The Left Handed Gun (1958) Poster

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8/10
Newman was the complete adolescent, and came closer than ever to playing a James Dean character…
Nazi_Fighter_David25 June 2005
Warning: 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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7/10
Splendid rendition about Billy Kid's life with a special interpretation by Paul Newman
ma-cortes9 October 2005
Warning: 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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7/10
Interesting revolutionist vision of Billy the Kid
robb_7726 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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4/10
He Ain't Bad...Just Very Confused
Bill Slocum11 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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5/10
Rebel Without a Cause
kenjha29 December 2010
Billy the Kid seeks revenge for the murder of his employer. This oft-told tale gets the psychological treatment in this account based on a play by Gore Vidal. Newman replaced first choice James Dean, and seems to be doing a Dean impression of the misunderstood youth, along the lines of "Rebel Without a Cause." Since Newman was rarely guilty of overacting, the blame here must fall on Penn, directing his first film after years of "playhouse" work on TV that encouraged exaggerated acting. Furthermore, the film is choppy and drab looking. Penn of course got better with experience. The biggest joke is that Billy the Kid was actually right handed.
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2/10
A Left-Handed Movie
Warning: Spoilers
This is an uneven movie. It begins with Paul Newman playing Billy the Kid as a borderline simpleton who somehow acquires a normal intelligence by the end of the movie. The first half of the movie is manic, with Billy and his two sidekicks talking loud, acting silly, and laughing at things that are not funny, probably because they are drunk, but ends as some kind of overwrought, psychological melodrama. I think it's called Method Acting.

This movie would have us believe that we are seeing a demythologized version of this character from the Old West, but it depicts all his killings as being justified, and when he is shot by Pat Garrett, he has no gun in his holster, so he really is not beaten to the draw, all in keeping with the traditional mythology.

I have an idea. Why not make a movie in which Billy the Kid is an evil scumbag? That would be some serious demythologizing.
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In search of a father.
dbdumonteil28 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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5/10
Milan, Dehner Good; The Rest Are 'Cartoonish'
ccthemovieman-128 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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2/10
Right-Handed.
AaronCapenBanner9 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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3/10
This movie was terrible....and it's one of Newman's few misfires.
MartinHafer25 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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It Ain't Hud
dougdoepke27 June 2009
I wonder what the mature Paul Newman thought of this early movie performance. Of course, 'mature' is a relative term since he's already 33 here, well beyond the 'kid' range. In my little book, it's the most mannered and misdirected acting of his long and distinguished career. It's almost like he's working at an excess of James Dean. That wouldn't be surprising since the screenplay's Billy comes across as more misunderstood youth than cold-blooded killer. I guess this is the first of director Penn's efforts at rehabilitating notorious American outlaws, leading up to the glossy Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

The movie itself is pretty good, the open range locations even looking like eastern New Mexico, while Penn uses them to good effect. But it's really James Best as the ill-fated henchman Tom who steals the film. His supporting role manages a certain poignancy that should have come from Billy, but doesn't. With the right breaks, I think Best could have carved a real niche in films. Speaking of supporting players, with the exception of the cartoonish Moultrie (Hatfield), they appear recruited from the many TV Westerns of the day, especially the familiar Denver Pyle and the classy John Dehner.

