Billy the Kid (1941): David Miller’s Oscar Nomined Western, Starring Robert Taylor, Brian Donlevy, Gene Lockhart

Billy the Kid, a color remake of the 1930 film, features Robert Taylor in the titular role and Brian Donlevy as a fictionalized version of Pat Garrett, renamed here “Jim Sherwood.”

Grade: B

Billy the Kid
Billy the Kid 1941.jpg

Theatrical poster

Directed by David Miller and based on the book by Walter Noble Burns, the film also stars Gene Lockhart and Lon Chaney, Jr.

This version film was not as well received as the 1930 original, which had starred Johnny Mack Brown and Wallace Beery, and shot in experimental widescreen process.

The film was not as well received as the 1930 original, Billy the Kid, which had starred Johnny Mack Brown and Wallace Beery and been shot in an experimental widescreen process.

Both Taylor and Donlevy were ten years older than the real Billy and Pat were in 1880, the year the film begins.

When the tale begins, William Bonney (Robert Taylor) is already a famous gunslinger, known as “Billy the Kid.” In Lincoln, New Mexico, Billy helps his friend Pedro Gonzales (Frank Puglia) escape from jail, where he was put by mean sheriff Cass McAndrews (Cy Kendall).

Cattle baron Dan Hickey (Gene Lockhart) recognizes Billy and hires him to scare up farmers into joining Hickey’s business. Billy and the rest of Hickey’s men start a stampede among the farmers’ cattle, wreaking havoc. A farmer is killed during the stampede, for which Billy feels guilty.

During the stampede, Billy encounters childhood friend Jim Sherwood (Brian Donlevy), who works for Eric Keating (Ian Hunter). Jim arranges for Billy and Pedro to work for the non-violent Keating instead of Hickey.

At the Keating ranch, Billy meets and falls for Eric’s beautiful sister Edith (Mary Howard). He feels at home until Pedro is killed by Hickey’s men. Keating convinces Billy not to take revenge, but he fails in his appeal to the governor.

When Keating’s horse comes back with empty saddle, Billy decides to seek justice. Hickey tries to make the sheriff shoot Billy and say he was trying to escape from jail, but Ward manages to disarm the sheriff, and later Billy kills him.

Billy and Ward track down the men who killed Keating and shoots them. Jim tries to stop Billy from shooting Hickey, but when Hickey flees the scene Billy shoots him in the back.

The story ends with Billy challenging old friend Jim, who has shifted hands and is now using his right hand to draw Now faster, Jim kills Billy, who then realizes that Billy shifted hands deliberately to let him win.

Armond B. Ruthven and Albert Mannheimer wrote the song “Viva La Vida” for the film.

The film earned $1,518,000 in the US and Canada and $914,000 elsewhere resulting in a minor profit of $41,000.

Cast
Robert Taylor as Billy the Kid
Brian Donlevy as Jim Sherwood
Ian Hunter as Eric Keating
Mary Howard as Edith Keating
Gene Lockhart as Dan Hickey
Lon Chaney Jr. as ‘Spike’ Hudson
Henry O’Neill as Tim Ward
Guinn Williams as Ed Bronson
Cy Kendall as Cass McAndrews, sheriff
Ted Adams as “Buz” Cobb
Frank Conlan as Judge Blake
Frank Puglia as Pedro Gonzales

Credits:

Directed by David Miller
Written by Walter Noble Burns (book), Gene Fowler, Howard Emmett Rogers, Bradbury Foote
Produced by Irving Asher
Cinematography William V. Skall
Leonard Smith
Edited by Robert J. Kern
Music by David Snell

Production company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Distributed by Loew’s, Inc.

Release date: 1941

Running time: 94 minutes
Budget $1,411,000
Box office $2,432,000

Oscar Nominations: 1

Cinematography (Color): William V. Skall and Leonard Smith

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

In 1941, the Color Cinematography Oscar went to Ray Rennahan and Ernest Palmer for “Blood and Sand.”