User Reviews (23)

Add a Review

  • Fine actor Robert Taylor seems to be a bit long in the tooth (although he was only 30 at the time) to portray "The Kid." Still, if you suspend all knowledge of the Billy legend, he does a stalwart job as an older and wiser Billy. Brian Donlevy is great, as usual, though he plays the good guy Sherwood (Pat Garrett in reality and in subsequent Billy the Kid inspired films)instead of his many tough guy badies (Beau Geste - Academy Award nominee, and Destry Rides Again - to mention two). The writers seem to change all the names to protect...well who?Instead of Tunstall, the english gentleman rancher who tries to change Billy's wayward ways, it's Keating. Instead of Murphy, the instigator of the Lincoln County War, its Hickey. And instead of Pat Garrett, it's Sherwood. But, some good shoot 'em ups and some good dialogue make this a pleasant Saturday afternoon at the westerns. Saddle up.

    Check out Ivanhoe, Waterloo Bridge, and Knights of the Round Table to see Robert Taylor at his best. For other Billy movies, see Young Guns, Young Guns II, Chisum, and the Left Handed Gun.
  • Billy the Kid is the first of many westerns that Robert Taylor starred in, and boy did he find his nitch in the entertainment field. The film was loosely based on the book The Saga of Billy the Kid, by Walter Noble Burns. Although the real Kid was ruthless and a cold blooded killer, it is known that he did find some peace with a rancher who took him in and tried to help reform him. He rides into town to save Pedro, his friend, from jail and falls into the company of Dan Hickey played by Gene Lockhart in a rather ominous role of a crook. Billy goes to work for Hickey, and starts trouble for rancher Sherwood, played by Ian Hunter. Hunter is great as the laid back rancher who takes Billy in and persuades him to stop running. Brian Donlevy is Billy's boyhood friend who is the foreman of the ranch and later the marshal. Mary Howard is Hunter's sister and Donlevy's fiancée, but is strangely attracted to Billy. They never have a romance, but it is refreshing to see Billy's innocence with her. When Hunter is killed by the Hickey people, Billy goes on the rampage and kills all including shooting Hickey in the back. The most outstanding scene is the last when Billy is waiting for Donlevey, his blue eyes the only thing you see in the darkened shed. Of course he dies at the hands of his best friend. I think this role established that Taylor could play good and evil equally well, as he went on to do his best film Johnny Eager a couple of years later. The wonderful color photography is only dimmed by the magnificent looks of a young Robert Taylor, his blue eyes as icy as the role he played. This is a don't miss for all fans of great westerns. A note of interest is that Taylor practiced for months to fast draw with his left hand. In every western he made he would switch from left hand to right hand draw.
  • You can count on one hand the things this film has in common with the real story of Billy the Kid, but if you aren't thrown off by inaccuracy, then this is a wonderfully entertaining and finely portrayed depiction of the Kid. Robert Taylor is really superb in a role he's nearly a decade too old for. He's hard-bitten and tough as nails, but the hurt inside is clear without being overplayed. I've never thought of Robert Taylor as ever being underrated, but if ever he was, it's in this. Taylor and the dialog, which is hard-boiled and doesn't always go where you'd expect it to go, are the real points of interest in this movie, along with some geographically wide-ranging Technicolor photography that is luscious to look at. The other aspects of the movie are pretty standard fare, some less bearable than others. But Taylor is a revelation here. This picture is well worth watching. Just don't think you're seeing the true story of Billy the Kid.
  • BILLY THE KID's outdoor photography of handsome exterior settings gives this western a rugged flavor and ROBERT TAYLOR makes an acceptable Billy the Kid. MGM obviously wanted to toughen his appearance on screen as one of filmdom's handsomest male stars and chose to cast him in this rugged role. Most of the time his tough expression ranges from petulant to suspicious and not much else, but this was before his acting took on more dimension in other sturdier western roles.

    However, nobody in the cast can overcome the fact that the screenplay is rather routine. BRIAN DONLEVY is sturdy as the Marshall who grew up with Billy and MARY BRIAN is fine as the love interest. GENE LOCKHART is effective as a cowardly villain and others in the cast give the story some flavor despite a screenplay full of western clichés.

