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The Left Handed Gun
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The Left Handed Gun More at IMDbPro »

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26 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

Newman was the complete adolescent, and came closer than ever to playing a James Dean character…

8/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
25 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Newman once distinguished himself, from Dean by citing the latter's "lost little boy's point of view," but that is precisely Newman's interpretation of Billy the Kid… An uneducated, confused, neurotic adolescent, his Billy has more in common with a fifties delinquent than with any traditional Western hero such as the heroic, romantic outlaw played by Robert Taylor in 1941's "Billy the Kid."

The anti-heroic, anti-romantic concept is at the heart of all of Newman's films set in the West… The antithesis of John Wayne and Gary Cooper, he never plays conventional cowboys or lawmen, choosing instead notorious types (Butch Cassidy, Judge Roy Bean), outcasts (Juan Carrasco in "The Outrage," John Russell in "Hombre") or modern anti-heroic Westerners (Bannon in "Hud," Jim Kane in "Pocket Money")—deviants from normal Western society, with their own standards of justice and morality…

The psychology of the outcast is also a preoccupation of director Arthur Penn, who made his film debut with "The Left-Handed Gun," and who continued portraying outsiders in films like "Bonnie and Clyde," "Alice's Restaurant" and "Little Big Man." From the opening scene, in which Billy emerges from the horizon, a struggling, lone wanderer, his separateness from others is constantly stressed… Like other Newman protagonists, he's a man (or boy) drawn into himself, an island of introversion largely separated from humanity…

Penn is also known for his skill at conveying character and psychological states through physical gestures and movement, and here too he is well-allied with Newman (and with the Method). Billy is fairly inarticulate, bewildered, sometimes almost half-intelligent, in his speech, and animal-like in his movements (in this he resembles Rocky Graziano in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"). Emotionally frustrated, inwardly directed, struggling to release his feelings, Billy "speaks" in terms of heightened physical action—intense facial expressions, clear and explicit gestures, extensive body movements—culminating in violence… Unlike Rocky, who learns to channel his instinct for violence into an acceptable outlet, Billy can only kill…

Characters like Rocky and Hud rebel because of father-hatred, but Billy becomes violent because he is deprived of a father… As a child, he was abandoned by his father and raised by his mother, whom he worshiped—so much that at age eleven he killed a man for having insulted her… Now alone, defenseless, a "lost little boy," he is befriended by the kindly Tunstall (Colin Keith-Johnston), whom he comes to admire… When Tunstall is killed, Billy can respond only with wordless anguish…

This is one of Newman's most inspired moments, as he progresses from a tortured expression—his head spiraling toward the ground in pain—to thoughtful tranquility, and finally to vengeful anger…

Without considering morality or the consequences, he decides that he must become the law and kill the four men responsible—repeating his childhood revenge—and thus he turns into a notorious outlaw…

"The Left Handed Gun" is only occasionally pretentious and self-conscious; more often it is exciting, vibrant, even exuberant… Billy's instinctive sense, released in violence, also finds a stream flowing from eruptions of adolescent joy… One scene is worth citing, because it represents a rare instance of improvisation in Newman's work… Shortly after Tunstall's death, Billy learns the names of the men he will go after, and his intense mourning turns to agreeably rough jubilation: he marches around with a broom, singing, laughing, joking… Penn calls it "ecstatic grief."

Penn's "The Left Hunded Gun" remains one of Newman's best films, and it marked a major development in his acting abilities, indicating gifts for improvisation and superb physical performing… The motion picture is also a rare instance of the perfect director-actor confluence, and it's unfortunate that Penn and Newman have never worked together since…

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15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Interesting revolutionist vision of Billy the Kid

7/10
Author: robb_772 from United States
6 February 2008

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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11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Splendid rendition about Billy Kid's life with a special interpretation by Paul Newman

