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The Left Handed Gun (1958)

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Reviews: 34 user | 17 critic

After his employer is murdered by rival cattlemen, a troubled and uneducated young cowboy vows revenge on the murderers,



(screenplay), (play)
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lita Milan ...
Hurd Hatfield ...
James Congdon ...
Charlie Boudre
Tom Folliard
Colin Keith-Johnston ...
John Dierkes ...
Robert Anderson ...
Hill (as Bob Anderson)
Wally Brown ...
Deputy Moon
Ainslie Pryor ...
Joe Grant
Martin Garralaga ...
Paul Smith ...
Nestor Paiva ...
Pete Maxwell


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 <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

revenge | death | cowboy | amnesty | cattleman | See more »


All of a sudden, just for the kicks Billy would slip down to Mexico. See more »


Approved | See all certifications »





Release Date:

26 September 1958 (France)  »

Also Known As:

The Left Handed Gun  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The sets for the town of Medaro were actually left over from Warners' 1939 epic Juarez (1939). Although they were in state of great disrepair, parts of them were salvaged for use in "The Left-Handed Gun." See more »


The film is about western outlaw Billy the Kid, who was in fact right-handed. See more »


Pat Garrett: This is my wedding, Billy. You try to start something, I'll take it hard.
See more »

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User Reviews

Alienation and Anxiety Behind the Myth of the Wild West
17 June 2011 | by (Finland) – See all my reviews

Arthur Penn's directional debut is a revolutionist vision of the legend of Billy the Kid. In it he first approached a theme that would characterize all of his subsequent films: an alienated outsider who meets a hostile environment. The film is loosely based on the classical play by Gore Vidal and ethnologically it is extremely accurate but in the name of thematics and narrative Penn was very provocative. Paul Newman's performance, which he effortlessly achieved, lifted the film to a new level of emotional scales. He made it possible for the young people of the 1950's to identify themselves with the protagonist which was extremely important because as a historical film The Left Handed Gun is a portrayal of two times -- intentionally or unintentionally -- the time it takes place in and especially the time it was made in.

It was a time of changes. The new generation was fed up with their parents' believes and their morality was constantly being questioned. In the 1950's history was observed differently, protests and revolutions took place, new sex symbols were born and plenty of new stars rose to fame, such as Elvis Presley, James Dean and Paul Newman. To this moment of transition Penn's film fits in more than well because it is also about change of habitat and life, alienation and trying to fit in.

Already during the opening credits the protagonist is introduced to us. He's lost and alone, without a home or a goal. What is important is that he is not a murderer. He is a protector of family and friendship. He embraces the very same ideals the rest of us do. He has been driven to the life of crime and murder when he avenged his mother's death at the age of eleven -- his father died before he was born. Now seven years ago, in the story we follow, he avenges the death of his new 'father figure' an English drover. From him Billy picks up two lessons of life: firstly, a naive vision of good and evil, revenge and shame, secondly; the consciousness of the mysteries of life which are seen "through a glass darkly". However, Billy chooses the first and builds his upcoming life on it.

The second alternative is a reference to the Bible: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, verse 12) The passage refers to the encounter with God when all the obstacles collapse. It refers to death —- the moment of perfection —- when man merges into his God. From this we are allowed to presume that this is how Billy sees the world. Although, he isn't aware of it; he lives his life by following the rules of the jungle. However, he actually sees the world as looking through a glass darkly. The murder of the English drover is a dark mystery and he refuses to see it as it is.

The Left Handed Gun could be seen as a western edition of Rebel without a Cause since the protagonist thinks he is doing the right thing. What is the right thing to do is left ambiguous, and open for interpretation. Just as in East of Eden or Rebel without a Cause in this the morality of the elders is being questioned. But surely Billy's vision of morality isn't perfect. One can't observe life through dogmatism and absolute answers. There is no such thing as absolute morality and truth. In addition, just like other 'teenage' films of the 1950's so does this truly speak about isolation, anxiety and alienation. It's not just a story about the wild west but more of a story about the frustration and emotional lives of the youth of the 1950's.

Having realized that the film is about teenage anxiety and alienation, we see how it ruthlessly breaks down the myth of the wild west from all its idealistic form -- and this is probably why it was received so badly when it first came to the theaters. The halo of heroism is torn apart as the heroic character of the wild west is truly nothing but a depressed lonely kid. All the brilliant scenes are characterized by ultimate fear of death. The scenes were Paul Newman cries, kneels down and begs are full of charge and lift the genre to a new level.

The thesis of the film could simply be that: the society pushes those away who are most eager to achieve the sense of community it has to offer. So in reality Billy's alienation is born from his need for civilization which is constantly being taken away from him. The contradiction between an individual and the society is violent but not irreconcilable because the individual's move is towards the sense of community from alienation, not away from the society. However, Billy is not isolated just because of being and orphan and his inability to read but also because of his homosexuality which can be seen in all of his friendships and, it culminates in the end. This theme of homosexuality is from the play by Gore Vidal who, by the way, was openly a homosexual.

The Left Handed Gun was extremely provocative and revolutionist. It's truly an unique film about social alienation and its consequences, anxiety and how it is the only "real" emotion (according to Freud), and how the world is always seen as through a glass darkly. Penn's world view is dark but realistic. Sure the film is not a masterpiece but, to my mind, it deserves more attention. Of course we can see the experimental and, at times, unstable direction of Arthur Penn but extraordinarily brilliant is the way how he was able to merge his thoughts, ideals and emotions into this particular story.

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