    Nice to look at, but easily forgettable as a story of Billy the Kid.
  • This movie is Billy the Kid in name only. Anyone who has any kind of fascination with the Wild West or the historical William H. Bonney would do well to shy away from this flick. Almost all of the names have been switched around, the plot shares only a marginal familiarity with the true Billy and the lead actor Robert Taylor seems better suited for playing a 1930's era Chicago gangster than he does playing one of the most famous outlaws of all time.

    Now that I've got my historical accuracy niggling out of the way - I still find myself unable to say many positive things about this film. But I'll give it a shot.

    Some of the dialogue is rather inventive - and I do actually appreciate the relationship that Billy shares with ranch herder Eric Keating. There's an interesting exchange during Keating's introduction wherein he explains to a wary-eyed Billy why he doesn't carry a gun. Keating's naiveté rests upon a mythological ideal of frontier honor - an ideal that comes with a heavy price.

    The movie itself is also wonderfully shot. The Technicolor treatment produces stunning visuals that can easily compare to westerns that are produced ten, fifteen, sometimes even twenty years after Billy the Kid.

    Sadly, there simply isn't a lot of material available for Billy the Kid enthusiasts. Again, do NOT refer to this movie if you are looking to find insight into the true story of Billy the Kid. The closest you will probably come towards finding the definitive Billy story is in the 1988 fluff film, "Young Guns" and its subsequent continuation in "Young Guns II" - and even they take great spoonfuls of poetic license with history.
  • Of all the versions of the Billy the Kid saga this is one of the loosest ones with the facts. Even the names are completely changed in this film with only Robert Taylor retaining Billy's most known alias of William Bonney. Even Brian Donlevy does not get to play Pat Garrett, he's Jim Sherwood in this.

    But this is the standard Billy the Kid story, a young outlaw who goes to work for a straight arrow rancher during a range war. Then later when the rancher, in this case Ian Hunter, is gunned down at that point the tragic end that Billy will come to is irreversibly set for him.

    This was Robert Taylor's first western and it would be another eight years before he did another. After that westerns became pretty standard film fare for him. Taylor, like his good friend, Ronald Reagan, loved horses and probably if MGM hadn't made him a romantic heart throb, he would have loved to have been a cowboy actor. Like Reagan he certainly looked at home hosting Death Valley Days later on.

    Jim Sherwood(Pat Garrett)is a different part for Brian Donlevy to play. Donlevy was at the high point of his career as a screen villain and being a good guy for him is almost a case of an alternate universe. But being the professional he was, Donlevy carries off the portrayal in fine style.

    Ian Hunter is just fine as the English gentleman rancher who tries to set Taylor on the straight and narrow. And you will not find a sneakier more loathsome villain than Gene Lockhart as the local boss of the area who is provoking a range war with Hunter.

    Billy the Kid is not the best western that Taylor ever did, but it certainly opened a whole new career vista for him.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Except for the title, this would have been as generic a Western as they come. With the title, virtually everything about it smacks of poetic license taken to the nth degree. Robert Taylor portrays the outlaw of Wild West legend, as other characters in the picture have their names changed while the story itself loosely assembles the history of the Lincoln County War and then just scatters it in all directions. Not only that, but Lincoln County itself has been relocated from the New Mexico Territory to Utah's Monument Valley, which actually is one of the film's redemptive efforts. The gorgeous Technicolor format shows off those rugged structures to maximum effect, even becoming part of the story when Billy's friend Pedro (Frank Puglia) is laid to rest at the base of the 'greatest tombstone in the world'.

    So if historical accuracy is your thing, you probably don't want to come near this one. For my money, the best portrayal of Billy the Kid remains Emilio Estevez's take on the character in 1988's "Young Guns", where he makes the kid an almost ego-maniacal figure, but with a certain charisma that makes you kind of overlook the fact that he was an outlaw. Here, Taylor goes for a straight on, no-nonsense characterization that's often conflicted as he attempts to choose sides between town boss Hickey (Gene Lockhart) and eventual benefactor Keating (Ian Hunter). Thrown in for good measure is the Pat Garrett stand-in, here called Jim Sherwood, a boyhood friend of Billy's from the old Silver City days, a tidbit the film keeps reminding you of over and over again.

