Billy the Kid (1941)

94 mins | Western | 30 May 1941

Producer:

Irving Asher

Cinematographers:

William V. Skall, Leonard Smith

Editor:

Robert J. Kern

Production Designer:

Cedric Gibbons

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The opening title card reads, "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents Robert Taylor as Billy the Kid," but the end credits list Taylor's role as "William Bonney." A written opening prologue introduces "...a young outlaw who lived his violent hour in defiance of an advancing civilization. His name has gone down in legend as 'Billy the Kid.'" A written epilogue reads: "Thus the ways of law came to the last frontier, the last of the men of violence found his peace."
       When Billy the Kid began filming in mid-Dec 1940, Frank Borzage was the director and his brother Lew was the assistant director. According to HR production charts and news items, Borzage directed portions of the film that were shot on location in Tucson and Flagstaff, AZ. A HR news item on 13 Jan 1941 reported that Borzage was being taken off the production and reassigned to a Joan Crawford project entitled Bombay Nights . [That project was never made]. At that time, David Miller was assigned to direct Billy the Kid . The news item also notes that all of the remaining scenes were to be shot on M-G-M's Culver City lot.
       Later news items, feature articles and production charts confirm that additional location shooting took place in Monument Valley, AZ, in late Jan and early Feb 1941, that the production concluded in late Mar, but that some additional scenes and retakes were needed in mid-Apr, all directed by Miller with Al Shenberg acting as assistant director. A NYT article about the production noted that veteran M-G-M director Norman Taurog acted as a "supervisor" for Miller during some of the ... More Less