Penn establishes himself here as a moviemaker to watch with a number of nice touches— having Pyle squint into the sun just before the fateful moment, the lone boot left standing in the road, and others. I'm kind of sorry that the baby-faced Audie Murphy didn't get a shot at Billy's role. Visually, he's perfect. Plus, surprisingly for that boyish appearance, he could do a killer-stare to make you believe he killed 100 Germans during the war. Also, Murphy could have made that key facedown scene with Joe Bell (Pryor) as genuinely chilling as it should be. For whatever the charming Newman's considerable skills, being downright mean is not one of them. Anyway the movie remains an interesting entry on the road to 1960's-style rebellious movie-making.
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10/10
Unconventional, unpredictable western is fascinating study of Billy the Kid
mlraymond23 December 2006
Warning: 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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7/10
Billy the Kid Story
Claudio Carvalho3 February 2016
While wandering in a desert area with the saddle of his deceased horse on his back, the drifter William "Billy the Kid" Bonney (Paul Newman) stumbles with the cattle owner John "The Englishman" Tunstall (Colin Keith-Johnston) that asks him what he wants and William asks for a job. Tunstall hires him to help to bring his cattle to Lincoln to sell the herd to the army and William befriends him. However, the local Sheriff Brady (Robert Foulk) ambushes Tunstal with the rancher Morton (Robert Griffin), his Deputy Moon (Wally Brown) and Hill (Bob Anderson) and kill the cattleman to avoid the business and steal his herd. Billy the Kid promises revenge against the men and together with his friends Charlie Boudre (James Congdon) and Tom Folliard (James Best), he kills Brady and Morton. Billy hides at McSween's house that is burnt down to ashes and Billy is assumed dead by the population. He flees to Madeiro where he meets his friends Pat Garret (John Dehner), Saval (Martin Garralaga) and his daughter Celsa (Lita Milan) that loves Billy. Soon Governor Lew Wallace proclaims amnesty in the New Mexico Territory and Billy is free from any charge. However Moon and Hill are still alive and Billy still wants to revenge his friend.

"The Left Handed Gun" is a western that tells one version of the Billy the Kid story. Directed by Arthur Penn, the film is uneven, alternating good with silly moments. However, it is mandatory for fans of Paul Newman, Arthur Penn and westerns in general. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Um de Nós Morrerá" ("One of Us Will Die")
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4/10
Disappointing
doug-balch24 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I had pretty high expectations for this re-telling of the "Billy The Kid" legend. The movie has a good pedigree, with Arthur Penn, the director, Gore Vidal, the writer and Paul Newman, the lead actor.

It's not bad, but doesn't really deliver.

Here's what I liked:

  • Nice use of Mexico. "Town" and "Range War" Westerns by their nature usually get stuck in one place. This movie solves that problem by shifting back and forth between Billy's hideout in Mexico and Lincoln, New Mexico.


  • Very unusual and effective use of a "Fool" character, played by Hurd Hatfield. Outside of Mose Harper in "The Searchers", can't think of another character like this in a Western.


  • James Best is pretty good as Tom, the buddy. John Dehner does a good job playing Pat Garret.


  • Good use of comic relief, mostly supplied by James Best.


There's a lot of things that dragged this movie down:

  • Paul Newman overacts. He gets lost in some kind of self indulgent hyperactive method acting. Very irritating, probably because he made his reputation later playing laid back cool guys.


  • He commits a cardinal sin for a Western leading men: he wears a stupid looking cowboy hat, a little mini-sombrero thing.


  • Theme of psychoanalyzing Billy as a mixed up 1950's teenager is very dated. Sort of "The Cactus Jungle" instead of the "The Asphalt Jungle".


  • The romantic subplot is disturbing, in that he's having a pseudo incestuous relationship with a woman who is practically his adopted mother. No accident there. Vidal…….pervert.


  • Could we maybe have an Apache just ride by? To my knowledge, in 1875 that hadn't been fully exterminated yet. I'll take a Navajo or a Pueblo by the side of the road. Anything.


  • Still trying to figure out how Billy escaped from a burning shack that was surrounded by 20 men with rifles.
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Too Flat and Boring
Michael_Elliott26 January 2016
The Left handed Gun (1958)

** (out of 4)

William Bonney (Paul Newman) is the subject of this Western who seeks revenge for the death of a friend and becomes known as Billy the Kid. As he goes for his revenge the young gun slinger meets Pat Garrett (John Dehner) and the two strike up a friendship.

THE LEFT HANDED GUN wasn't one of the first attempts by Hollywood to tell the Billy the Kid story. Countless Westerns had been done on the infamous Bonney but this one here really doesn't work all that well. Of course, if one is interested in history then it's probably best that you really stay away from this as it's yet another sugar-coated version of the story that makes Bonney out to be a troubled but good guy.

I personally don't care on how historically accurate the story is. What I care about is the entertainment factor and I think that is quite low here. It's really too bad something better wasn't done with the story because you have some good elements scattered throughout but sadly, in the end, it all adds up to nothing. I thought the B&W cinematography was extremely good and I also thought we got a good score to listen to. Dehner really steals the show as Pat Garrett and I really loved the actor's outburst at the wedding.