    For old time Western fans, part of the attraction here is seeing who shows up as the story progresses. In particular, Lon Chaney Jr. and Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams meander in and out of a number of scenes, while lesser known veterans like Cy Kendall, Henry O'Neill, Dick Curtis and Grant Withers all appear in bit parts. Actress Mary Howard is written into the script as something of a question mark, the fiancée of Sherwood, but perhaps casting an eye for Taylor's Billy. Hmm, the story didn't go anywhere with that but you had to notice the tease.

    In short, if you don't take this too seriously, it's an OK picture for Robert Taylor fans, here appearing in his very first Western. He cuts an imposing figure as the man in black, but when you come right down to it, he's no kid, and each reference to Billy's nickname simply reminds us of that fact.
  • "Billy the Kid" was supposed to be a remake of the 1930 classic which starred Johnny Mack Brown and Wallace Beery. About the only things this version has going for it are the beautiful technicolor photography and its supporting cast of recognizable faces.

    William Bonney, aka "Billy the Kid" (Robert Taylor) is on the run for gunning down his father's killer some years earlier. He and his sidekick Pedro (Frank Puglia) ride into the town of Lincoln. Billy joins up with local bad guy Hickey (Gene Lockhart) who is trying to drive popular rancher Eric Keating (Ian Hunter) out of business. While on a stampede raid one night, Billy meets up with his childhood friend Jim Sherwood (Brian Donlevy). Sherwood and Keating gradually persuade Billy to come over to their side.

    All goes well until first, Pedro and then Keating are murdered. Billy then decides to take matters into his own hands with the predictable results.

    Taylor, Donlevy and Lockhart are all woefully miscast. Taylor was just too pretty to be taken seriously as Billy. Donlevy, whose character replaces the Pat Garrett character for some reason, was more at home in gangster films. Similarly, Lockhart did better as evil bankers or corrupt businessmen in contemporary dramas.

    Lovers of the "B" series westerns of the period will have fun spotting some of their favorite villains and character actors from that genre. The baddies include Lon Chaney Jr., Grant Withers, Dick Curtis, Cy Kendall and George Cheseboro. On the right side of the law we have Kermit Maynard, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, Chill Wills and Ray Teal.

    Others in the cast include Henry O'Neill as the newspaper editor, Joe Yule (Mickey Rooney's father) as a bartender, Arthur Houseman (the resident "drunk" in the old Laurel & Hardy shorts) as a drunken janitor (what else?), Connie Gilchrist as a saloon lady and a young John Raitt as a singer in the musical number.

    As mentioned previously, the outdoor color photography is breathtaking. Unfortunately, they spoiled it by inserting many of those phony looking close up process riding shots.

    I expected better from MGM.
  • This early film follows the exciting life of Billy Bonney . This is an interesting but flawed Western . With Robert Taylor in title role , in one of his first movies , and Donlevy as his friend and later marshal , but the movie fails to gel overall . Robert Taylor as the title character gives a decent performance . Right-handed Robert Taylor spent weeks perfecting his ability to draw a gun with his left hand in preparation for this film . Brian Donlevy as an alike-Pat Garrett is good , and Ian Hunter who plays a look-alike to Tunstall ; although some acting seem badly dated today . Sweeping and glimmer cinematography by William L. Skall . Great musical score by David Snell , including Mexican songs almost make you forget the screenplay ain't so hot . The director David Miller creates some fine action scenes , he posteriorly directed a classic Western, 'Lonely are the brave' .

    Other known films about this legendary outlaw were the followings : 'Billy the Kid(1930)' by King Vidor with John Mack Brown and Wallace Beery; 'The left-handed gun (1958)' by Arthur Penn with Paul Newman; 'Pat Garret and Billy the Kid (1973)' by Sam Peckinpah; 'Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid' with Val Kilmer ; 'Young Guns(1988)' by Christopher Cain with Emilio Estevez ; and 'Young Guns 2(1990)' by Geoff Murphy.