7/10
Author: ma-cortes
9 October 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The picture talks about the most famed gunslinger of the southwest , Billy the Kid (Paul Newman) , being cinematic directorial debut of Arthur Penn and first film for producer Fred Coe . The movie is faithfully based on real events . Billy Kid was known by several names , but mostly as William Bonney . Billy became a cowboy in Lincoln County (New Mexico) , for cattleman Tunstall (K.Johnston and after playing by Patric Knowles and Terence Stamp) who was supported by McSween (John Dierkes) and Chisum (subsequently interpreted by John Wayne). Tunstall was murdered by rivals , Murphy and deputies, and began the Lincoln County war . Billy vowed revenge against the killers of his employer and killed to sheriff Brady . He converted an outlaw with a price on his head . McSween and Billy were besieged ,they were shot dead as they came out ,but Billy emerged firing his gun and made his escape . General Lew Wallace (famous author Ben Hur novel) took office as Gobernor of New Mexico and he proclaimed an amnesty for all those involved in the feud . The Kid was caught and convicted of murdering and sentenced to be hanged , although shackled foot and hand , managed to getaway from gaol by shooting dead the deputies (Denver Pyle) guarding him . Pat Garret (John Dehner), a former friend , was elected sheriff of Lincoln and set off on pursuit to capture him and on 1881 tracked to the home of Peter Maxwell (Nestor Paiva) at Fort Sumner and there shot him dead by surprise . Legend says that Billy murdered 21 men in his 21 years of life but is really thought to be much less . The kid was said to be a sympathetic , likable, attractive young and favourite with girls (here for the beautiful Mexican Lita Milan) albeit a nasty gunfighter .

Billy is well played by Paul Newman using Stanislawski method acting , it results to be quite obvious . However , Paul was widely felt to be miscast as Billy the Kid since at 33 he was considerably older than the character . The picture is adapted by Gore Vidal , a script that follows correctly the Billy's life , though he was greatly annoyed when director Arthur Penn expressed criticisms of his original script and brought in Leslie Stevens for rewrites . The film was compellingly directed by Arthur Penn in his first feature , though it was a flop at the US box office . Rating : Good . Well worth seeing.

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12 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

In search of a father.

Author: dbdumonteil
28 May 2002

Like the precedent user said,all that will follow in Penn's best works is already here:the search of a father,the marginal hero,incapable of becoming part of a community.In "Miracle worker", which I look upon as his masterpiece,Helen's father is thoroughly unable to communicate with his daughter who immures herself in her autism.In "the chase" Robert Redford's character has been an outcast for his whole life.In "Bonnie and Clyde" ,not only Penn depicts par excellence marginal characters but he also introduces CW Moss's character ,whose father is a mean old man,and who loves the two gangsters as his parents.

At the beginning of the movie ,Billy is still a boy searching for his identity.His boss,who reads him the Bible ("through a glass,darkly"),gives him what he's longing for.One must notice that the relationship Billy/his boss-father is too short on the screen to be really convincing.This is accentuated by the fact that the supporting cast is faceless,and once his "dad" is dead,Newman carries the movie on his own:his performance is typically "actor's studio",very deep,very introspective,in a nutshell he plays Billy as he would play a Tennesse Williams character.We're far from the western actor,such as John Wayne or Joel McCrea.The sentence "I do not want you" often comes in the lines and drives Billy to despair and violence.Actually it's the last sentence he hears from the man he loves so much.

Because they have no shoulder to lean on,Penn's heroes are doomed oedipean human beings and except for Helen in "Miracle worker",their destiny leaves them no hope.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Right-Handed.

2/10
Author: AaronCapenBanner from North America
9 November 2013

Arthur Penn directed this obscure(and umpteenth) filming of the story of Billy The Kid(William Bonny) Paul Newman(utterly miscast) plays Billy as a misunderstood and pensive youth who merely wanted to avenge the death of his employer, an expatriate Englishman and cattle rancher murdered by a corrupt sheriff and his men because they didn't want the competition. Billy hunts down and kills the men responsible, but becomes a wanted criminal as a result. His friend and lawman Pat Garret(played by John Dehner) reluctantly pursues him, as Billy's fame grows... Terrible film is unbearably slow and uninteresting; a real chore to sit through, and misinformed title makes it look even worse!

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10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Milan, Dehner Good; The Rest Are 'Cartoonish'

5/10
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
28 August 2010

Like many 1950s films, this western tended to slant on the melodramatic side although it has its share of many elements. The actors and their characters are mostly overwrought and can get on your nerves by the halfway point of the 102-minute movie. The directing, though, is very good and the photography is top-shelf. As usual, Warner Brothers has put out a very good DVD transfer of this 52-year-old movie. It was issued as part of the "Paul Newman Collection."

Everyone knows about Paul Newman, who plays the lead character "Billy The Kid." However, I found Lita Milan and John Dehner the most interesting. Milan was a new face and not someone a lot of people know about and Dehner played against-type and played the most mature person in the story.

Milan as "Celia" will get the males' attention, especially if they're into sultry, striking-looking females. According to the IMDb mini biography here, shortly after making this film married the son of Trujillo, a famous Dominican Republic dictator, and that was the end of her screen career. Several years later, her husband took over the country when his father was assassinated, and a few years later they had to flee the volatile Latin American country. Wow, it sounds like she led a life that wasn't far away from the violent world of "Billy the Kid," the subject of this film.

It was kind of odd seeing Dehner, who played a lot of bad guys on TV westerns of the 1950s, playing good-guy "Pat Garrett," a friend of William Bonney ("Billy the Kid") for most of the movie. Whether he turned out to be "good" in the end, is your call. Actually I thought Dehner did the best job in here and played the best character, one of the few that was subdued and tolerable. Newman and his buddies in this film were all loud, immature and stupid, which is how they were supposed to be portrayed, but they are almost "cartoonish." The story has its ups and downs and isn't bad overall, but not something that I'd watch a second time.

By the way, "Billy The Kid's" real life name was Henry McCarty (not "William Bonney," which was one of several alias he used. How much of this story is factual, I couldn't tell you but knowing Hollywood I wouldn't trust a lot of this to be exactly accurate. A

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7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

This movie was terrible....and it's one of Newman's few misfires.

3/10
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
25 October 2011

When the film began, I suddenly had very low hopes for it. That's because the opening tune was simply horrible--with bad lyrics and a cheesy quality that made me cringe. However, I assumed it would get a lot better. After all, almost anything Paul Newman did is well worth seeing (other than his first film, "The Silver Chalice"--which Newman himself often mocked when asked about it). Well, while this isn't as bad as "The Silver Chalice", it is pretty bad.

The biggest problem with the film is the direction. It seems that instead of making a simple western, the actors had been told to act as if they were at a workshop given by The Actor's Studio--and each of them was trying to out-emote each other. Imagine a film where EVERYONE is method acting and all trying to do it more broadly and noticeably than the last guy! Subtle, it was not--in fact, it was seriously funny at times. There were just so many scenes that were overacted horribly. I especially loved the death scenes and when folks got mad because they REALLY died spectacularly or got insanely angry! I especially loved Pat Garrett's (John Dehner) reactions in the film--they were downright funny.

The other big problem is that as a historical piece, the film bore no resemblance to reality! Like a lot of bad westerns, this one purports to be about an infamous western bandit (in this case, Billy the Kid) but isn't his life in the least. And, combined with the crap acting and direction, the film is just a complete mess. So, unless you like bad films or have no taste at all, steer clear of this one. Even with Newman, it's a dog.

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10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Unconventional, unpredictable western is fascinating study of Billy the Kid

10/10
Author: mlraymond from Durham NC
23 December 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The tragic early death of James Dean prevented what would have undoubtedly been another memorable screen performance by the gifted young actor in the role of Billy the Kid. But Paul Newman gives a splendid performance as the legendary western outlaw, in one of his best roles. What is truly amazing is to watch this 1958 movie, and see how clearly it anticipates Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, nearly ten years later. There is the same casual portrayal of violence suddenly coming out of nowhere, the mass confusion and panic of a gun battle with the action ambiguous about what's happening, a woman running around frantically amid all the gunfire, trying to hold on to some kind of normalcy in an insane situation, the representatives of the law often seeming as corrupt and violent as their outlaw counterparts, treacherous ambushes, hairsbreadth escapes, the almost accidental involvement of the youthful outlaws in a life of crime, the public and media fascination with the supposedly glamorous deeds of the criminals. There is even a scene containing a line that is used almost word for word the same in Bonnie and Clyde. A deputy tells a group of kids to go away and quit peeping at Billy in his jail cell. The kids explain that they've never seen anyone famous. Newman portrays an amoral character who isn't so much an outlaw ,as a confused young man with a primitive sense of justice, and an unnerving tendency to find trouble anywhere. At least one character remarks that it's dangerous just having him around, because trouble follows him everywhere. His youthful partners in crime are extremely well played by James Best and a lesser known young actor, James Congdon. All three of the outlaws are shown with a convincing realism that is unusual for the average western. All the supporting players are excellent, including John Dierkes as a mentor who tries to steer Billy away from a life of crime, John Dehner's Pat Garrett who is a likable but world weary man, for whom friendship with Billy is a problem, Lita Milan as the young Mexican wife of an older man, to whom Billy is irresistibly drawn in an affair that will inevitably provoke disaster. Most of all, there is Hurd Hatfield, as a strange, sycophantic character ,who inexplicably attaches himself to Billy. The ambiguity of this character, and Billy's attitude toward him ,are open to any number of possible interpretations, ranging from a homosexual attraction, to misguided hero worship, to a desire to profit financially, by selling dime novels with fictionalized tales of Billy's exploits. There is no doubt that screen writer Vidal was clearly having some sly fun by portraying the Hatfield character as a Judas who becomes disillusioned with Billy, and offers to tell lawman Garrett where to find his elusive quarry. When Hatfield comes into a saloon where Garrett is tending bar, and slouches tearfully up to the bar, he all but asks Garret for thirty pieces of silver. The final showdown, with Billy refusing to fight, and letting Garrett kill him, ends with the dead outlaw falling on his back on a horizontal wooden beam, arms outstretched in an unmistakable crucifixion position. This is a compelling drama with fine acting, suspense, action and humor. It would make an interesting double bill with Penn's Bonnie and Clyde. Definitely worth seeing for Newman fans and western history buffs, as well as anyone who enjoys a good movie of any type.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Good for fans of Newman and Old West history.

