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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>
Not bad "psychological Western" based on Gore Vidal's take on the Billy the Kid story, written for the big screen by Leslie Stevens (of 'The Outer Limits' fame). Arthur Penn, director of such future classics as "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Little Big Man", makes his feature film directorial debut here, with Paul Newman in the role of Billy, taken in by kindly English gentleman / rancher Tunstall (Colin Keith-Johnston). He forms enough of a bond with this father figure to react with rage when the man is gunned down by his rivals, drawing two of his fellow ranch hands, Tom Folliard (James Best) and Charlie Boudre (James Congdon) into the ensuing drama. Newman may indeed have been too old for the role, but still creates a convincing enough portrayal of a man whose fate was determined early on and continues to maintain a wild child sort of personality. Unfortunately, things are destined to never go smoothly, as even when amnesty is granted by Gov. Wallace, Billy cannot leave well enough alone, and eventually damages his friendly relationship with easygoing Pat Garrett (John Dehner). With the exception of Garrett, none of the other roles are exactly what one would consider fleshed out, although the cast is solid right down the line, with Hurd Hatfield of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" fame cast as Jed Moultrie, the most interesting character of them all, the man intent on creating the Billy the Kid legend and then, ultimately, ending it. While the movie does drag in parts, it is indeed noteworthy for its attempt to put some sort of human face on a notorious real life personage, and it has quite a brooding quality for the duration - the low key finish is a literal portrayal of its underlying darkness. Best and Congdon, both highly exuberant, are amusing as Billy's sidekicks; one can even see hints of Best's future Roscoe P. Coltrane performance in one comedic sequence. Striking Lita Milan makes a pretty good impression as the young Mexican wife whose relationship with Billy only adds to his problems. Particularly strong among the supporting actors is the distinctively featured John Dierkes as the calm, caring McSween who tries to keep Billy under control. You'll also notice Best's future 'Dukes of Hazzard' co-star Denver Pyle as the character Ollinger. While the movie begins on a somewhat shaky note with that treacly theme song, it soon finds its footing and makes for compelling viewing. Previously filmed for the 'Philco Television Playhouse' series as 'The Death of Billy the Kid', which also starred Newman. Seven out of 10.
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