You'd think that Billy the Kid would be a good role for Newman but he seems a tad bit lost in the setting. He gives a good performance but I think he probably would have been better served in another film. The character just never fully gets explored and the actor is left without too much to do. THE LEFT HANDED GUN will be worth watching if you're a die-hard fan of Newman but others should check out a different version of the story.
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6/10
Over Baked Acting and Some Silliness
LeonLouisRicci22 August 2014
This Film has Many Interesting Elements that may Attract Viewers. Director Arthur Penn's Debut, Early Paul Newman as an Iconic Western Outlaw, and a Different Artistic Approach to the Conventional Western.

However, the Movie is not the Easiest to Like. Penn's Flourishes are Welcome in a Genre so Ripe with Regularity, but Newman Overacts to the Point of Silliness and can Grate on the Nerves.

In Fact, just about Every Actor Emotes to Extreme, Except Perhaps John Dehner as Pat Garrett who Strikes a Concerned Lawman's Pose Quite Well Without Words. But even He is Guilty of One Scene that is Downright Atrocious (the this is my wedding, this is my town part).

Visually the Film has Many Interesting Shots and Flourishes, but Newman's Exaggeration of Body Language and Other Fanciful Displays that Misfire bring the Movie Down to just Above Average. There is Enough Curiosity here that is Worth a Watch, but Overall it is the Over Baked Acting that makes this a Disappointment.
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7/10
Good for fans of Newman and Old West history.
Scott LeBrun22 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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6/10
Penn gives you a glimpse of things to come in his first film
Deacon17 August 2000
The director of Bonnie & Clyde and Little Big Man is off to a promising start with The Left Handed Gun, his first film. The film stars a young Paul Newman as Billy the Kid. Billy, working as a ranch hand, swears revenge on the four men who ambushed and killed his boss.

That's about it for plot. Newman plays Billy well, portraying a man bent on his mission. One senses that he means well, but his short temper and dark past always get the best of him, even during his friend's, Pat Garrett (John Dehner in a nice performance), wedding.

Unfortunately, Newman suffers from a weak supporting cast and little character development. I found it hard to believe that Billy could develop such a strong bond with his boss in such a short time (although the movie doesn't exactly specify how long). With the possible exception of Garrett, the remaining players are there to fill up the screen.

In short, I wasn't disappointed with this film, but if you want to view a great Western about a man driven by revenge, definitely see John Wayne in The Searchers.
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7/10
Entertaining but not challenging
Howard Schumann21 December 2003
There have been forty-six feature films made about the life of Henry McCarty, alias William H. Bonner, alias Billy the Kid. All movies mix fact and fiction to a greater or lesser degree but one of the few sympathetic portraits of the young outlaw is Arthur Penn's 1958 film The Left-Handed Gun starring Paul Newman. Newman's Billy is a confused, emotionally unstable personality rather than a cold-blooded killer, and Penn would have us believe that Billy killed because he was forced to defend himself and his honor, not just for the thrill of it. Based on the teleplay, "The Death of Billy the Kid" by Gore Vidal, The Left-Handed Gun is a very entertaining film but feels more like a star vehicle for Newman than a film that strives to be challenging or complex. Newman captures Billy's humor and sense of fun but is too old (33) for the role and his cynical swagger seems inappropriate for the slow-witted teenager.

