As William H. Bonney, Henry Antrim, and Billy the Kid, Henry McCarty (1859-1881) is one of the most infamous criminals of the Old West. The General Film Company released the first film based on his life in 1911. Laurence Trimble directed this early silent film, which starred Tefft Johnson as the titular character, and it was titled Billy the Kid.
Ten Billy the Kid films that no western cinema fan should miss are here. Draw me a picture, please…
1. The Left Handed Gun (Warner Bros., 1958)
This well-received western stars Paul Newman as Billy the Kid, a dashing outlaw with blue eyes. Additionally, Lita Milan (Celsa), Hurd Hatfield (Moultrie), James Congdon (Charlie Boudre), James Best (Tom Folliard), Colin Keith-Johnston (Tunstall), and John Dierkes (Pat Garrett) are also on hand (McSween). Filmed in New Mexico Territory during Lincoln County War, Billy the Kid’s character is shown as a man who pledges retribution for the murder of his mentor. James Dean, who tragically died in a car accident on September 30, 1955, was originally cast in the lead role. On The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse (7/24/55), Newman had previously portrayed Billy the Kid in “The Death of Billy the Kid.”
2. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (MGM, 1973)
In this violent oater, Kris Kristofferson plays Billy the Kid alongside James Coburn’s Sheriff Pat Garrett. To recapture the freed Billy, Pat Garrett returns to the New Mexico Territory of 1881, where the film is set. The ultimate showdown takes place at Fort Sumner, where Garrett shoots Billy to death. Sheriff Kip McKinney is played by Richard Jaeckel; Mrs. Baker is played by Katy Jurado; Lemuel is played by Chill Wills; Chisum is played by Barry Sullivan; Governor Wallace is played by Jason Robards; and, finally, Alias is played by Bob Dylan. The Kid points a loaded shotgun at R.G. Armstrong’s Ollinger character and asks, “How’s Jesus look to you now, Bob?”
3. Billy the Kid (MGM, 1941)
When Billy Bonney’s beloved boss is assassinated in New Mexico Territory, a mature-looking Robert Taylor stars as the young gunslinger who pursues vengeance. Eric Keating, Brian Donlevy, Mary Howard, Gene Lockhart, Dan Hickey, and Lon Chaney Jr. are also in attendance, as is Ian Hunter, who portrays Eric Keating (Spike Hudson). The color cinematography in Billy the Kid was nominated for an Academy Award. Ending: “As the methods of the law reached the farthest reaches, so too did the last of the men of violence find their peace.” You don’t get paid for doing crimes.
4. Young Guns (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1988)
To avenge the murder of their patron in New Mexico Territory, Billy the Kid, played by Emilio Estevez, leads a band of “young guns” under his command. In addition to Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, and Casey Siemaszko (as Doc Scurlock and Jose Chavez respectively), Billy is joined by actors Kiefer Sutherland, Dermot Mulroney, and Lou Diamond Phillips (Charley Bowdre). Aside from them, Terence Stamp, Terry O’Quinn, Jack Palance, and Patrick Wayne (as Lawrence G. Murphy and Alex McSween, respectively) will also be there (Pat Garrett). Those who enjoy westerns will enjoy the action in this film, as well as the beautiful New Mexico scenery. The Western Heritage Awards’ Bronze Wrangler for Best Theatrical Motion Picture went to Young Guns.
5. Billy the Kid Returns (Republic, 1938)
Roy Rogers plays himself and Billy the Kid’s reborn doppelganger in this one. Pat Garrett, Wade Boteler’s Sheriff, asks Roy to assume the place of the murdered Kid in a range battle pitting homesteaders against big-business ranchers. They sing western songs including “Trail Blazin’,” “Sing a Little Song About Anything,” “Born to the Saddle,” and “When the Sun Is Setting on the Prairie” with Smiley Burnette as Frog Millhouse, Roy’s sidekick. The Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles hosted Roy Rogers for the film premiere of Billy the Kid Returns on September 5, 1938.
6. The Kid from Texas (Universal, 1950)
As Billy the Kid, Audie Murphy, a decorated World War II veteran, portrays America’s most decorated soldier. Additionally, there are Gale Storm (Irene Kain), Albert Dekker (Alexander Kain), Shepperd Strudwick (Roger Jameson), William Talman (Minninger), and Frank Wilcox (Sheriff Pat Garrett). Murphy seems a little awkward in front of the camera, but he does a good job with the character.
7. Young Guns II (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1990)
Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips again reprise their roles in this sequel to Young Guns (1988). Emilio Estevez reprises his role as Billy the Kid. Billy frees his two accomplices and starts out for Mexico with the law on their tail. “Keep that in mind, Pat. You will never be me. You’ll always be known as the man who killed Billy the Kid.” Estevez tells Pat Garrett, played by William Petersen.
8. Billy the Kid (MGM, 1930)
In this early sound western, ex-University of Alabama football star Johnny Mack Brown plays Billy the Kid, alongside Wallace Beery (Pat Garrett), Kay Johnson (Claire Randall), Karl Dane (Swenson), Wyndham Standing (Jack Tunston), and Russell Simpson (Angus McSween). This new version, shot in New Mexico, Arizona, and California, finds the Kid seeking vengeance for the death of his boss while being pursued by Pat Garrett. The handguns used by Brown in the film, which were based on the real Billy the Kid’s, are of particular interest. Legendary western actor William S. Hart loaned them to the museum.
9. Chisum (Warner Bros., 1970)
Billy the Kid is played by Geoffrey Deuel, who made his film debut in this John Wayne-directed western. John Chisum, played by Wayne, is drawn into the Lincoln County War in New Mexico, where he meets both The Kid and Pat Garrett, played by Glenn Corbett. As well as these actors, there are Forrest Tucker as Lawrence Murphy, Christopher George as Dan Nodeen, Ben Johnson as James Pepper, Andrew Prine as Alex McSween, Bruce Cabot as Sheriff Brady, and Patric Knowles as a host of other supporting characters (Henry Tunstall). “Mr. Tunstall, I’ve kept my end of the bargain. I’ve decided to make a vow to myself. The Bible says, “The wicked’s candle shall be turned out.” “Billy the Kid, enraged, makes a bold proclamation. And that, my friends, calls for gunplay.
10. Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (Embassy, 1966)
John Carradine’s Count Dracula faces up against Chuck Courtney’s Billy the Kid in this Californian camp classic shot at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley. Harry Carey Jr. (Ben Dooley), Bing Russell (Red Thorpe), and Roy Barcroft (Betty Bentley) are also on board for the Old West/Gothic slaughter (Sheriff Griffin). Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966), starring John Lupton and Narda Onyx, was also on the same bill. Can’t we all just get along, gunfighters, vampires, and law enforcement?