The Man Who Killed Billy The Kid review
The Man Who Killed Billy The Kid (El Hombre que mató a Billy el Niño)
Italian title: ... e divenne il più spietato bandito del Sud
The title may well be a reference to John Ford's The Man who shot Liberty Valence: like in Ford's movie, the bandit from the title is not shot by the man who became famous for it, but by a third person, who fired the fatal bullet (again like in Ford's movie) from a lurking place. However, the motivations of the person in question, are radically different.
The movie retells the story of William H. Bonney (1) in Freudian terms of mother-fixation and substitute fathers. Billy becomes a outlaw after a man has attempted to rape his mother: he first knives the rapist and later shoots two of the man's brothers. He's then adopted by Frank Tunstill, a British immigrant, a rancher and a foster father to angry young men and rebels without a cause. After Tunstill is murdered in a ranch war (The Lincoln County War), Billy temporarily turns to banditry, enjoying the adventure and excitement, but eventually decides to give up his guns to start a new life with Tunstill's daughter, who has fallen in love with him, but he can't escape Pat Garrett and his own violent past ...
The most common international title (in the US it was called A Few Bullets More) is a translation of the Spanish title, the Italian title refers to the character of Billy, played by the top-billed Peter Lee Lawrence: ... e divenne il bandito più spietato del Sud (... and he became the most ruthless bandit of the South). The title might be a little misleading: Billy is shown as a person who can be ruthless, but at the same time as capable of feelings of love and remorse. It's not a matter of 'bad blood', but violence has become a second nature: when he's ready to lay his fate in the hands of his friend Pat Garrett, he again returns to violence when he's accused of having caused his own mother's death by a bystander.
This is not a historically correct retelling of the story, not by a long shot, but it has a few names and events right - or nearly so: Billy's mentor is called Tunstill while in reality his name was Tunstall, Fort Sumner has become Fort Summer and the idea has been adopted that Garrett and Billy were close friends and Garrett had been like a father to the younger man; for this reason Garrett is played by a then 45 years old Fausto Tozzi; in reality there's no evidence that the two had been buddies and Garrett was only nine years older than The Kid (2). Tunstall (the second 'substitute father') was not a middle-aged man 'interested' in boys: he was only six years older than Billy and only 25 when he was shot in 1878 (it would therefore have been miraculous for him to have a 18-20 years old daughter).
One of the amazing things is that the Billy the Kid character was not part of the original plans. The movie is officially credited to director Julio Buchs, but its genesis is actually quite obscure; long time there have been rumors that Buchs's other western, A Bullet for Sandoval, was co-directed by Lucio Fulci, but this was strongly denied by actor George Hilton, who starred in it (3). In a recent interview, Italian director Nick Nostro (Uno dopo l'altro) stated that Fulci had instead worked on this movie; furthermore he revealed that it was supposed to be a dramatization, in western form, of the life of Sicilian bandit (and folk hero) Salvatore Giuliano (4); Fulci fell out with the production company and according to Nostro asked him, Nostro, to take over direction; he also sustains that Buchs had no directional hand in it, but others remember him as the movie's director (5).
Knowing all this, The Man who Killed Billy the Kid looks remarkably coherent; it's not a great movie per se, but it's slick and entertaining; the presentation of Billy as a victim of circumstance seems in accordance with some of the more recent theories on his life and times (6). But movies tend to say as much about the time in which they were made as the time in which they are set: dressed in black leather, wearing black gloves, the Billy from this movie occasionally looks more like a biker than a cowboy. Peter Lee Lawrence is ideally cast as the Kid: he even looks a little like the historic figure, according to contemporaries a thin, graceful young man with blue eyes, blond hair and a smooth complexion. On the other hand there seems to be no indication that the Kid was a troubled person, fighting with inner demons; acquaintances described him as Humorous, fun-loving and jolly, articulate in writing and speech. (7)
- (1) He was born William Henri McCarty Jr. (most probably in 1859), but William Bonney was the name he used at the height of his notoriety. Occasionally he was also called Henri Antrim; his mother remarried with William Antrim in 1873. He most probably changed his name on a couple of occasions because he had become a wanted man after killing Frank "Windy" Cahill in 1877. Many frontier persons went under different names; it was an easy way to 're-invent' oneself before the time of social security numbers or other identifiers (Special thanks to: Tom Betts, Jim Trumbo and Antony O'Donnell)
- (2) Michael Wallis, Billy the Kid, The Endless Ride, p. 235; See also: http://www.aboutbillythekid.com/frequently_asked_questions.htm (Question 9)
- (3) See for some notes on George Hilton & Lucio Fulci : Tempo di Massacro DVD Review (under extras)
- (4) Salvatore Giuliano (1922-1950) - his life was filmed twice, first by Francesco Rosi (as Salvatore Giuliano) in 1961, then by Michael Cimino (as The Sicilian, in 1987); Cimino's movie was based on Mario Puzo's novel with the same name, a highly dramatized version of Giuliano's life.
- (5) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana
- (6) In a well-researched and well-received BBC documentary/docudrama from 2006, a group of experts, among them Professor Paul A. Hutton (University of New Mexico), Frederick Nolan (author of The west of Billy the Kid) and Joel Jacobsen (Assistant Attorney General of New Mexico) discuss the case and their conclusion is that Billy deserves a pardon. Bill Richarson, then governor of New Mexico (and also in the documentary) indeed considered to grant an appeal to pardon that was promised during Billy's lifetime by governor Lew Wallace (a former general and also the author of the novel Ben Hur); he later decided not to grant the appeal (See: http://newsfortheday.com/billy-the-kid-denied-pardon/77601/)
- (7) Source: http://www.aboutbillythekid.com/Eulogy.htm