Cinema / Westerns

Pat Garrett has got your number!

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), by Sam Peckinpah, tells the story of two old friends who have drifted apart, and now find themselves on opposite sides. Different opinions on how to live their lives come between them in this thrilling and exciting movie that takes place in 1881 in New Mexico.

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They say that Pat Garrett’s got your number,” Bob Dylan cries out in the beginning of the film as a warning to Billy the Kid, advising him to “sleep with one eye open when you slumber.”  In the Wild West, death is present everywhere, and it is every man for himself. Friendships and shared history may be important to most of us, but out on the prairie, different, primitive laws are in force…

Things have changed dramatically out there in the “Ol’ West”. Pat Garrett (James Coburn) and Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson) were once—literally—as thick as thieves, riding the lands as fellow outlaws, but they have now gone their separate ways because of different aspirations. Garrett plans to grow old with his country and has therefore taken on the badge as the sheriff of Lincoln. Billy wants to continue living the life of an outlaw. They choose different lifestyles but both insist that they are just trying to stay alive.

The townspeople want Billy out of the country and assign Pat to make it happen. He chases Billy as a dog chases a rabbit, but during the hunt the two manly egos are torn between their friendly feelings towards each other and their desire to live as they choose.

The director of the film, Peckinpah once stated that “the end of a picture is always an end of a life,” and this statement is brought to life in this western. Throughout the movie, the two friendly rivals are back to back, walking while counting to ten. BANG! Who will be the one lying dead on the ground?

Life in the Far West is depicted as a bunch of sweaty and dirty men with dirty mouths constantly calling each other “son of a bitch” or getting hurt by gunshot, crying out “sweet Mary’s ass!” Lassos twirl, spurs jingle, and saloons serve old brandy and fresh women to any lonely rider who stops by, while church bells can be heard in the distance. It is a savage and primitive society, where even the most pious citizens live outside the law.

The cinematography has an original twist as the story is introduced with a particularly thrilling flash-forward. Peckinpah shoots the scenes from untraditional angles, and makes his actors believable. Bob Dylan, who plays the role of Alias, created the soundtrack for the movie, and his songs comment on the scenes. When Pat sets out to capture Billy, he sings about how “Garrett’s got his number,” and when certain people are dying and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Dylan provides moving music for that as well.

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To the tunes of Bob Dylan, it is shown how greed can come between friends. In their “pursuit of happiness,” Pat wants to make sure he will be alive tomorrow, while Billy wants to live life to the fullest today. It is the story of a society with an elastic observance of the law, which makes the law-abiding citizens just as criminal as the outlaws. Even as a sheriff, Pat Garrett admits that “the laws are ruining this country.” He goes against his actual nature in order to get land and wealth.

All these themes are shown brilliantly thanks to the gifted actors, and also thanks to a director who was himself a bit of an outlaw, given that he lived a wild life with alcohol and inner demons. But despite the director’s dark side, this movie contains romance, humor, and chilling scenes, so you don’t have to be a devoted Western fan to like this movie. However, should you be a “Western buff,” then there are plenty of smoking guns, fights between good and evil, and saloon scenes. “Go West!” or just to the cinema, and watch Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn performing at their best as the hunter and the hunted out in the Wild Wild West.

 

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, 1973; directed by Sam Peckinpah; produced by Gordon Carroll for Metro—oldwyn-Mayer (MGM); written by Rudy Wurlitzer; music by Bob Dylan.

Running time: 110 min.

The Cast:

Pat Garrett…………………………….             James Coburn

Billy the Kid…………………………      Kris Kristofferson

Sheriff Kip McKinney……………….      Richard Jaeckel

Alias…………………………………                 Bob Dylan

Mrs. Baker…………………………..            Katy Jurado

Ollinger……………………………..              R. G. Armstrong

Eno………………………………….                 Luke Askew

Poe………………………………….                  John Beck

Holly………………………………..                 Richard Bright

W. Bell…………………………..                    Matt Clark

Alamosa Bill……………………….              Jack Elam

 

 

 

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