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This realistic and harsh re-telling of the Billy the Kid myth is definitely
worth anyone's time. Pollard is perfect as a none-too-bright Western punk
who unfortunately became infamous. It stars the beautiful Lee Purcell and
Gary Busey in a supporting role. Arthur Penn's Left-Handed Gun was very
good and this is the second best version of that often-botched story of this
Great and grungy cinematography, true-to-life costume design, interesting soundtrack and authentic western types in a downbeat, almost Cassavetes-like version of the tale. A 7 out of 10. Best performance = Michael J. Pollard. If you can find it, check this moody piece of Western Americana. One of Pollard's best films!
I haven't seen this film for some years, but it made quite an impression.
memory of the plot is sketchy, but I remember a pungent sense of place and
the black humour of re-presenting an outlaw hero as a dysfunctional
teenager. Michael J Pollard was "hot" in my mind due to his showing in
Hannibal Brooks. He certainly went for broke with his portrayal of Billy as
a bumbling and baffled (retarded, even?) teen in a Wild West that is
knee-deep in mud and horse-muck. The pistols Billy wielded seemed almost
big for him, huge, clumsy and old-fashioned.
Certainly as a impressionable British youngster, I'd never seen anything
like it before.
I'm more than pleased to encourage others to seek it out. It could well be a bit of a hidden gem - the flavour and satirical energy of the piece are surely in tune with today's tastes.
Forgotten little western about young slacker Billy arriving in the West
from New York and not wanting anything to do with his father's
crop-work. After being banished by his father he wanders aimlessly
through town and finds a mentor in the town outlaw Goldie. Not the
Billy the Kid story were familiar with; Billy is a dirty,
chubby-cheeked kid who doesn't have a care in the world and gets shaky
every time he attempts to fire a gun. The film has a terrific feel to
it with grainy brown and black colors. Dirty is an appropriate word for
the ambiance of the movie. Not much story per se, but the film is well
acted especially by Pollard who looks and acts as though he is a rabid
puppy. Some jarring moments of violence and a terrific ending. Worth a
look if you're a western fan.
*** out of ****
Watch Dirty Little Billy back-to-back with Young Guns for a testimonial to
how little faith you can place in Hollywood to give you an accurate
portrayal of history.
In the latter we have William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, portrayed as the fastest, cleverest, most ruthless and domineering youngster ever born...a boy capable of shooting it out with a dozen experienced gunfighters and living to tell about it. Then, in the former, we have the very same William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid, now portrayed as this skinny little punk with his hands wrapped in bandages because farm work is too rough on his delicate skin. He follows his hero, Goldie, around obsequiously, and trembles like he's giving birth to porcupines whenever he's got a gun in his hands.
So which one is accurate? Neither, of course; they're both Hollywood characters. They're both historical B.S., just like almost every other movie ever made about any other famous person who ever lived. I'm sure the real Billy the Kid fell somewhere far in between those two portrayals. No human being that ever lived could have survived all those gunfights that super-bad Emilio Esteves won so easily. (must be kin to Sylvester Stallone), just as a sissy like Michael J. Pollard could never have survived for two days as an outlaw in the Wild West.
But, is the movie good? Yeah, for entertainment value it's O.K. I guess, but my being an old fart that saw it at the drive-in, back in '73, may have something to do with that opinion. (It came on Encore Channel last night, which is why I'm writing this) I also kind of enjoyed Young Guns, even though I had to roll my eyes alot at the ridiculosity of it all. (It IS a word...I just invented it)
If you're a teenage badass wannabe, you probably won't like this flick. It will make you feel uncomfortable as you spot your own sad little weaknesses in Pollard's character. Someone like you is better off fantasizing that you're Vin Diesel, while you watch Fast and Furious or something equally low-brow and gangsta-oriented.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is brilliant, and like another commenter states, presents
what is probably a pretty close approximation of what it was like to be
in a tumbleweed nowhere in 1880 or so. Michael J. Pollard is probably
best known for his appearance on that Star Trek episode with the Grumps
& the kids who never grew old, and by golly if he does not appear to
have aged a day between 1967 and 1972, perfectly cast as a
"revisionist" presentation of America's most famous juvenile
delinquent, Billy the Kid.
