Friday, July 18, 2014


The oft-told story of Billy the Kid, romanticized outlaw figure of the Old West, focusing on a fictionalized version (using some of the actual names) of the Lincoln County War. A band of settlers led by Tunston and McSween arrive at territory overseen with an iron fist by Donovan. He tells them they're not welcome, but they stay despite his threats, and when Billy the Kid (Johnny Mack Brown) and his Mexican buddy Santiago arrive, they align themselves with the settlers and Donovan and his men back down a bit, especially after Pat Garrett (Wallace Beery), a friend of Billy's, becomes sheriff, and there is peace for a time. But after Tunston's fiancĂ©e Claire (Kay Johnson) arrives from the East, trouble starts. Violence flares, Tunston is killed, and Billy and his friends try to protect McSween. In the end, after a lengthy shootout, Billy is starved out of hiding—Garrett fries up some bacon outside the cave where Billy's holed up and Billy gives himself up. The outlaw is offered an amnesty but doesn't take it, and in the end, Garrett lets Billy escape, taking Claire with him off into the sunset.

I’m used to Hollywood versions of historical events being glamorized and falsified, but I admit I was taken aback by this ending, especially when most folks, if they know nothing else about Billy the Kid, know he was killed by Pat Garrett. As is usual with this story, Billy is played by someone too old (the Kid was 21 when he died and Brown, pictured, was 26 and looked more like 30), though Brown is fine in the role, and Beery is also good as Garrett, underplaying instead of engaging in his usual scene-stealing. Johnson is a blank as the Sweet Flower of Eastern Womanhood, though supporting players Roscoe Ates (as comic relief) and James Marcus (the bad guy Donovan) stand out. Compare this with the 1941 Robert Taylor version ; the later movie is better but this one is more than passable if taken as just a western tale. [TCM]

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