7/10
Author: Scott LeBrun (Hey_Sweden) from Canada
22 November 2011

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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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

He Ain't Bad...Just Very Confused

4/10
Author: Bill Slocum (bill.slocum@gmail.com) from Greenwich, CT United States
11 November 2011

Billy The Kid has been played on screen by many actors, of whom Paul Newman may have been the most justly famous. So why is his Billy such a drip?

Newman was 33 years old and had managed to make the most of his second chance at screen fame with a solid turn in "Somebody Up There Likes Me," playing a rebellious young boxer. As Billy, though, Newman seems lost as a similar character of sudden impulse. "All I know is how I feel," he says, and that's true whether he's brooding Brando-like over the death of a rancher he just met or dancing up a storm three minutes later. For every scene he plays with his trademark cool, there must be four or five he exaggerates to strange effect.

It's a strange movie with or without him. Celebrated by some as a psychological western, it presents Billy as neither evil nor a sociopath, but rather as tied up by an understandable if extreme need for revenge. There was this guy, you see, who gave Billy a job and then got shot by some corrupt peace officers, and he promised to teach poor Billy to read.

Never mind that Billy doesn't know this guy when the movie starts and he's already dead ten minutes in. Nor that Billy's two partners-in-crime, Tom (James Best) and Charley (James Congdon), have no clear reason for siding with their hot-tempered friend. "The Left-Handed Gun" is a film in a hurry, mainly to give Newman as much opportunity to emote as possible. Boy, does Newman emote!

Compositionally, "The Left-Handed Gun" does some interesting things. We see Billy's first gunfight through a steamed-up window taking place while Billy simultaneously maps it out, a terrific effect. Director Arthur Penn and cinematographer J. Peverell Marley (not a harmonious team, as Penn reveals in a DVD commentary) continually find unique details to capture the eye, like one man's face pressed against a window glass after taking a fatal bullet. In his movie blog "Nothing Is Written," Groggy Dundee points out just how much of Penn's big escape scene made it into the later Sam Peckinpah movie "Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid," to the point of identical blocking and camera angles.

This is a better film that that one, which is overlong and cattywampus. Penn makes a point in his DVD commentary about the film being taken away from him in the editing room, and there's much sloppiness in evidence in the final cut, like Tom taking the same bullet in two consecutive scenes. But Penn must take the blame for a cast that overplays way too much, as if Newman's Method acting style was the swine flu. Best either whacks his hat or giggles constantly, while John Dehner as Pat Garrett has an atrocious scene where he whines at Billy for shooting a guy during his wedding reception.

"This wall, this street, this town, I married all of it," Dehner screams. I shudder to imagine the honeymoon.

Best's future "Dukes Of Hazzard" castmate Denver Pyle sticks out in a better way as the ornery Ollinger, while Hurd Hatfield coos over Billy as an overly florid Southern writer who wants to make his fortune writing up Billy's career. Considering this was based on a play by Gore Vidal, there may be a subtext there, though Hatfield works his few scenes more in the direction of a creepier Vincent Price. I liked him, even if I don't think he got across anything more than a hint of an idea about our exploitative celebrity culture.

That's the problem with "Left-Handed Gun," aiming too high and not getting what it shoots for. That and Newman, who shows some star power here but not much acting skill. Unlike Billy, he had time to get better.

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