June 8, 2017

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

Review #944: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

James Coburn (Sheriff Pat Garrett), Kris Kristofferson (Billy the Kid), Bob Dylan (Alias), Richard Jaeckel (Sheriff Kip McKinney), Katy Jurado (Mrs. Baker), Chill Wills (Lemuel), Barry Sullivan (Chisum), Jason Robards (Governor Lew Wallace), R.G. Armstrong (Deputy Sheriff Bob Ollinger), Luke Askew (Eno), John Beck (John W. Poe), Richard Bright (Holly), Matt Clark (Deputy Sheriff J. W. Bell), Rita Coolidge (Maria), Jack Dodson (Lewellen Howland), Jack Elam (Alamosa Bill Kermit), Emilio Fernández (Paco), Aurora Clavel (Ida Garrett), Paul Fix (Pete Maxwell), L.Q. Jones (Black Harris), and Slim Pickens (Sheriff Colin Baker) Directed by Sam Peckinpah (#590 - Ride the High Country and #591 - The Wild Bunch)

It is easy to say that this is a movie that does not skew for morality within its main characters, who seem to have interesting chemistry with each other. Not only is it a Western, it also serves as a sort of tragedy, where former friends are now pitted against each other. This is a bittersweet movie, filled with grit and action that make for a movie that can be rewarding if one has the patience for it. Everywhere you look in this film has a raw connection in someway to violence, where even lawmen are not so different from the outlaw that they hunt down; this is a bitter film, but it is also a film that accomplishes in expressing the nature of what the Old West looked and felt. Watching this movie feels like a eulogy for the times and myths that have gone by, and while the movie may drag itself under its own weight at points, it definitely hits more than it misses.

Coburn and Kristofferson are a fine tandem when on screen together, with the former having a reliable cool nature and the latter having a good amount of charm to him; right from the first scene they just seem to have an easy connection, where it doesn't look like we need a dump of exposition in order to set the stage. Dylan (who also contributed to the music) plays a strange cipher of a character (being more of an observer than a participant in the bloodshed going on), but he definitely is noteworthy to watch, even when he is reading food cans on the shelf. The music in the movie is pretty effective with the tone of the movie, with "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" being a key highlight. The rest of the cast (some who make only brief appearances) are pretty effective, managing to serve the film well when needed. The opening of the film (in the special edition and Peckinpah's cut, but more on this later) where Garrett's death and the shooting of chickens by Billy and his gang intersplice with each other is quite interesting, having a strange violent beauty to it. This was filmed in the Mexican state of Durango (in part due to conflicts with MGM), and the sets contribute into making this a visual achievement; it's not so much that the Old West is glorified, but it definitely becomes a character in a movie that isn't above myths and showing the clash of the times, where freedom and safety (within profit) interact violently. There is a spirit to this movie that is unyielding in its passion, and it definitely works even after over forty years.

This was a movie that went through production turmoil, which resulted in Peckinpah's version not being seen for years due to conflicts with MGM (and more importantly James Aubrey, President of the company at the time) over budgeting and scheduling. After the film finished 21 days behind schedule and more than a million dollars over budget, Aubrey had the film cut from a preview version of 124 minutes to 106 minutes with numerous scenes cut (including the beginning scene) and six editors being credited (this edition was disowned by cast and crew). In 1988 (four years after Peckinpah's death), a preview version of the film was released by Turner Home Entertainment, which lasts 122 minutes. In 2005, Warner Bros released a special edition version, which incorporates elements of the two movies along with additional scenes, which lasts 115 minutes. In any case, the movie has gained a new status among respective audiences, in large part due to the versions that have come out in the past few years.

On the whole, what more is there to say? Watch the film in the right state of mind, and you may very well have a good time with a film that has only become a mistreated classic in the years following its original release. Is it for everyone? No, but it definitely has its own kind of appeal that outweigh nearly everything else.

Overall, I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

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