    The picture was partially based on real events . The actual deeds are the followings : The most famous outlaw-gunslinger of the South-west , Billy the Kid was known by several names, but mostly as William Bonney . Believed have been born in New York City , Billy moved west with his family and eventually became a cowboy in Lincoln county, New Mexico, for cattleman J.H. Tunstall (in the movie similar role played by Ian Hunter) . In February 1878 Tunstall was killed by a cattle rival (played by Gene Lockhart) and this started the Lincoln County war, in which Billy played a leading part and was one of the group that shot dead Sheriff Brady . After his preceptor has been murdered he seeks vengeance for his death . He became an outlaw with a price on his head. Pat Garret(named in the film as Sherwood and played by Brian Donlevy), a former friend of the Kid, was elected sheriff of Lincoln County and set out to capture the young outlaw . He caught him and sentenced to be hanged. But Bill, although shackled hand and foot, managed to escape from jail by shooting dead the two deputies guarding him . Garrett went after him again and on 15 July 1881 tracked him at Fort Sumner, and there shot him dead by surprise in a darkened room.
  • There is a lot more to this predominantly lyrical account of an episode in Billy the Kid's life than action and brainless swagger. Hardboiled, embittered Billy gets a job as a cowhand for a pacifist farmer who rhapsodizes about how being unarmed protects a man by the usual Wild West code of not shooting a man in the back. When the farmer, Billy's new guardian, is killed, though, Billy's new-found love of peace and order must give way to a desire for revenge on the bad guys.

    Somewhere along the line this film gets to sanctimonious and preachy to be entirely enjoyable, and Brian Donleavy as Billy's childhood pal turned born-again marshall deputy is the most unbelievable thing about it. Robert Taylor is a handsome devil in tight-fitting black leather, and it is honestly a relief when he finds back to his old bad ways, and things start happening again.

    The Technicolor location cinematography is gorgeous.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I wonder if it's possible to count the number of stories filmed about Billy the Kid, a tragic nobody. There's Paul Newman in "The Left Handed Gun," Kris Kristofferson, Buster Crabbe in a serial, and an endless array of others. The story lends itself to dramatization. An obdurate law breaker and killer when barely in his teens, Billy is reformed by a good man who is killed, and later Billy is killed himself by an old friend. Better than some of Shakespeare's stuff.

    There are a couple of admirable features to be found in this incarnation of the old tale. First, we are treated to extensive second-unit work in Monument Valley, John Ford country, and very nicely photographed (by unheard-ofs Skall and Smith), with breakers of mist rolling through the spectacular rifts.

    Then, too, the story itself, while it only roughly follows the contours of history, sort of grows on you. When you first see Robert Taylor as Billy, he's dressed all in black and rides a black horse and a black gun belt holding a Colt with a corrugated handle. One winces at the sight and dreads the worst.

    Strangely enough, though -- I hope you don't mind taking a small scenic detour which will give us a better view of the Totem Pole -- strangely enough, black is not just a symbol of power but seems to imbue those who wear the color with greater determination. At any rate, the more the color black is featured in sports uniforms, the greater the number of wins. Honest. That's from a sidebar in an introductory psychology textbook.

    But, as I said, the plot is infectious. By the end, I was really curious to see how Billy's conflicting impulses would be worked out. There was no Pat Garret character so the climax was problematic.

    The movie has its weaknesses. One is Robert Taylor. I suppose he's handsome because everyone thought so at the time but he's a little old for the part and he does not perform celluloid magic. He seems to sit a horse well. He grew up in rural Nebraska and may have had some experience with the animals.

    And I don't know if anyone could overcome the lack of sparkle in the dialog and the pedestrian nature of the script itself. "I ain't sayin'," says Billy repeatedly. And, "Silver City's a long way off." And, "Law and order is comin' to the West and you better not get run over by it." And, as the end title informs us, "The last man of violence finds his peace." There isn't a tag line in a cartload. The dialog could have been written by a Magic 8 Ball.

    And every single one of the generic conventions of the Western is present. Men face each other and draw. Grudges become engrams. If you want to out draw a man without killing him, you graze his wrist with your bullet.

