"Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" Standard DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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Richard W. Haines
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Location: Croton-on-Hudson, NY
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"Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" Standard DVD review

'Bloody Sam' was Peckinpah's nickname coined by critics and fans of his
movies. Most are so violent and gory you almost expect your player to
be dripping with blood after ejected the disc.

"Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" Standard DVD comes in a special edition that
was released a while ago. It was on my want list and I never got around
to purchasing it until Barnes and Noble had a 'buy two get one free' offer
so I purchased this movie along with "The Graduate" Special Edition and
got the original B&W version of "3:10 to Yuma" for free.

This picture did poorly when it was released and doesn't have a good
reputation but I like it. It falls somewhere between "The Wild
Bunch" and the quieter "Ballad of Cable Hogue" in terms of the director's
themes and world view. It's more of a mood piece and character study
than an action film although it does have his famous bloody shoot outs
with exagerated squibs and slow motion deaths.

The theatrical version that I saw back in the seventies
was a choppy mess so initially I didn't like the picture. Then they found
a 'Preview' print of the film that was longer and considerably different
in terms of style and content. That copy is contained on the second
disc and I would say it's my favorite cut of the film even though it's
missing a key scene with Coburn and his estranged wife. Unfortunately,
they mastered it from an old release print which was fairly grainy and
had some scratches. They didn't bother to digitally clean it up.
Like all preview versions, it runs a bit long and is not fine cut but
I enjoyed the leisurely pace which seemed to suit the story.
I also liked the credit sequence with freeze frames which was similar
to "The Wild Bunch" opening. The theatrical version did not have the
flash forward sequence which shows Garrett getting killed.

The first disc contains a 2005 edition of the movie. Some associates
and editors of the late director put it together. It's not a 'director's
cut' and I thought it was bit nervey of them to attempt to re-edit
someone else's movie after he had died. They try to justify their
editorial decisions but it's a highly questionable practice and I disagree
with many of thier cuts.

So far there are four versions of this movie if you include the TV
copy which had extra scenes not included in the other cuts.
One of the main advantage of the 2005 copy is that it was digitally cleaned
up and looks mint and is less grainy than the preview print. However,
the credit sequence is completely different and doesn't have the freeze
frames but does include some of the flash forward. Many scenes have been shortened or removed and while it has a faster pace, I missed some of
the dialogue and character nuance from the preview print.
It does contain the extra scene of Coburn and his wife which was not
in the theatrical version but was incorporated in the TV copy that was broadcast.

I guess if you're seeing the film for the first time, see the 2005 cut since
it looks the best although this is not a great looking film if you project it.
The main problem is the Metrocolor lab which was inferior to Technicolor
which Peckinpah used for "The Wild Bunch", "Straw Dogs" and "The Getaway".
His style of photography tended to underexpose the image giving lots
of sky but dark fleshtones and interiors. The dye transfer process used
at Technicolor 'filled in' the grain and generated excellent contrast and
rich earth tones. Metrocolor tended to have murky contrast and exagerate
the grain. The opticals are even worse of course.

I like many of Peckinpah's films and "The Wild Bunch" is my favorite Western.
Like so many fans, it would be nice if those you admired were decent people
too. Unfortunately, Peckinpah wasn't. By all accounts he was a mean,
sadistic and volatile alcoholic who was very talented and had a unique
vision but unable to get along with anyone including some of his stars,
all of his producers, financiers and distributors. Because he lacked diplomatic
skills and business acumen, he wasn't allowed to produce his classic films and
was a 'work for hire'. What that meant was that they could fire him if they
wanted and/or take the movie away and make their own version which was
the case of most of his movies with "The Wild Bunch" and "Straw Dogs" being the rare exceptions. His battles with the studios and producers are part of his legend.

This movie was taken away from him after the preview cut and MGM re-edited
and restructered it to the point where it no longer worked as a narrative.
However, the preview cut was not necessarily the final version Pekinpah
would've released had he been allowed to work on it until
completion. I just prefer it over the other versions out there, none of which
could be accurately called "the director's cut" which is no longer possible
since he died.

Now about the movie...

Many critics claim that Peckinpah was trying to de-romanticize the West but
I have a different take. I think he just replaced one set of myths with his
own set of myths along the lines of what Sergio Leone did with his Italian
Westerns. In Peckinpah's 'wild west', the frontier and freedom are just an
illusion that outlaws cling too. In "The Wild Bunch" a group of aging bandits
in 1910 are trying to operate as they did in the 19th century and are in
denial that those days are long gone. In this movie which takes place in
the 1800's, the two lead outlaws, Pat and Billy, are still out of place and
their days are numbered. There is no place for free spirited men in America
then or now according to the director. In the case of Garrett, he's gone straight and has become a lawman. Billy tells him "Times change but not me"
which makes them antagonists just as Willian Holden and Robert Ryan
were in the other picture. James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson are quite
good in their roles. Coburn plays Pat as a burned out, world weary man
selling his soul to stay alive. Kristofferson plays Billy as a wild kid in a man's
body who grins his way through life and takes nothing seriously. He's amiable
and loyal to his friends except that he has a trigger finger and will kill anyone
who gets in his way.

