William Bonney - Billy the Kid - gets a job with a cattleman known as 'The Englishman,' and is befriended by the peaceful, religious man. But when a crooked sheriff and his men murder the Englishman because he plans to supply the local Army fort with his beef, Billy decides to avenge the death by killing the four men responsible, throwing the lives of everyone around him - Tom and Charlie, two hands he worked with; Pat Garrett, who is about to be married; and the kindly Mexican couple who take him in when he's in trouble - into turmoil, and endangering the General Amnesty set up by Governor Wallace to bring peace to the New Mexico Territory. Written by
Gary Dickerson <email@example.com>
Gore Vidal greatly disliked this well-received film version of his television play, "The Death Of Billy The Kid", once describing it as "a film only someone French could like." He was greatly annoyed when director Arthur Penn expressed criticisms of his original script and brought in Leslie Stevens for rewrites. In 1990, the TV movie "Billy The Kid" was made, not only as a remake of this film, but as a rebuttal of it, written and largely controlled by Vidal himself. He declared himself pleased with it, but the 1957 film remains better-known. See more »
The "Englishman" describes his origins as from Ayrshire, a county in South West Scotland. In that case he would be a Scot and not English. See more »
What is it? What's wrong? You all right? You're not like the books! You don't wear silver studs! You don't stand up to glory! You're not him!
You're not him! You're not him!
See more »
Based on Gore Vidal's play (which had already been filmed once for
television with Newman), THE LEFT HANDED GUN is an unusual addition to
the western genre, with several considerable attempts at psychoanalysis
that were slightly ahead of the time for this type of picture. The film
is more or less a bio of infamous outlaw Billy the Kid, with the
novelty that Billy (played by Newman) is sympathetically portrayed more
as a misunderstood youth rather than an outright criminal. Director
Arthur Penn and screenwriter Leslie Stevens
(working from Vidal's original play) have done a commendable job at
presenting Vidal's revolutionist vision of Billy, even though the film
sometimes rambles and lacks the streamlined momentum that made Penn's
similar BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) an American film masterpiece. The
entire story was filmed much more effectively in Sam Peckinpah's cult
classic PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (1973), but THE LEFT HANDED GUN
stands as an interesting curio and a film that (aside from some
overwrought acting) has aged very well.
This was yet another role that was originally intended to be played by
James Dean that Newman stepped into after that young actor's tragic
death. Unlike 1956's SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (which Newman played to
perfection), I actually think that Dean might have actually been better
suited to play Billy the Kid, as his nervy stance and cocksure demeanor
have yet to be match by anyone and possibly could have enhanced the
role even further. Newman is still quite good, however, playing the
role as closely to Vidal's original concept as possible, and there is a
particularly lovely scene with Newman's reaction as Billy to a Biblical
verse remaining one of my favorite pieces of reactive acting ever. The
sympathetic portrayal of Billy the Kid also gave Newman his first real
shot at playing an anti-hero, a task that he would later perfect in the
24-Karat film masterpieces THE HUSTLER (1961) and HUD (1963).
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