    And there is the Mexican sidekick, raggedy Pedro. He plays the guitar and follows Meester Beelee around and spends time in jail. In some scenes his skin is positively black. In others it's merely swarthy. Halfway through the movie, against a backdrop of Monument Valley, Pedro and Billy sit around a fire and Pedro points to an isolated rock formation known locally as El Capitan and says that's the greatest tombstone in the world. Heaven must be filled with people buried under tombstones like that. And we know Pedro's last scene isn't as far off as Silver City. We also know precisely where Pedro will be buried.

    What's painful about watching this film is realizing how EASY it would have been to turn it into something more than routine. If only the manufacturers would have seen this as more than just another product. This is about the so-called Lincoln County war in New Mexico. Can I recommend watching a movie about another range war, in Wyoming, between cattle men and squatters? "Shane"? Just to see what might have been if some effort had been put into "Billy the Kid"?
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and director David Miller, who later helmed the John Wayne aerial opus "The Flying Tigers" and the last Marx Brothers' comedy "Love Happy," give the notorious legend of Billy the Kid the glamorous treatment in this spectacular-looking Technicolor western epic. Indeed, Robert Taylor looks far too mature to be essaying of role of the murderous young ruffian. Although he was a right-hander in life, Taylor packs his pistol on his left hip, and scenarist Gene Fowler conjures up some clever dialogue to account for his southpaw status. Chief villain Dan Hickey (Gene Lockhart of "Edge of Darkness") makes the pointed observation the first time that he encounters Billy: "Left-handed, eh?" Billy replies with insouciance, "I'm saving my right to shake hands with friends." This left versus right hand theme is concluded in the off-beat ending that ennobles the title character. Meanwhile, M-G-M decks Taylor out in black from Stetson to spurs as the grim, unshaven, lead-slinging lawbreaker. Interestingly, our when ill-fated protagonist—since he is clearly not the hero—joins the underdog cattleman, he curbs his violent urges and the filmmakers reflect Billy's change of nature by allowing him to shed his black-leather jacket. Of course, Billy doesn't stay on the right side of the law for long. Dour but dependable Brian Donlevy—often cast as a villain for the sake of his thin mustache—plays Billy's childhood friend; the two of them grew up in Silver City and Donlevy as Jim Sherwood believes that his friend got the shaft. It seems that somebody gunned down Billy's father in the back and he hasn't forgotten that injustice. Despite the age discrepancy, Taylor turns in an effective, downbeat performance.

    Scenarist Gene Fowler, who contributed to Twentieth Century Fox's 1939 biography of Jesse James with Tyrone Power, based his script ostensibly on William Barnes Noble's vintage book "The Saga of Billy the Kid," but—not surprisingly—"Billy the Kid" takes liberties with history. Essentially, most of the facts remain intact, though never as authentically as they were depicted in Arthur Penn's "The Left-Handed Gun" with Paul Newman, Andrew V. McLaglen's "Chism" with John Wayne, Sam Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" with Kris Kristofferson and the two "Young Guns" movies with Emilio Estevez. The names have been altered. The villainous Hickey stands in for Lawrence Murphy, while British cattleman Henry Tunstall has been renamed Eric Keating. Lawman Pat Garrett is called Jim Sherwood. The action still occurs in Lincoln County, New Mexico territory in the 1880s.

    The plot opens with Billy stealthily breaking his Mexican partner Pedro Gonzales (Italian actor Frank Puglia of "The Burning Hills") out of jail and then inciting a fight in Hickey's saloon with the distasteful likes of the bouncer played by odious Lon Chaney, Jr., because the saloon doesn't serve Hispanics. After this short-lived scuffle, Hickey convinces Billy to hire on with his outfit and ride with him. Under Hickey's orders, the Kid launches a stampede of Keating's cattle to whittle not the numbers of steers down as well as cut back on their pound per hoof. During the stampede, the Kid encounters his old Silver City friend, Jim Sherwood (Brian Donlevy of "Never So Few") and nearly gets his head shot off. Eventually, he switches sides and joins Keating. One of the primary differences between the wealthy Hickey and the foreigner Keating is that the latter have no objections to Billy's Hispanic partner signing on, too. Not long after Billy has turned over a new leaf, he discovers Pedro dead in the corral where they were gentling a horse for Keating's sister. Inevitably, when Keating takes his case to the territory governor and convinces the lawmakers to give in a U.S. Marshall's badge. Not only does Keating swear in Jim Sherwood as U.S. Deputy Marshall, but he also secures a pardon for Billy the Kid that later will serve as a basis for his pardon. Just everything is looking optimistic, Keating rides off from his ranch one day and his rider horse returns without him. Neither M-G-M nor Miller filmed Keating's murder at the hands of Hickey's henchmen with their own deputy badges. Primarily, they shot down Keating because he was harboring a fugitive—Billy the Kid—and Keating's death puts Billy on the prod.