The supporting cast are the usual suspects from the director's other Westerns
and like his other features, while the leads give low keyed realistic performances
all of the secondary characters overact and ham it up. It takes some getting
used to but that was his signature style. The story follows Coburns reluctant
assignment to track down and kill the Kid since he refuses to leave town.
Billy is caught, makes a daring escape which includes shooting a man he was
becoming friendly with in the back and makes it Mexico. Coburn follows him,
whoring around and brooding about his life and encountering every surviving
character actor from other Westerns like Slim Pickens, Elisha Cook Jr. and Jack
Elam. Garrett finally discovers Billy with a whore but lets him finish his business before shooting him in the chest. Curiously, this was the only killing in the film that did not have a squib. Then the film brings us back to the flash forward when Pat is ambushed and killed suggesting everyone is doomed. (Note that the 2005 version
does not contain the epilogue and just ends with Garrett leaving town and also
omits the scene with Elisha Cook Jr.).

The only thing Peckinpah cares about is a code of honor among men, even if those men are criminals. Nothing else matters to him including law and order, love, civilization or family. Therefore, he sides with Billy who is true to his outlaw lifestyle and is willing to die for it as opposed to Garrett who sells out to survive. The fact that the Kid is a murderer is irrelevant to his way of seeing things. You certainly don't have to agree with him to enjoy the movie. Peckinpah is what he is and it's fascinating to watch his narratives follow this line of thought. Certainly
Peckinpah remained true to his nasty, onery self until he died.

The music score is by Bob Dylan, the folk singer icon and friend of
Kristofferson. He was heavily criticized for his performance at the time but
I think he's fine in the picture playing one of Billy's gang members called
"Alias". He doesn't have much dialogue but does exchange a number of
knowing glances at Kristofferson which I thought was amusing since they
shared a musical background and were supposed to be friends in the story.
Dylan always looked a bit unkempt and dishelved which suited his real life
and reel life outlaw status. Dylan also remained true to his world view
which is why he distanced himself from the counter culture movement
in the sixties when it turned violent.

Whether anyone will enjoy this atmospheric and moody movie without a
background in Peckinpah's cinema is unknown. If you've never seen one
of his movies I suggest watching "The Wild Bunch" and "Straw Dogs" which
illustrates what he's all about before watching this one. If you can't take
the level of cynicism, violence and sadism in those movies, quit while
you're ahead and don't watch this movie. If you do like those movies
(as I do), then this picture fits in nicely with his other work in the era.
I don't subscribe to his world view but I enjoy experiencing his twisted
vision...from the distance of my sofa that is.

While 80% of the viewers attending the current release of "Sex in the City"
are women, it's unlikely that even 10% of those attending a Peckinpah festival
would be female. Peckinpah was a misogonist and usually depicted woman as
untrustworthy whores. This movie is no exception. Suffice it to say, 'Bloody Sam' did not make 'Chick Flicks'. My wife hates his films.

Other than the two commentaries on both versions, the other suppliments
are pretty scant. There's a 2005 inteview with Kristofferson who looks
very aged and is missing his eyebrows. He doesn't add anything of significance
to the production story but does sing a song he wrote about Peckinpah in a very
gravely voice. Kristofferson was a good actor decades ago but he got linked with the "Heaven's Gate" fiasco which was a real career killer although he's a staunch advocate of the movie. They also have an interview with the director's assistant
but all she does is state what everyone already knows...Peckinpah was difficult
to work with and was constantly feuding with the studios that produced his
movies. You could cut the tension and stress on his sets with a knife although
she suggests that it was what gave him inspiration. Some people need conflict
to be creative.

I also screened the original version of "3:10 to Yuma" in black and white.
Although it covered the same territory as the recent remake, it was a tighter
narrative without all the subplots and themes. The outlaw is portrayed by
Glenn Ford in this picture and he's cast against type. He's very good as
the ruthless killer who plays head games with the nervous rancher portrayed
by Van Heflon by using his charm to disarm him. Because there is less clutter in the narrative, I found it more suspenseful than the remake. The cinematography is very good and the disc is anamorphically enhanced to a 1.66 ratio. The opticals are grainy but otherwise it's razor sharp with nice lighting. Very detailed close ups where you can see the pores and sweat of the actors. One of the better psychological Westerns of the fifties and superior to the overated "High Noon" which contained similar themes.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 06-18-08 at 12:57 PM.
Richard W. Haines is offline  


dvd , review , standard

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