After quickly realizing that farming is for the birds, a newly arrived Billy goes trudging into town and winds up in the nowhere's only saloon, which has been more or less commandeered by the local town misfit/wayward punk name Goldie (young Richard Evans, acting like he has snorted one too many Kiddee Whippets), a dimwit who has happened to come into the possession of a six shooter and more or less refuses to leave his place at the bar ... for about a week. As the grown ups (including recognizable faces like Willard Sage and the great Charles Aidman) muddle about in the manure & ankle deep mud outside and try to reason with the oaf, Billy grows more and more fascinated with the sheer power that having a pistol brings to the clueless fool, and over the course of several days becomes a sort of "gofer" for the brute and his likewise power dazed homespun squeeze in the form of the town whore (gorgeous Lee Purcell, who's speech about a cold winter is one of the most effective moments by an actor/actress trying to create the impression that they live in a different time than the viewers).
The three share some thrills, chills and bellyaches (including a trip to the back room for Billy & Ms. Purcell that results in the movie's funniest line, and a truly brutal knife fight following a card game gone bad that costs a supporting actress one of her ears!!) before being coerced into leaving by the threat of violence, leading to tragedy, death and cold blooded murder that happens in a manner that is mundane, unsationalistic, powerful and wounding to watch. You can understand why Billy became the merciless killer of legend after his ordeal, with the film ending on a twisted high note as he & Goldie celebrate his first mass murder of some lowlife scum who are even scummier than Billy & Goldie.
And as other commenter's have noted, the aspect of the film which leaves the biggest impression is how grimy, soiled, unwashed, grungy, muddy, manure-splattered, cold, wet, damp, uncomfortable and inhospitable the movie makes the wild west look, even though the bulk of the film is set inside of this god forsaken, claustrophobic, unkempt and dingy "saloon", which is more like a shack with a couple of hand sawn tables & some crooked chairs that don't seem to sit square on the floor. Everything looks cobbled together, overused, weather beaten and about to fall apart -- There are no Singing Cowboys in this film with rhinestone studded guitars and horses with first names. It is a bleak, dismal and cramped looking film, and yet it is actually rather life affirming to watch and witness Billy changing from a rather slow, half awake schlemiel into a ruthless & calculating gunfighter, wielding a pistol that looks about two sizes too big for him and managing to actually hit his targets with alarming accuracy.
Seek this movie out: I managed to capture a screening off TBS years ago during a Cowboy Matinée Afternoon special or something like that, and while cut for content it's still one of the most effective US made Spaghetti Western influenced "adult" westerns made -- that meaning a film using western themes as it's departure point rather than a Cowboy Movie about Doc & Hoppy riding herd or having shootouts at old corrals. This is a western as post-modernism, using the conventions of the genre to create a new form and managing to do so brilliantly, even while not appearing to have accomplished much at all on initial inspection. And like most films that are more interesting than the hot new garbage media companies expect us to buy, there is no home video release or DVD available, probably having to do with the rights to the film's fascinating musical score, one sequence of which is played entirely by a wind-up bell chime machine as an ingenious Juke Box precursor.
What's even more remarkable is that director Stan Dragoti made exactly five other films during his career, the most recognizable being LOVE AT FIRST BITE with George Hamilton, MR. MOM with Michael Keaton, and the notorious SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL with Tony Danza lusting inappropriately after daughter Ami Dolenz. Maybe not the most sparkling portfolio, but his percentage of masterpieces to movies made is pretty impressive.