    Classic western helmer John Ford photographed his best oaters in scenic Monument Valley with its flat, sagebrush studded terrain with buttes crenellating the horizon. Evidently, what was good enough for Ford proved good enough for Miller. Sadly, Miller lensed too much of "Billy the Kid" on indoor soundstages with the actors straddling ersatz horses. In the exterior long shots, we see horsemen pouring across the wilderness, then for the closer shots we are transported to a soundstage with the characters riding either fake nags or real ones slowed down to a walk with back projection of Monument Valley. In an interesting scene between Keating and the Kid outside on the trail, the Kid learns that Keating has no love for firearms. However, Keating's non-violent ideology doesn't preclude him from being a crack shot. As vultures circle overhead, Billy knocks one out of the skies and Keating borrows the Kid's six-shooter and knocks down two birds. The vultures are unmistakably animated as are several backdrop shots of the mountainous terrain. Ian Hunter, who played King Richard the Lion-Heart in the Errol Flynn swashbuckler "The Adventures of Robin Hood," is solidly cast as the transplanted Englishman. Mary Howard, who went on to appear in "Riders of the Purple Sage," is flat as Keating's sister Edith that the Kid has a crush on but who is destined to marry Sherwood. Appropriately, Miller saves Billy's death scene for the last few minutes and Billy gives his friend Sherwood an edge on him by wearing his six-gun on his right hip so that he cannot win in a fast-draw competition. "Billy the Kid" is okay for what it is, but it is no classic.
  • I just Love Billy the Kid with Robert Taylor! It's a hoot! All the talk about how young Billy the Kid was, and here is Robert Taylor, waaay to old for the part. Too funny!
  • According to this movie the infamous outlaw " Billy The Kid " was left handed and his real name was William Bonney . This is correct . What isn`t correct in this movie is everything else . Bonney was in reality a violent sociopath and if he was born in the mid 20th century his name would be remembered in the same way as people remember Ted Bundy . Only in Hollywood can history be rewritten is such a laughable manner . There`s other instances during this movie that distorts history and facts

    1 ) Getting shot in the hand causes mild irritation

    2 ) Mexicans are really white people with dark make up on their faces

    3 ) The wild west was full of singers

    4 ) People still call you " kid " even when you`re obviously over 40 years old

    There`s other inaccurate details but I couldn`t be bothered pointing them out ( Besides there`s a 1,000 word limit for reviews ) . I suppose what you think of this movie depends entirely on how you feel about Hollywood re-writing history . I hated every second of it and the only interest to me was the casting of Brian Donlevy and Lon Chaney Jr which is the closest the movie world has got to making QUATERMASS MEETS THE WOLFMAN

    QUATERMASS MEETS THE WOLFMAN ! Now that would have been a good movie and probably one hundred times more realistic than this movie
  • Warning: Spoilers
    When I first began watching this film, I was so unimpressed I almost turned it off. It's a rare Western that today holds my attention. But I'm glad I stuck with it because, on balance, it's a very good film.

    But let me start with what I don't like about the film. First, it's another one of those movies that try to resurrect the reputation of an outlaw, in this case Billy The Kid. It almost tries to portray Billy as just a poor misunderstood young man. Baloney.

    And then there is some of the photography. On the one hand, an apparently, big budget Western with beautiful color photography, some of it filmed in Monument Valley and Sedona. On the other hand, some of the closeups of riding horses were so fake looking as to be funny, and some of the matte work was very fake looking.

    But what makes this film stand apart is the performance by Robert Taylor. It's the main thing that kept me watching. Taylor was able to show Billy's dark nature by a certain look on his face...a slightly disturbed look. He showed great immaturity and petulance. It was quite compelling.

