THE LEFT HANDED GUN, 1958
Cast: Paul Newman, Lita Milan, John Dehner, Hurd Hatfield, James Best, James Congdon
This is William Bonney, a juvenile "tough" from the back-alleys of New York... a teenager wanted dead or alive throughout the West. This is the screen's first real story of the strange teen-age desperado known to legend as "Billy the Kid"...
CLICK HERE and watch TV SHOWS FOR FREE!
ďPaul Newman would have been a much more important star if he hadn't always tried to be an anti-hero, to show the human feet of clay.Ē This was a quote from John Wayne, a western icon who provided some of the best characters in films to date. While he may be right when it comes to picking the best roles for himself, his opinion on Paul Newman is simply wrong.
Part of Newmanís success was that he came around during a time in which a new generation wanted something new. They were coming off the days of Cary Grant and James Stewart, the humble all American heroes. Now, they desperately called for something different, for someone who went against conformity to establish their own identity that distinguished it from others. Paul Newman was one of the people to do just that.
The quintessential rebel was Billy the Kid. So it would seem like an obvious choice for Newman to play the infamous anti hero. Newman played a character unlike any cowboy before him, and since then has only been seen in Italian cinema by Sergio Leonie in his popular spaghetti westerns.
In the Left Handed Gun, William Bonney known as Billy the Kid, gets a job with a cattleman known as The Englishman, and is befriended by the peaceful, religious man. But when a crooked sheriff and his men murder the Englishman because he plans to supply the local Army fort with his beef, Billy decides to avenge the death by killing the four men responsible.
Throwing the lives of everyone around him - Tom and Charlie, two hands he worked with; Pat Garrett, who is about to be married; and the kindly Mexican couple who take him in when he's in trouble - into turmoil, and endangering the General Amnesty set up by Governor Wallace to bring peace to the New Mexico Territory.
While not the best of westerns or even Newmanís best performance, The Left Handed Gun is still an exceptional and riveting western. Part of the success of the film is the character driven story director Arthur Penn showcases. Itís never a victim of senseless violence that has no importance or emotional weight to the story. The gun battles that take place provide a satisfying consequence for many of the characters involved including one at a wedding that eventually leads to the Kidís downfall.
Newman also does a fine job providing the right amount of charisma that masks his brooding nature. Thereís nothing wrong with playing an anti hero as long as the hero has something the audience can sympathize with so that he doesnít appear to be more villain than hero. Newman mastered that in many of his roles, and the Left Handed Gun is no different.