Billy the Kid grew up among settlers of the new towns in the American Southwest made up of cattle thieves, gamblers, and murderers. He was an illiterate drifter until John Tunstall (Keith Johnston), a friendly English rancher, took him under his wing and became a father figure. In the film, Billy becomes devoted to Tunstall (in reality Tunstall was only 24) and when the rancher is killed by a deputy and three others sent to take Tunstall's cattle and property because of his partnership with McSween in the mercantile business in Lincoln, Billy vows revenge. Together with his buddies, Tom Folliard (James Best) and Charlie Boudre (James Congdon), they track down the killers one by one until Billy is arrested and jailed by lawman Pat Garrett (John Dehner) after the last of the foursome is murdered on Garrett's wedding night. When Billy escapes from jail, killing his guards in the process, Garrett tracks him to the Chihuahuan Desert where the story of Billy the Kid's life ends and the myth begins.
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6/10
A young man becomes one of the Wild West's most wanted.
Michael O'Keefe15 March 2003
Arthur Penn directs this slightly twisted story of William Bonney better known as 'Billy the Kid'. Largely based on Gore Vidal's play, this version shows Bonney as a misunderstood and misdirected youth with the ability of being as loyal as he could be dangerous. The teenager sets out to avenge the murder of his mentor and becomes the most talked about and feared gunman in the old wild West. Originally intended to be a James Dean vehicle, blue eyed Paul Newman portrays the moody legendary desperado with intense assuredness and bravado. Very good supporting cast features:John Dehner, James Best, Lita Milan, James Congdon and Denver Pyle.
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8/10
A Film That Has James Dean's Fingerprints All Over It!
William Giesin14 June 2009
Actor Paul Newman once said in an interview that actor James Dean's death in an auto accident wound up making him a movie star. Prior to Dean's tragic demise, Newman's body of work was mostly television. Things seemed to take a turn for the worse when he accepted a starring role that Dean had turned down in "The Silver Chalice". The film was so bad that Newman took out an ad in "Variety" and apologized for making it. A short time after Dean was killed in his tragic September 30, 1955 car accident, Newman appeared in two films that Dean was scheduled to star in; "Somebody Up There Likes Me", the true story of World Middleweight Champion, Rocky Graziano, and "The Left Handed Gun", the true story of the legendary outlaw known as "Billy the Kid". It was because of these two films that actor Paul Newman was soon destined to become one of Hollywood's biggest stars. "The Left Handed Gun", from my point of view, shares a somewhat haunted past with several other films such as "Soloman and Sheba" and "Something's Got To Give". These films share a common bond for they are films that find themselves in the same haunting situation in which the star of the film dies and is replaced, leaving the film aficionado to speculate and search for something that could have and should have been there. Tyrone Power died on the movie set in "Solomon and Sheba" and was replaced by Yul Brynner. If you look closely at some of the scenes in that film, you can still see Tyrone Power in some of the original footage such as crowd scenes or battles at a distance. Marilyn Monroe died before she was able to complete "Something's Got To Give", and if you look at some of the hair styles and costumes and various drawings planned for the original film, it becomes obvious that they do not work on Monroe's replacement, Doris Day. "The Left Handed Gun" is a film that has James Dean's fingerprints all over it. If you try real hard, you can even see him in the film. Newman seems to make an effort to somehow mimic Dean in this this dark, moody, foreboding film. Actor Steve McQueen once said he tried to mimic James Dean in his first film "The Blob", and later admitted it was a mistake. Newman, on the other hand, pulls it off. Even the musical score for the film is somewhat reminiscent of the music in "East of Eden". Another thing I found unique about this film was something it had in common with one of Brando's films, "Viva Zapata!". In the "Left Handed Gun", Hurd Hatfield (Moultrie) is a man that seems almost intoxicated with the concept of creating a legend than becomes obsessed with the desire to destroy it. This role shares a unique similarity to the one Joseph Wiseman (Fernando Aguirre) portrayed in "Viva Zapata!". Both characters represent some kind of strange catalyst that seek some kind of cathartic release in the death of a legend. Dean's fingerprints become most noticeable during a scene in which Newman lays against an adobe wall, and anguishes for his past sins and betrayals. As Newman takes on a series of Dean like mannerisms, the evil Moultrie taunts him, "What is it? What's wrong? You all right? Your not like the books? You don't wear silver studs! You don't stand up to glory! Your not him! Your not him!" Pehaps, Moultrie is right. Maybe Newman isn't Dean, but his performance works. I give this film high marks, and recommend it for anyone who likes a great western or just wants to be entertained.
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7/10
disappointing
kyle_furr25 March 2004
I had been looking forward to this movie for quite a while but i couldn't find it anywhere. Maybe i had just built it up too much but this movie sucks compared to Sam Peckenpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. This movie stars out with Paul Newman walking through the desert without a horse because it's dead and he runs into some cattle owners run by John Tunstall. Tunstall hires him even though he knows nothing about him. The sheriff in town and some other men don't want Tunstall coming into town so they go and wait for him, then they kill him. Newman wants revenge and after he kills two of them, Amnesty is declared. Newman meets Pat Garrett and they become friends. Martin Scorsese is a big fan of this movie but i just didn't get it.
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7/10
The demythologised account of Billy The Kid.
Spikeopath25 May 2008
Billy Bonney is taken in by kindly rancher John Tunstall, he starts to learn respect and education, but then Tunstall is cruelly murdered. Bonney having been robbed of the one man he respected, shows his darker side and vows to seek revenge on Tunstall's killers.

