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 ...
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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 »
So OK this film has little to do with the real story of Billy the Kid, but director King Vidor gets the Lincoln County war (over land and cattle) pretty right. The location shooting for this talkie looks like New Mexico but not like the town of Lincoln. But Vidor captures the lawlessness and viciousness that drove the real-life events.
Johnny Mack Brown (a big star at MGM) was still finding his way in talkies when he was cast here (against Vidor's wishes) as Billy. Brown was 26 years old, the veteran and more than a dozen silent films (working with MGM's top stars like Greta Garbo, Marion Davies, and Joan Crawford), and coming off one big hit talkie (COQUETTE with Mary Picford) and one flop (MONTANA MOON with Crawford). His Alabama accent would soon consign him pretty much to hundreds of westerns in film and on TV til the mid-60s.
But here, Brown is a lanky, friendly, and brutally honest Billy who only kills when it's the right thing to do. His horror at the brutal murders of the unarmed McSween and Tunston drives his sense of right and honor. He's also sorta sweet on the would-be bride of Tunston (Kay Johnson).
Pat Garrett (Wallace Beery) likes Billy but becomes sheriff. He knows his duty but he also knows the Billy the Kid legend is baloney. There's a terrific, long sequence when Garrett and his bunch burn out Billy and his men and pick them off one by one as they run from the burning house. It's a chilling scene but one can't doubt the honesty of it.
Supporting players are an interesting mix here with Karl Dane as a cowboy who grunts a few unintelligible words, Roscoe Ates without his stutter, Russell Simpson, Frank Reicher, Chris-Pin Martin, and Blanche Frederici as the Widow McSween.
But Brown and Beery take center stage and they are a terrific team. Beery is more subdued here than in many of his later talkies, and his rapport with Brown seems real. Brown is so likable as Billy it almost doesn't matter that as biography this is the bunk. Brown's dancing sequence is a highlight.
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