The opening title card reads, "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents Robert Taylor as Billy the Kid," but the end credits list Taylor's role as "William Bonney." A written opening prologue introduces "...a young outlaw who lived his violent hour in defiance of an advancing civilization. His name has gone down in legend as 'Billy the Kid.'" A written epilogue reads: "Thus the ways of law came to the last frontier, the last of the men of violence found his peace."
       When Billy the Kid began filming in mid-Dec 1940, Frank Borzage was the director and his brother Lew was the assistant director. According to HR production charts and news items, Borzage directed portions of the film that were shot on location in Tucson and Flagstaff, AZ. A HR news item on 13 Jan 1941 reported that Borzage was being taken off the production and reassigned to a Joan Crawford project entitled Bombay Nights . [That project was never made]. At that time, David Miller was assigned to direct Billy the Kid . The news item also notes that all of the remaining scenes were to be shot on M-G-M's Culver City lot.
       Later news items, feature articles and production charts confirm that additional location shooting took place in Monument Valley, AZ, in late Jan and early Feb 1941, that the production concluded in late Mar, but that some additional scenes and retakes were needed in mid-Apr, all directed by Miller with Al Shenberg acting as assistant director. A NYT article about the production noted that veteran M-G-M director Norman Taurog acted as a "supervisor" for Miller during some of the production because it was Miller's first feature. NYT also noted that the town of Lincoln, NM, was reproduced on M-G-M's backlot. According to a 11 Mar 1941 HR news item, the production was the longest on M-G-M's lot since Gone With the Wind [which was only partially shot at M-G-M] following Miller's replacement of Borzage.
       Another news item noted that Maureen O'Sullivan, who had previously co-starred with Taylor in two 1938 films, The Crowd Roars and A Yank at Oxford (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.0893 and F3.5522) was initially cast in the role of "Edith Keating," but left the production to go to Canada to join her husband, director John Farrow, who was in the RCAF. Although Sullivan's name appears in the first HR production chart for the film, on 13 Dec 1940, it is probable that she left the production prior to the start of shooting. Actress Connie Gilchrist is credited in early M-G-M press releases and the CBCS in the role of "Mildred," but neither she nor the character were in the viewed print or mentioned in reviews, and it is likely that the role was cut from the final film. Lon Chaney, Jr., who had recently been put under contract to Universal, was borrowed by M-G-M for the picture. Cinematographers William V. Skall and Leonard Smith earned an Academy Award nomination for their work on the film.
       The real "Billy the Kid," who was born Henry McCarty in New York City on 28 Nov 1859, changed his name to William Antrim when his widowed mother remarried. Traveling West at an early age, he assumed the name William H. Bonney and soon earned a reputation as a "fast gun" and killer, known as "Billy the Kid." He was killed on 14 Jul 1881 in Lincoln County, NM by Sheriff Pat Garrett. Although modern historical sources, including a 30 Mar 1941 NYT acticle, indicates that the real outlaw did work for an English-born rancher, named Tunstall, who was killed by a rival, historical documentation on the gunfighter indicates that the film was inspired by legend rather than reality, as all of the characters in the film are fictional except Billy, and few documented facts are included.
       One aspect of the real Billy that has been disputed among historians is whether or not he was right or left-handed. In the film, Taylor, who was himself right-handed, portrays the character as a left-handed gunman. The fact that Billy may have been left-handed is supported by a well-known tintype photograph that shows him holding a gun in his left hand. According to Western historians, among them noted silent-film star William S. Hart, who are quoted in a 4 Aug 1941 Life magazine article on the film, the "left-handed" Billy photograph was made from a reversed negative. This fact is supported by physical evidence on the gun itself, which is in the collection of the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles, CA. The issue of whether Billy was left- or right-handed is important to the M-G-M film because during the climactic shootout between Billy and his friend, "Jim Sherwood," Sherwood (portrayed by Brian Donlevy) outdraws the faster Billy because Billy deliberately switches the gun to his slower right hand, indicating that he chose his own death rather than kill his friend. Billy the Kid has been portrayed as both left- and right-handed in the numerous films in which he has been a featured character. The Howard Hughes production of The Outlaw , that was shot almost simultaneous to the M-G-M, but not distributed nationally until 1946, featured a right-handed Billy (see below).
       Among the many other films that featured Billy the Kid were, the 1930 M-G-M feature Billy the Kid , directed by King Vidor and starring Johnny Mack Brown and Wallace Beery (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.0419), the 1958 Warner Bros. film The Left-Handed Gun , directed by Arthur Penn and starring Paul Newman, M-G-M's 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid , directed by Sam Peckinpah, and starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson, and a series of eighteen PRC released features that begin with Billy the Kid Outlawed in 1940 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.0341) directed by Peter Stewart and starring Bob Steele, who relinquished the title role to Buster Crabbe in 1941. The Aaron Copeland ballet Billy the Kid , first performed in 1939, was also inspired by the life of the outlaw, as have been countless television programs. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Jun 1941
p. 273.
Box Office
31 May 1941.
---
Daily Variety
23 May 1941.
---
Film Daily
29 May 1941
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 1940
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 1940
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1940
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Dec 1940
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jan 1941
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jan 1941
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Feb 1941
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 1941
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Apr 1941
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
23 May 1941
p. 3.
Life
4 Aug 1941
pp. 65-69.
Look
1 Jul 1941
pp. 46-48.
Motion Picture Herald
24 May 1941.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
5 Apr 1941
p. 97.
New York Times
30 Mar 1941.
---
New York Times
20 Jun 1941
p. 28.
Variety
28 May 1941
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Assoc
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Women's cost
Men's cost
MUSIC
Mus dir
Addl mus
SOUND
Rec dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col dir
Assoc
SOURCES
LITERARY
Suggested by the book The Saga of Billy the Kid by Walter Noble Burns (New York, 1926).
SONGS
"Viva la vida," music and lyrics by Albert Mannheimer and Ormond B. Ruthven
"Lazy Acres," music and lyrics by Ordmond B. Ruthven.
DETAILS
Release Date:
30 May 1941
Production Date:
13 December 1940--26 March 1941
retakes began 15 April 1941
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
28 March 1941
Copyright Number:
LP10528
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
94
Length(in feet):
8,582
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
PCA No:
7138
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In 1880, in Lincoln, New Mexico, gunfighter William Bonney, known throughout the West as "Billy the Kid," forces crooked sheriff Cass McAndrews to free his friend, Pedro Gonzales, from jail. When Billy goes back to a saloon where Pedro was thrown out because he was a Mexican, local cattle baron Dan Hickey recognizes him by his left-handed draw and hires him to "persuade" some of the local ranchers to join their herds with his. Billy goes along when Hickey's gang stampedes a herd of cattle, and during the mêlée encounters Jim Sherwood, a friend from childhood. Jim tries to convince Billy to stop gunfighting, and the next day, goes to his boss, English rancher Eric Keating, to see if he will hire Billy. Keating goes to the saloon to warn Hickey to stop his violent tactics, then privately talks to Billy. Impressed that Keating uses words rather than a gun to make a point, Billy rides back to the ranch with him. On the way they find the body of Tom Patterson, a ranch hand who was killed in the stampede. Seeing Patterson's widow's grief, Billy feels ashamed, and when he meets Keating's pretty sister Edith, he decides to tell Hickey that he is quitting. Billy and Pedro then go to work for Keating, even though Keating warns Billy that he and Jim may some day turn into enemies. Billy is happy at the ranch until some time later, Pedro is shot in the back. Billy wants revenge against Hickey's men, who he is sure murdered Pedro, but Keating begs him to wait for a few days until he returns from talking with ... +


