Sunday 23 June 2013

The Left Handed Gun [1958]

Arthur Penn, who would go on to earn worldwide renown with Bonnie & Clyde, made his feature debut with The Left-Handed Gun, based on the fabled life of Billy the Kid. Though tad inconsistent and not without its flaws and moments of indulgence, the revisionist Western managed to be psychologically engaging on account of its honest delving into the psyche of the near-mythical outlaw and demythologizing him in the process. The film begins with blue-eyed drifter William Bonney (Paul Newman) being recruited by cattle baron Tunstall (Colin Keith-Johnston), who goes on to become a father figure to the troubled, illiterate and psychologically unstable young man. When the kindly old man is brutally slain, Billy vows revenge against those responsible, and gets two slow-witted and equally unstable guys in his team. Eventually his nemesis turns out to be another father-figure in his life, viz. Pat Garrett (John Dehner). The Kid’s relationships with these two men, his friendship with his two sociopathic pals, and his adulterous affair with a beautiful and older Mexican lady (Lita Milan) whose husband too deeply cares for him, added layers to the smiling, rebellious and unpredictable youth who, unwittingly, became a pop-culture icon and a symbol for counter-culture. Newman made the tragic character highly endearing with his boyish grin, charm and tomfoolery, while also marvelously capturing his angst, intensity, pig-headedness and darker impulses; he easily towered over all his fellow actors and is reason enough to watch the film. No wonder, the role had been initially planned with James Dean in mind. The score, and particularly the mellifluously sung title song, deserve special mention.

Director: Arthur Penn
Genre: Western/Revisionist Western/Biopic
Language: English
Country: US


Sam Juliano said...

"Though tad inconsistent and not without its flaws and moments of indulgence..."

Yeah I found this disclaimer to be true as well Shubhajit. But your defense is also dead-on, and though not one of the great westerns, it's still worth seeing. You frame Newman's performance perfectly.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. Newman's fine performance alone is worth the price of the ticket, so to speak. The existential tone was also an interesting addition.