The Left Handed Gun
Release year: 1958
Director: Arthur Penn
Screenwriter: Leslie Stevens, Gore Vidal (teleplay)
Starring: Paul Newman, John Dehner, Lita Milan, Martin Garralaga, James Congdon, James Best, Colin Keith-Johnston, Hurd Hatfield
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #96, week 15 2016
The drifter William Bonney (Paul Newman) is taken in by cattle boss Tunstall (Colin Keith-Johnston) who treats him kindly. When Tunstall is murdered Billy is blinded by a desire for revenge that he sets out destined to get even no matter the consequences.
The story of the rise and fall of Billy the Kid, particularly around the time of Tunstall and Garrett, has been told many times, but The Left Handed Gun differs from many versions. Because where Bonney is often made out to be an antihero driven by understandable motives, he is here portrayed as a reckless outlaw with the sympathy leaning more towards Garrett, who is given reasons for going after Billy, something perhaps closer to the truth considering Bonney was a murderer. The tall rich-voiced Dehner (The Boys From Brazil, 1978) is a good cast as the pleasant and rightous Garrett, while Newman (Cool Hand Luke, 1967) gives a livid and energetic performance as the famous gunslinger. The two different personas provide good balance to a story coloured with great supporting turns form the likes of Milan (The Ride Back, 1957) and Garralga (For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1943), but especially noteworthy is an intense performance from Hatfield (The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1945). The first half moves along a bit slowly with too much seen-that and campy music but redeems itself in the intense second half that truly shows strong performances from the cast.
Film directorial début of Arthur Penn who later made classics like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Little Big Man (1970)
The movie was a flop in the United States but recieved praise in France where the rebellion against an American western genre heavy with stereotypes was appreciated.
The title refers to a famous picture of Billy the Kid showing him holding his rifle as a left handed shooter. Ironically later discoveries suggested the motive was reversed making the conception of Bonney as left handed untrue.
Picture copyright: Warner Home Video