Billy the Kid (1941)
Release year: 1941
Director: David Miller, Frank Borzage
Screenwriter: Gene Fowler, Howard Emmett Rogers, Bradbury Foote, Walter Noble Burns (based on the book ‘The Saga of Billy the Kid’ by)
Starring: Robert Taylor, Brian Donlevy, Ian Hunter, Mary Howard, Gene Lockhart, Lon Chaney Jr., Henry O’Neill, Cy Kendall
Ratings: 1 Oscar nomination: Best Cinematography.
Hot-headed gunslinger William ‘Billy the Kid’ Bonney (Robert Taylor) is hired by cattle baron Dan Hickey (Gene Lockhart) to scare some farmers into joining Hickey’s business by starting a stampede among their cattle. But during the stampede Billy meats old pal Jim Sherwood (Brian Donlevy) who introduces him to his bos, the gentle farmer Eric Keating (Ian Hunter). The good-hearted Keating convinces Billy to lay his criminal past behind him and work for him, much to the dismay of Hickey.
No to be seen as a biographic western but more a western inspired by the life of one of the most infamous men of the Wild West, Billy the Kid is an engaging story about redemption and revenge. Handsome Taylor (Ivanhoe, 1952) looks great, standing out of the crowd both because of his good looks but also by being dressed all in black. His Billy the Kid doesn’t look particalur intimidating but convinces when it comes to being quick to draw the gun. So much like the real William Bonney. He gets good support from Donlevy (Kiss of Death, 1947) and Hunter (Robin Hood, 1938) while Howard (Abe Lincoln in Illinois, 1940) is rather bland as the only female of importance in the movie. A quite absorbing western with beautiful cinematography but perhaps mostly for fans of the genre.
Robert Taylor is right-handed and spent weeks perfecting his ability to draw a gun with his left hand to play the famous Billy the Kid pictured holding a gun in his left hand. Ironically it was later discovered that the picture was mirrored and the gunslinger wa s therefore right-handed.
Picture copyright: MGM