This was director Arthur Penn's debut feature film, and all the traits that were to mark his name in future pictures can be found in this very good, and troubling psychological western. Based upon a teleplay by Gore Vidal entitled The Death Of Billy The Kid, Penn ensures that any notions of William Bonney being a hero are well and truly vanquished with this damming portrayal of the legendary outlaw. That this point is rammed home is down to a quite wonderful performance from Paul Newman as Bonney, boyish ignorance and sadistic tendencies making odd bed fellows as Newman plays it weirdly perfect {the role had been earmarked for James Dean until his untimely death curtailed that happening}. Backing Newman up is a fine performance from John Dehner as eventual nemesis of Bonney, Pat Garrett, showing nice touches of emotion from both sides of the coin. The rest of the cast do OK and nobody either harms or enhances the picture. This really is about its director and its leading man, both would go on to greater things, but this is a fine point of reference in their respective careers, a picture that both men can be rightly proud of. 7/10
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5/10
The Movies Love Billy
bkoganbing17 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I don't think Paul Newman was ever at his best in the west. Certainly not in this film. But fans of his will like it.

The Billy the Kid saga has been told so often at this point on film, I don't think it's possible to write a spoiler. The actual truth has never really been told because the participants in the Lincoln County War in New Mexico were not all good or all bad on either side. Just a couple of political factions jockeying for power with both legal and illegal means at their disposal.

Paul Newman is usually at his best laconic and cynical. A Newman on dexadrine is not something I'm used to. He's rather hyper in The Left Handed Gun.

We've seen every kind of version from matinée idol Robert Taylor whose film dispensed with all the real names except William Bonney that were in the story to the Two Young Guns Movies. Emilio Estevez was a juvenile delinquent gone west in those films and that's probably closer to the truth. Of course no version quite matches Howard Hughes's The Outlaw. That one has to be seen to be believed.

The Left Handed Gun falls somewhere in the middle range of films about Billy the Kid neither the best or worst. I think John Dehner as Pat Garrett probably comes out the best in this film.
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5/10
Not quite a masterpiece anymore
julesfdelorme14 September 2017
THE LEFT HANDED GUN Along with my new found fixation on Film Noir, I've also been rediscovering my great love for classic Westerns. I started out with The Left Handed Gun, Arthur Penn's 1958 treatment of the Billy the Kid legend. At the time of its release, The Left Handed Gun was hailed in Europe as a masterpiece, the first American Western of the anti-hero. Based on a Gore Vidal play the film bases its title on the only known image of Billy the Kid in which he seems to have his pistol holstered on the left side and holds a rifle in his right hand. As it turns out, that photograph has been shown to be improperly developed, leading to a mirror image which only made it seem like his holster was on the left side. Most of what we know about Billy the Kid today in fact suggests that he did most of his killing with a shotgun because he was such a terrible shot with a pistol. The film still has The Kid as a lightning draw and a basically good but wild and misunderstood young man. Historically that of course no longer stands up. It didn't quite stand up then. That one picture does not show the handsome and dashing Paul Newman type, but a scrawny bucktoothed figure who was probably called Kid because he resembled a young goat. The real Kid was probably a serial killer, who shot most of the men he killed in the back or in the dark and, unlike the other so called outlaws of the time, killed for no good reason other than to kill. The film itself feels dated and much more closely related to its B movie cousins than to the modern Western. It doesn't have the character of a Shane or Rio Bravo, or the darkness of a Oxbow Incident or the later Clint Eastwood movies. That's not to say that it's not a fun film to watch. It's just fun in that Audie Murphy B Movie way. The Left Handed Gun does not seem like a masterpiece today. Paul Newman's Billy the Kid does not seem at all like an anti-hero when compared to the anti-hero as we have come to know it. It's a fun watch. The Left Handed Gun is just not really a classic anymore. It's just another fun B movie Western. #movies #film #filmcritique #classicwesterns #thelefthandedgun
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