    The supporting cast is quite good, as well. Brian Donlevy, who I felt had a somewhat uneven career, is quite good as Billy's friend, who shoots him in the end. Ian Hunter as a rancher is excellent, and I have always enjoyed his performances in films. Gene Lockhart has a bit of a different role here -- as the bad guy! Lon Chaney, Jr. is here, as one of the bad guys, but although a typical role for him, not the way I like to see Chaney. And, it's always a treat to see Henry O'Neill in a film, here as a newspaper editor.

    Of course, there's a question about historical accuracy. I recommend you read a brief history of Billy The Kid (e.g., Wikipedia). Taylor is too old for Billy; Billy was only 21 when he died. However, much of the story loosely follows history. What's depicted is the Lincoln County War in New Mexico; so, wrong state in terms of scenery. Sheriff Pat Garrett, for some reason, has a completely different name here -- Jim Sherwood. And how Billy dies in this film is not anywhere near the truth.

    However, all considered, this is quite an impressive Western, and well worth watching.
  • Pat Garrett is called Sherwood, Tunstall is Keating and Murphy is Hickey, the names were changed perhaps because in 1941 they were still afraid of being sued by remaining members of the families. Apart from that, the facts are probably different from the way it happened, but the relationships between the characters, seem to be very truthful. Murphy and Tunstall brought the Irish-English war to Lincoln County. Robert Taylor is miscast as Billy, who would call Robert Taylor a kid? Audie Murphy would be the ideal actor. There are great scenes, like the cowboys getting all together to confront Hickey, that probably inspired a similar scene in "Duel in the Sun".
  • In the golden age of Hollywood, films that glorified old West outlaws were common and Billy the Kid and Jesse James were often the subjects in these movies. In all these films, the actual lives of the bandits were rather unimportant and they were mostly fiction. Here with "Billy the Kid" (1941), once again they stray very far from the real story. The most obvious is choosing Robert Taylor for the role--and hearing everyone call him 'Kid' seemed ludicrous. Compared to the only known photo of Billy, Taylor looks practically nothing like him and the well-spoken and urbane actor seemed like an odd choice--especially as he was just too old for the part. Of course, having folks like Roy Rogers and Audie Murphy looked little like him yet they also played him! Heck, considering that it didn't matter, I could have just as soon seen Keye Luke or Willie Best play the guy!

    The film supposedly follows Billy's career--his path to becoming a wanted man. There's some nonsense about a friend of his being murdered and he must then oppose some old friend who stands on the wrong side in the conflict. It's all reasonably well acted, mildly interesting and looked nice in color. BUT, historically speaking it was just nonsense. And, as a retired history teacher, I just cannot recommend this bit of 'historic license' (i.e, a total lie). Watchable but wrong.
  • The best thing about this movie version of Billy The Kid is the color photography. Taylor looks good (he was in his prime at that time), but he's horribly miscast....too old to play the part. There's no Tunstall, no Pat Garrett....and both actors playing the changed parts are far too old. It reminds me of Howard Hughes' The Outlaw, except that the actor who played Billy in that film was much better cast (closer in age, but not much of an actor). There's lots of music, romance, and talk, talk, talk. In short, it becomes extremely boring after awhile. May be worth watching once, but hardly worth a second look. Despite the views of Arizona and Utah, most scenes are obviously shot on a sound stage.
  • The film suffers from being part of the prettified world MGM wanted to present the movie-going world, at least in this period. On the other hand, "Young Guns" probably got it about right, for those who want to compare. According to Western historical scholars, Billy Bonner could've been well-described as a psychotic teenage killer. Not the noble--though driven--much older figure figure depicted by Robert Taylor. Also, the settings are a little too built up. Anyone who's spent time in the more remote parts of New Mexico knows what I mean. The rancher who's his mentor has a nice ranch house with grass! Finally, the movie is short on action. The photography is fine, but if you want real 1941 Technicolor splendor, drop this one and check out "Blood and Sand".
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Billy the Kid" (1941) is an early example of the use of Technicolor. The film is visually outstanding. Cinematographers Leonard V. Skall and Leonard Smith received an Oscar nomination for their work on the film and should have won. From close-ups to panoramic views of Monument Valley, Kanab, Utah and other locations they used color, composition and especially light masterfully. Some scenes evoke the stillness of a Vermeer and others the chiaroscuro of Rembrandt. Near the end of the movie Billy is standing near the window of a tumbledown shack. The viewer is outside and can see his body fading into the shadows except for the upper part of his face, especially the intense blue eyes. There is a Caravaggio-like spotlight on the hand and gun the outlaw is pointing out the window.

