Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Overlooked Movies: Dirty Little Billy

Back in the '70s the revisionist western was a thing, so a revisionist Billy the Kid movie was a natural. And if you're going to revise Billy the Kid, who'd been played in th past by, among others, Paul Newman, Robert Taylor, and Roy Rogers, why not cast Michael J. Pollard?  I can't think of a more unlikely leading man in any role, much less Billy the Kid.

The movie is what we now call an origin story. Pollard plays Billy Bonney, who arrives in Coffeyville, Kansas, with his mother and stepfather, whose plan is to become a farmer and make Billy one, too.  Coffeyville is one of the muddiest towns ever put on film, and nobody there ever takes a bath.  The actors spend most of the film covered in grime.  Pollard is a wimp and a weasel who falls in with a bad crowd and loves it.  He gives a truly creepy performance, but then what would you expect?  He's Michael J. Pollard.

A lot of time is spent in a nasty-looking saloon, but there are occasional outbursts of violence, including the one at the end, where Billy comes into his own.  In fact, I guess we could call this a coming-of-age movie, too, since Billy gets initiated into sex and killing.  At the end we can see where he's headed.

My feeling is that this version of Billy the Kid isn't any more true than others we've seen on film.  It's a very different version, though, and nowhere nearly as romantic as the earlier ones.  There's nobody in the movie to like very much, certainly not Billy, but if you're looking for a western that's far from run-of-the-mill, here it is.


Deb said...

Most biopics are reflections of the eras that create them, not the eras they're ostensibly set in. I have the vaguest memory of seeing this (I think at a drive-in!) sometime in the 1970s because I remember the dirt and the mud (which put me in mind of "McCabe and Mrs. Miller"). A movie perhaps more interesting in what it represents (1970s anti-hero genre) than what it actually is.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Pollard was nominated for an Oscar for BONNIE AND CLYDE. He lost (as did all the other acting nominees other than Estelle Parsons).

Factoid of the Week: Michael Andrew Fox chose his stage middle initial (I guess you'd call it) as a tribute to Pollard.