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Billy the Kid

Black and white, 1930
Directed by King Vidor
Runtime: 95 minutes

Starring: Johnny Mack Brown (William H. 'Billy the Kid' Bonney), Wallace Beery (Pat Garrett), Kay Johnson (Claire Randall), Wyndham Standing (John W. 'Jack' Tunston) Russell Simpson (Angus McSween), Blanche Friderici (Mrs. McSween) Warner P. Richmond (Bob Ballinger) James Marcus (Colonel William P. Donovan), Chris Martin (Don Esteban Santiago)


A small wagon train rolls through sandstone hills and desert.  The train's leaders, John Tunston and Angus McSween, come upon an area of land that appeals to them, and they decide to settle there with their livestock.

The two stop in town and talk to a man named Donovan, who appears to own nearly everything in town, including a general store.  Donovan tells them to move on and not settle there, warning that if they stay, their stock might disappear one by one.  Tunston and McSween decide to stay despite these warnings.

The next few scenes show Donovan and his men pushing people off their land, killing, and otherwise muscling around the smaller landowners in the area.

Tunston and McSween try to organize the other locals to stand up to Donovan.  Donovan overhears this and confronts the group.  Tunston then demands that one of Donovan's men be arrested for rustling his stock.  The accused man is about to draw on Tunston, when Billy the Kid and his sidekick, Santiago, suddenly appear. Billy shoots the rustler, saving Tunston and breaking up the conflict. Billy declares that he shoots rats, like the rats who killed his mom and dad when he was 12 years old. Tunston is grateful, and he hires Billy on to his crew.

6 months of peace pass once Billy has joined the Tunston outfit.  Tunston then sends for his fiancée, Claire, who arrives by stage to a big welcome and a house party in her honor. There is dancing and merriment, but outside the window, Billy overhears that Grant, one of Donovan's men and the brother of the rustler Billy shot, is going to shoot Tunston when he comes out of the house.  Billy steps out and shoots Grant while the party goes on.

Pat Garrett, a local deputy, is pitted by Donovan against the Kid.  Despite being on opposite sides of the feud between Donovan and Tunston, the two like one another, and have a running joke of their shooting abilities.  Garrett comes to the party to try to find Grant's shooter, but there is no solid proof.  Donovan, dissatisfied with Garrett's findings, sends more of his men after Tunston and the Kid.  They come to house and find everyone gone, but Billy overhears them talking about their plans.

The next morning, the Tunston party is riding out as a group to Tunston's wedding.  A posse ambushes them and tries to arrest Tunston.  He tries to ride ahead of the ambush, but is shot and killed.  Billy is overwrought and Tunston dies in his arms.  Billy vows that he'll shoot every man that had anything to do with Tunston's death.

Billy forms his own gang of men to get the men who killed Tunston.  They go to Donovan's saloon.  Billy overhears Donovan telling two of his men that they shouldn't brag about having killed Tunston.  Billy shoots them both, and the group leaves the saloon.

Donovan declares it is now time for his men to go after McSween.  He sends Garrett to arrest McSween.  Garrett, trying to avoid more bloodshed, tries to talk McSween's wife into giving up her husband.  Billy shows up to stop Garrett from taking McSween.  Billy and the boys settle into the house to protect him.

Donovan and his men besiege the house; there is an ongoing shootout while Donovan's men try to force the group out by hunger, thirst, or other means.  Billy sends Mrs. McSween and Claire out of the under a white flag.

After the women leave the siege goes on for 3 days.  The men are very thirsty and have no water.  One of the men fetches water from outside the house, but is mortally shot in the process.

Garrett tells Billy that they'll burn them out if they don't turn over McSween.  McSween tries to stop the fighting by going outside, unarmed, to give himself up; he is shot in cold blood.  Billy kills Donovan, and the siege goes on.

Garrett tries to stop Donovan's men from going on with the fight, since both McSween and Donovan are now dead.  Donovan's men knock down Garret and set the house on fire.

Billy and his gang have to escape out the back, and some are shot in the process.  Billy is last to leave.  He uses a burning beam from the fallen ceiling to light his cigarette.  He adjusts his scarf and goes out calmly, leaping over the wall, riding a horse backwards to keep shooting behind him.  He escapes and begins hiding out, continuing the fued until he can get the rest of Donovan's men who were responsible for the death of McSween.

The military comes to try to end the feud by meeting with Billy, Claire, and Bob Ballinger. Ballinger, the most spiteful of Donovan's men, won't let the feud go, and Billy won't stop until Ballinger pays for his crimes.  Claire tells Billy she wants him to follow his heart. Garrett says he'll come after Billy if he doesn't quit.  Billy tells him to come shooting.

Billy hides out in a rocky cave, surrounded by a landscape of sandstone and scrubby brush.  Garrett coaxes Billy out by frying bacon where he can smell it. Billy is so hungry he agrees to put down his guns in exchange for some bacon.  Garrett then brings the Kid to town alive as his prisoner, and places him in jail.

Ballinger goads Billy while he is in jail.  Billy, scheming his escape to get Ballinger, plays poker with Garrett, distracts him, and gets his gun.  He locks Garrett in a closet and waits for Ballinger to come back. When Ballinger returns, the Kid shoots him dead. Billy takes Ballinger's horse and escapes to his friend Santiago's house.

Claire comes to look for Billy at Santiago's.  She tries to get Billy to take her along with him.  As they talk, Billy realizes Garrett has come to get him.  Billy declares that he loves Claire, and tries to escape across the border to Mexico without her.  Garrett lets her follow him across the border, intentionally letting Billy go free.

Plot keywords: Billy the Kid, William Bonney, Pat Garrett, feud, Lincoln County war

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