    Historically, there is little resemblance between the film and the actual life of Billy the Kid. The general details of his background is correct but the names have all been changed, perhaps to head off the complaints of purists. There is no Pat Garrett, but rather a Jim Sherman (Brian Donlevy), no William Tunstall but an Eric Keating (Ian Hunter). The filmmakers obviously wanted to tell a good story without regard to historical accuracy.

    Robert Taylor was 30 when Billy the Kid was filmed. He's too old for the part but not by as much as some have made out. To seem younger, Taylor plays Billy as uncouth, uneducated and probably illiterate. The outlaw is incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions. He's always being bombarded by new ideas and new customs. There is a lighthearted scene where Billy is handed a teacup and saucer, objects obviously new to him. He picks the cup up as though it were a glass until he sees what Keating is doing. Billy holds the cup awkwardly by the handle until Keating turns away then he gulps the tea with his original hold.

    This was Robert Taylor in his element. He was a superb rider and did all of his own riding in this film, even in the long shots. Taylor also had the western swagger down pat and seems very comfortable in his cowboy costumes. In private life, he often wore jeans, boots and a Stetson. In the first and last parts of the film, Billy dresses all in black. In the middle he wears a blue shirt to indicate his changed lifestyle. Robert Taylor practiced left-handed drawing and shooting for weeks before the film and used the skill again in the film "Ride Vaquero" in 1953.

    Taylor and Donlevy are comfortable with one another, having worked together before in "This Is My Affair" in 1937. The easiness of their relationship makes Billy's (temporary) transformation into an honest cowboy believable. Mary Howard has a small role as Eric Keating's sister and makes the most of it. Ian Hunter is believable as rancher Keating.

    The villains, especially Hickey (Gene Lockhart) are suitably nasty. Henry O'Neill, a leading character actor, throws himself with gusto into the role of a newspaper publisher whose press is constantly being sabotaged.

    So whether you like a good story, a series of beautiful visuals or just like to look at Robert Taylor, this film is for you.
  • Robert Taylor in 1941 was a tall, handsome, mature 40-year old man and typically played a hero or authority figure -- such as the leader of the wagon train in "Westward the Women." Here he's cast as a short, fun-loving immature teenage gunslinger. The casting is as hopeless as having Clint Eastwood playing Mary Poppins.

    Besides that, none of the story comes even close to the real (and easy to access) story of Billy the Kid -- which is far more interesting than any movie ever made about him.

    In 1941, Technicolor westerns were few and much appreciated, as color was new and the 3-strip Technicolor of that era was/is stunningly beautiful and far better than color photography in 2009. Seeing a picture like this would have been special. Actually, if you ignore the mis-casting and the true history, this picture is enjoyable.

    For a better look at Billy, seek out Universal's "The Kid from Texas" starring Audie Murphy. Billy's body-count is still inflated, but the story is 80% accurate and Murphy is perfect as Billy.
  • Many Western movies have used Monument Valley as a back drop since John Ford popularised it, in movies like Stagecoach and the Searchers, but none better than this one in my opinion. Director David Miller seems to have spent time working out how to shoot the scenery from every favourable angle, with great attention to composition, finding many new and attractive combinations of the familiar landmark rock formations. Then provides the cast with plenty of opportunities to ride back and forth across in front of it. The movie itself, although not particularly accurate in a historical sense, keeps to the spirit of the more favourable interpretations of Billy's actions and has a sound structure. Robert Taylor, in his prime and decked out in shiny black leather, has rarely looked better, and Brian Donleavy is given a rare opportunity to play a "white hat", instead of his usual role as a leader of the "black hats".