***1/2 out of ****
This movie deserves kudos. It is a depiction of the Old West that is self re-enforcing in it's historical accuracy and aesthetic spirit. There is more truth in this picture than I've seen in 99.9 % of cinematic works I've seen. The main characters are uneducated ignorants who are the bad seeds in the territory. All of the standards of living available and the resultant eccentric TYPES encountered in the late 1800s for people in their circumstance are brought to light in a way accurate to that period. Of course, if you are unable to stomach gritty, raw dirt and grime reality then this picture may not be for you. But one of the coolest movies I've ever seen.
A good film which represents the "real" western way of life. Not the well-chosen "white-teethed" and "well-shaved" western hero. Not cold-blooded with a smashing big mouth. A film which impresses with its production design and its way to show the truth. Billy was not hero but a tragical person. The actors did their rolls very well and the director hat a lot of braveness to do a film not "main-streamed". A absolutely MUST-HAVE-SEEN-FILM.
It is not a typical western in that it does not intend to glorify
gunfighters. This movie felt like part of a documentary since the sets
seemed so realistic and the characters were very credible.
The movie seems to be made with a tight budget, whether that is the fact or not I don't know. I also loved the violent scenes, fights, gun-play and so on.
Even though most western movie fans know the outcome of the life of Billy the Kid, the outcome does not seem predictable the way Michael Pollard plays the character.
I also loved the character of Lee Purcell (Berle), she was amazing and very credible. Though her character displayed a displeasing picture of violence against women she also was able to show the strength and character of the woman in the film (Berle).
I definitely recommend it, if you are tired of seeing those puffed up and testosterone injected westerns we are all used to seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've been waiting 30 years to see it and Sony finally made it available
on March 1, 2011. This movie totally de-constructs the myth of one Old
West outlaw, Billy the Kid. It fictionally tries to show there was
nothing glamorous about where he came from or how he developed into
what he became. Pollard is perfect for the role. Lee Purcell is perfect
in her role. Like so many others, I can't understand why she didn't
become a bigger star. The early West was a mud hole. Every character in
this movie is physically dirty including the usually beautiful Ms
Purcell. The movie also hints that maybe outlaws weren't bigger than
life but the opposite.
A punk with the biggest revolver I ever saw takes over the saloon in the middle of this wretched town. Everyone's afraid of a crazy with a gun. He takes Billy under his wing.
This movie is an antidote to the standard Hollywood & TV Western of the Fifties into the early Sixties.
Back in the ancient 1970's, only the high budget pictures had
production designers. The others had to rely on the cinematographer to
make sure the art director, the set designer, and the make-up/costume
people were all on the same page; so that the picture had a consistent
look. Ralph Woolsey was one of the better cinematographers at keeping
all these elements under control. He was a busy guy in 1972 and two of
his pictures were westerns: "Dirty Little Billy" was made right after
"The Culpepper Cattle Company"- arguably one of the top ten westerns of
all time. And while "CCC" is significantly better than "DLB", they
share beautiful cinematography and production design (may have
literally shared it because they probably used the same stuff in both
It became popular after Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (1971) to replace the well-scrubbed Roy Rogers look and portray the west as dirty, dusty, gritty, unshaven, and tattered. Woolsey eagerly embraced this realism and gave us two of the grimiest features we are likely to see. Perhaps the most entertaining thing about "DLB" was the casting of Lee Purcell as the seediest looking western heroine of all time. Compared to "Berle", Susan Tyrell's saloon gal "Alma" ("Shoot Out") was a tidy sorority girl. You might expect this look from Barbara Hershey, but Purcell was deservingly typecast as prissy/demure so the movie is worth a look just to imagine her inwardly cringing each time she had to make an appearance on the set.
The story itself is extreme historical distortion, but so moronic as to render itself harmless. Still, it is puzzling that they bothered to give it the appearance of being history, as it would have worked fine as fiction. It has a nice surprise ending and several soon-to-be-famous-in-television actors; Mills Watson would go on to great things as bumbling Deputy Perkins in the many "Sheriff Lobo" programs and Dick Van Patten would play father "Tom Bradford" on "Eight Is Enough".
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