In 1880, in Lincoln, New Mexico, gunfighter William Bonney, known throughout the West as "Billy the Kid," forces crooked sheriff Cass McAndrews to free his friend, Pedro Gonzales, from jail. When Billy goes back to a saloon where Pedro was thrown out because he was a Mexican, local cattle baron Dan Hickey recognizes him by his left-handed draw and hires him to "persuade" some of the local ranchers to join their herds with his. Billy goes along when Hickey's gang stampedes a herd of cattle, and during the mêlée encounters Jim Sherwood, a friend from childhood. Jim tries to convince Billy to stop gunfighting, and the next day, goes to his boss, English rancher Eric Keating, to see if he will hire Billy. Keating goes to the saloon to warn Hickey to stop his violent tactics, then privately talks to Billy. Impressed that Keating uses words rather than a gun to make a point, Billy rides back to the ranch with him. On the way they find the body of Tom Patterson, a ranch hand who was killed in the stampede. Seeing Patterson's widow's grief, Billy feels ashamed, and when he meets Keating's pretty sister Edith, he decides to tell Hickey that he is quitting. Billy and Pedro then go to work for Keating, even though Keating warns Billy that he and Jim may some day turn into enemies. Billy is happy at the ranch until some time later, Pedro is shot in the back. Billy wants revenge against Hickey's men, who he is sure murdered Pedro, but Keating begs him to wait for a few days until he returns from talking with the governor about the lawlessness in Lincoln. On the night of Edith's birthday party, just after she and Jim have told Billy about their engagement, Keating's horse returns to the ranch without him. Billy then rides out and finds Keating dead, with a bullet in his back. Later, at the ranch, Patterson's widow incites the men to go after Hickey's gang, and Billy agrees to remain with them only as long as things go the way he wants. Hickey secretly gets word that Keating's men are riding into town and sends newspaper editor Tim Ward to tell them that Keating was killed while resisting arrest. The men do not believe the story, nor does Ward, who joins them as they ride into town. Pretending that he wants to talk, but secretly sending for reinforcements, Hickey meets with Jim and suggests that everyone give up their guns. When Billy and Ward refuse, Jim asks McAndrews to lock them in jail for their own protection. While in jail, Ward is able to grab a hammer and gives it to Billy. When Edith comes to ask Billy to listen to Jim, Billy sends her away, thinking that Jim has turned against him. Later McAndrews is ordered by Hickey to shoot Billy and say that he was attempting a jailbreak. Ward's hammer helps Billy get the sheriff's gun, and thinking that McAndrews is reaching for another, Billy kills him. He then goes after the men whom Ward has identified as Keating's killers and forces each to draw on him. Jim and Hickey find Billy after he has killed the last man. As Billy is about to shoot Hickey, Jim tries to dissuade him because he might be acquitted of killing the others, but Hickey runs and Billy shoots him in the back. Billy then tells Jim that he is coming by and reaches for his gun, but because he has shifted it to his right hand, Jim outdraws him. As Billy dies, Jim realizes that his friend deliberately let him win. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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