of unfortunate Russell Simpson, one of the men Billy initially defends, but the demands of her role are few and she gets to do little besides look worried. Silent comic star Karl Dane & champion stutterer Roscoe Ates portray friends of Simpson & Billy, and they are both welcome additions to the film. Dane, however, is given very little screen time, his thick accent obviously a problem for MGM.
Silent screen cowboy William S. Hart acted as creative consultant on the film, but his only contribution seems to have been the loan to Johnny Mack Brown of a pistol which had once belonged to Billy.
BILLY THE KID was originally filmed in the 70 mm widescreen Realife process (no copies are known to remain) with two very different endings - one for American theaters in which Billy eludes capture and one in which he is shot dead, for European audiences.
In the film's written prologue, New Mexico's Governor R. C. Dillon admits to the movie's liberties' with the truth. Indeed, there are few true facts in the film. Most radically altered is the character of Billy himself, who in reality seems to have been a particularly loathsome human specimen, unsavory & disagreeable in almost every way. But early in production MGM's Irving Thalberg realized the studio would have a hard time promoting a film about a disgusting murderer and he ordered a radical rewrite on Billy's biography, turning him into a pleasant, noble hombre. Good entertainment, bad history.
There are a lot of ambiguities about Billy. We know he was born in New York City on 23 November, but both 1859 & 1860 have been cited for the year. We don't even know the guy's real name. Was it William H. Bonney, Jr., or Henry McCarty? (For awhile he muddied the waters further by calling himself Kid Antrim.) Billy's family had moved West, and after the death of his father Billy had travelled with his mother's new husband to the territory of New Mexico, ending up at Silver City in 1873.
We may never know what toxic mixture of heredity & environment stained Billy's soul, but we do know that he became a hellion young. He claimed to have committed his first murder at the age of 12 - he would kill at least 27 men during his lifetime. Billy became involved in an outlaw gang that created havoc on both sides of the Mexican border, with robbery, murder & cattle rustling all part of the routine. At the end of the decade, Billy became a gun for hire in the so-called Lincoln County War, that particularly nasty confrontation between cattlemen, townsfolk & corrupt law officers.
Billy ran a gang that killed a sheriff and a deputy, for which he was arrested by Pat Garrett in December of 1880. Billy was sentenced to hang, but during a daring escape on 28 April 1881, Billy murdered two more deputies before hightailing it out of town. After weeks on his trail, Garrett finally tracked Billy to a ranch house near Fort Sumner, N.M. and on 14 July Garrett killed him there. The punk was dead, but the legend was born.
Patrick Floyd Garrett (born 5 June 1850) had been a cowboy & buffalo hunter in his youth and moved to Lincoln County in 1879, where he became deputy and then sheriff. After he killed Billy, Garrett became a rancher near Roswell, N.M. from 1882 until 1896. Returning to law enforcement, he became first the deputy and then the sheriff of Dona Ana County from 1896 until 1902. He was the collector of customs in El Paso, Texas from 1902-1906. Garrett then bought a horse ranch near Las Cruces, N.M., but a violent dispute over a lease left him gunned down in the road on 29 February 1908. A fellow named Wayne Brazel claimed Garrett drew on him first, a witness agreed it was self defense, and Brazel was let go. Garrett was 57 years old. It was a nasty way to die for the man who got Billy the Kid.
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