Tuesday, November 22, 2005


An almost completely fictionalized version of the last days of notorious outlaw William Bonney, a.k.a. Billy the Kid. The real-life Kid was only 21 when he was killed, and Robert Taylor, who plays him here, was 30 at the time, and looked even older, but if you put out of your head any idea that this movie has anything in common with history, you can enjoy it. It's established early on that Taylor's father died from being shot in the back, and Taylor now has a something of a mania about that. We first see the Kid break his Mexican buddy Pedro (Frank Puglia) out of jail in a small frontier town. The two wind up in the middle of a local brouhaha. Town big shot Gene Lockhart runs not just the saloon and the general store, but also the puppet sherrif (Cy Kendall) and judges, and he is trying to stop British cattleman Ian Hunter from selling his cattle to the Army and undercutting his own prices. First, Lockhart hires Taylor on his side, but during a nighttime cattle stampede, Taylor runs into Brian Donlevy, a childhood friend, who is working for Hunter and soon Taylor is, too. This doesn't sit well with Lockhart and his men, who kill Pedro to prod Taylor into a rash act. Donlevy talks him into acting with caution, but when Hunter, who has just been named marshal, is shot to death (and in the back), Taylor can't be stopped, leading to a predictably sad ending. Most critics think Taylor was too old and too glossy for the part, but if you take this as just a movie about an outlaw anti-hero and forget that it's supposed to be based on fact, I think Taylor is fine, as is Donlevy, and neither of them is usually a favorite of mine. The supporting cast standout is Lockhart, as he so often is. Also present are Henry O'Neill (fine as a reporter who stands with Hunter and Taylor) and Mary Howard (colorless as Hunter's sister, and briefly, Taylor's love interest). Familiar faces in smaller roles include Chill Wills, Ethel Griffes, Lon Chaney Jr., Joe Yule, and Grant Withers. The film was nominated for an Oscar for color cinematography, and it does indeed often look ravishing, with some scenes shot on location in Utah's Monument Valley. Even though the studio scenes can't match that, as a whole the movie looks quite good. [TCM]

No comments: