The Left Handed Gun

1958

Western /

4
IMDb Rating 6.5

Synopsis


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1.95G
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102 min
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102 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by robb_772 7/10

Based on Gore Vidal's play (which had already been filmed once for television with Newman), THE LEFT HANDED GUN is an unusual addition to the western genre, with several considerable attempts at psychoanalysis that were slightly ahead of the time for this type of picture. The film is more or less a bio of infamous outlaw Billy the Kid, with the novelty that Billy (played by Newman) is sympathetically portrayed more as a misunderstood youth rather than an outright criminal. Director Arthur Penn and screenwriter Leslie Stevens (working from Vidal's original play) have done a commendable job at presenting Vidal's revolutionist vision of Billy, even though the film sometimes rambles and lacks the streamlined momentum that made Penn's similar BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) an American film masterpiece. The entire story was filmed much more effectively in Sam Peckinpah's cult classic PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (1973), but THE LEFT HANDED GUN stands as an interesting curio and a film that (aside from some overwrought acting) has aged very well.This was yet another role that was originally intended to be played by James Dean that Newman stepped into after that young actor's tragic death. Unlike 1956's SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (which Newman played to perfection), I actually think that Dean might have actually been better suited to play Billy the Kid, as his nervy stance and cocksure demeanor have yet to be match by anyone and possibly could have enhanced the role even further. Newman is still quite good, however, playing the role as closely to Vidal's original concept as possible, and there is a particularly lovely scene with Newman's reaction as Billy to a Biblical verse remaining one of my favorite pieces of reactive acting ever. The sympathetic portrayal of Billy the Kid also gave Newman his first real shot at playing an anti-hero, a task that he would later perfect in the 24-Karat film masterpieces THE HUSTLER (1961) and HUD (1963).

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Reviewed by Bill Slocum ([email protected]) 4/10

Billy The Kid has been played on screen by many actors, of whom PaulNewman may have been the most justly famous. So why is his Billy such adrip?<br><br>Newman was 33 years old and had managed to make the most of his secondchance at screen fame with a solid turn in &#x22;Somebody Up There LikesMe,&#x22; playing a rebellious young boxer. As Billy, though, Newman seemslost as a similar character of sudden impulse. &#x22;All I know is how Ifeel,&#x22; he says, and that&#x27;s true whether he&#x27;s brooding Brando-like overthe death of a rancher he just met or dancing up a storm three minuteslater. For every scene he plays with his trademark cool, there must befour or five he exaggerates to strange effect.<br><br>It&#x27;s a strange movie with or without him. Celebrated by some as apsychological western, it presents Billy as neither evil nor asociopath, but rather as tied up by an understandable if extreme needfor revenge. There was this guy, you see, who gave Billy a job and thengot shot by some corrupt peace officers, and he promised to teach poorBilly to read.<br><br>Never mind that Billy doesn&#x27;t know this guy when the movie starts andhe&#x27;s already dead ten minutes in. Nor that Billy&#x27;s twopartners-in-crime, Tom (James Best) and Charley (James Congdon), haveno clear reason for siding with their hot-tempered friend. &#x22;TheLeft-Handed Gun&#x22; is a film in a hurry, mainly to give Newman as muchopportunity to emote as possible. Boy, does Newman emote!<br><br>Compositionally, &#x22;The Left-Handed Gun&#x22; does some interesting things. Wesee Billy&#x27;s first gunfight through a steamed-up window taking placewhile Billy simultaneously maps it out, a terrific effect. DirectorArthur Penn and cinematographer J. Peverell Marley (not a harmoniousteam, as Penn reveals in a DVD commentary) continually find uniquedetails to capture the eye, like one man&#x27;s face pressed against awindow glass after taking a fatal bullet. In his movie blog &#x22;Nothing IsWritten,&#x22; Groggy Dundee points out just how much of Penn&#x27;s big escapescene made it into the later Sam Peckinpah movie &#x22;Pat Garrett And BillyThe Kid,&#x22; to the point of identical blocking and camera angles.<br><br>This is a better film that that one, which is overlong and cattywampus.Penn makes a point in his DVD commentary about the film being takenaway from him in the editing room, and there&#x27;s much sloppiness inevidence in the final cut, like Tom taking the same bullet in twoconsecutive scenes. But Penn must take the blame for a cast thatoverplays way too much, as if Newman&#x27;s Method acting style was theswine flu. Best either whacks his hat or giggles constantly, while JohnDehner as Pat Garrett has an atrocious scene where he whines at Billyfor shooting a guy during his wedding reception.<br><br>&#x22;This wall, this street, this town, I married all of it,&#x22; Dehnerscreams. I shudder to imagine the honeymoon.<br><br>Best&#x27;s future &#x22;Dukes Of Hazzard&#x22; castmate Denver Pyle sticks out in abetter way as the ornery Ollinger, while Hurd Hatfield coos over Billyas an overly florid Southern writer who wants to make his fortunewriting up Billy&#x27;s career. Considering this was based on a play by GoreVidal, there may be a subtext there, though Hatfield works his fewscenes more in the direction of a creepier Vincent Price. I liked him,even if I don&#x27;t think he got across anything more than a hint of anidea about our exploitative celebrity culture.<br><br>That&#x27;s the problem with &#x22;Left-Handed Gun,&#x22; aiming too high and notgetting what it shoots for. That and Newman, who shows some star powerhere but not much acting skill. Unlike Billy, he had time to getbetter.

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Reviewed by AaronCapenBanner 2/10

Arthur Penn directed this obscure(and umpteenth) filming of the storyof Billy The Kid(William Bonny) Paul Newman(utterly miscast) playsBilly as a misunderstood and pensive youth who merely wanted to avengethe death of his employer, an expatriate Englishman and cattle ranchermurdered by a corrupt sheriff and his men because they didn&#x27;t want thecompetition. Billy hunts down and kills the men responsible, butbecomes a wanted criminal as a result. His friend and lawman PatGarret(played by John Dehner) reluctantly pursues him, as Billy&#x27;s famegrows... Terrible film is unbearably slow and uninteresting; a realchore to sit through, and misinformed title makes it look even worse!

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