The Left Handed Gun
1958. Warner Brothers, Warner Home Video, Black & White, Aspect Ratio 1.85 : 1, 102 minutes, Not Rated
Release Date: May 7, 1958
The Left Handed Gun is available at Amazon.com on DVD, as part of the Paul Newman DVD Collection, and on VHS.
Movie Synopsis: The dramatic telling of the tale of the life and death of the young outlaw, Billy the Kid, and his involvement in the Lincoln County War in the Wild West days of New Mexico Territory.
Cast: Paul Newman, Lita Milan, John Dehner, Hurd Hatfield, James Congdon, James Best, Colin Keith-Johnston, John Dierkes, Robert Anderson, Denver Pyle
Director: Arthur Penn
Thoughts on the Movie:
I recently watched The Left Handed Gun for the second time (on Turner Classic Movies), and quite honestly, I dont know what all the fuss is about regarding Paul Newmans performance, the direction, the script, etc. I keep reading reviews where people say Newman was acting over-the-top, like Brando or James Dean; and all this stuff about a hidden homosexual overtone between the characters Billy the Kid and Tunstall... well, the movie just doesnt strike me that way. Yeah, Newman is playing the Kid as mixed up, jittery, and downright tormented toward the end, but I think that poor youthful soul (William Bonney) was surely greatly troubled in real life. I think this is a more mature take, if you will, on the oft-told story, and it leaves you fully understanding just how tragic the whole thing really was.
The production values are excellent on this film, and the young Paul Newman was never more incredibly handsome. Its kinda like a 1950s film noir Western, and maybe thats what throws people off about it. I must admit, however, that the first time I saw this movie, I did think that Paul Newman was a little wild in his performance, but when I viewed it again, I didnt come away with that impression. Maybe you need to see this movie more than once to really appreciate it. And if youre a fan of early Newman, youre bound to like this one. Highly recommended. ~Jean
Santa Fe, New Mexico (see Map)
Most of The Left Handed Gun was filmed on the MGM Studio Western Street lot, but the open country scenes were actually shot in New Mexico, just outside Santa Fe. It gives some real authenticity to the story as it unfolds, since the Lincoln County War and that part of the Billy the Kid history actually took place in New Mexico.
Right: The pinon and juniper studded hills outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, served as the setting for the 1958 classic Western, The Left Handed Gun.
About Santa Fe, New Mexico:
Santa Fe, New Mexico (population 75,764, elevation 7,000 feet; 35° 40 2 N, 105° 57 52 W) is located approximately 60 miles north of Albuquerque on I-25. The Santa Fe area, currently one of the top tourist destinations in the world, offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, skiing, river rafting, hiking, camping, cycling, and horseback riding, just to name a few.
This is high desert country, with four distinct seasons showing off the beauty of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the clear, blue New Mexican sky. The City Different is also the third largest art market in the United States, after New York and Los Angeles, boasting hundreds of galleries, with the majority located on picturesque Canyon Road, one of the areas largest tourist attractions.
To learn a lot more about Santa Fe, see our Santa Fe Information page.
Lodging & Dining:
For Recommended Hotels, Motels and Lodges in Santa Fe, see: Santa Fe Lodging
Right: Paul Newman as Billy the Kid, on location outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the movie The Left Handed Gun.
Interestingly, the title of this movie promotes a common misconception that was proven untrue in the 1980s. Two almost identical tintypes of Billy the Kid were taken at the same time in 1880. The original of one tintype disappeared years ago. The second original tintype was preserved for years in the Sam Diedrick family and came to light only in 1986. