Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
Release year: 1973
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenwriter: Rudy Wurlitzer
Starring: James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Richard Jaeckel, Katy Jurado, Harry Dean Stanton, Bob Dylan, Emilio Fernández
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #90, week 9 2016
Despite being friends, Pat Garrett (James Coburn) accepts a job as a lawman with the sole purpose of bringing down his old friend Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson).
At first look Sam Peckinpah’s (The Wild Bunch, 1969) western looks like a standard edition of the famous story about the showdown between Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. But besides being something of a treat for fans of the 1970s with its horrible orange-red blood and a Bob Dylan-composed soundtrack, it delivers excellent performances from a stellar cast. Coburn (The Great Escape, 1963) is a perfect example of how less sometimes is more with his underplayed performance as the lawman torn between friendship and responsibility, especially shining in the end scene in which his despair is clearly seen, while a young (and seldom seen bare-faced) Kristofferson (Convoy, 1978) breezes through one of his very first roles as the reckless gunslinger. Kristofferson brought in several of the support cast, including members of his band and his wife at the time, but he also brought in Bob Dylan who, besides playing a small part, also provided the movie with its amazing soundtrack. Bob Dylan’s music is surprisingly fitting for the movie, adding a bittersweet melancolic feel that enhances the tragedy of the story and plays as a perfect background to some of the grand emotionel scenes that makes the movie truly stand out. The movie was poorly cut by the studio, much to the dismay of Peckinpah, who unfortunately never lived to see the longer cut that seemingly pays more respect to his original film; a well-scripted movie with visually stunning cinematography and excellent acting with a performance that many consider a career best from Coburn. Among so many movies telling this famous story this manages to stand out and, despite its calm melancolic nature, stay with you. A must for western fans.
Bob Dylan’s major hit ‘Knockin on Heavens Door’ was written for this movie.
The 21-year old Billy in the movie is played by Kris Kristofferson who at the time was 36.
The movie struggled with production problems in form of among other things bad economy, weather problems, and Peckinpah’s increasing alcoholism.
Picture Copyright: MGM