Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

We did have some times, didn’t we?

There seems to be quite the number of outlaw, gang, and crime duo films on the list; Bonnie and Clyde, Butch and Sundance, even Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Here, we have another example; Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. This time, the vision comes to us courtesy of Sam Peckinpah, in his trademark visceral reality. There were some expectations, of course, for Peckinpah’s first western since The Wild Bunch, and I’d still have to consider for some time whether this one met them. Initially, I would say that The Wild Bunch is a better film, but this one is far more accessible for someone largely outside Peckinpah’s work.

The titular Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid are old riding friends, though Garrett has gone straight since and is now up for a sheriff position in the area the Kid is currently holing up in. As part of his new position, Garrett is ordered to chase Billy out of the territory, and brings the outlaw in, who promptly escapes, and thus forces Garrett to hunt him down in one of the simplest plots one can find in a Western, and that’s saying something. While this is more accessible than Wild Bunch, I wouldn’t say that there’s more to this than Peckinpah’s previous film; quite the opposite, there seems to be very little to this one, aside from the chance to see yet another western from the director. But, that seems to be enough for this film to go by, as I liked it quite a bit. Part of it was James Coburn as Garrett; Coburn’s an actor I almost always enjoy, and pretty much any of the reasons why are on display in this film. There is also a very unique turn here from Bob Dylan as an actor, and I was a little surprised by what a scene-stealer he was, even with fellow rocker Kris Kristofferson in one of the title roles. Dylan also provided the other excellent selling point of the film; the music. Plenty of original songs and a strumming guitar score completely made this film, even with the regular western vistas to treat the eyes.

There’s a hell of a story as to the making and critical reception of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Peckinpah and studio MGM clashed throughout the entire production, so much so that when it came time to edit the film, they took it away from the director and truncated his edit even further than he had it, resulting in a film so far off Peckinpah’s vision that the cast and crew largely disowned the film. It was only in the late 1980s that Peckinpah’s original edit was rediscovered, and the film underwent a re-evaluation over the decades, to where it is now revered as one of the director’s best works. The version I saw was the newer 2005 “special edition”, which took the best of both versions and mixed them together, and was quite enjoyable, to say the least. From what I’ve gathered, you’d do best to see either this or the 1988 “preview” version rather than the theatrical cut, and this is certainly one to see, though I don’t know if I’d say you had to see this before you died, that’s all.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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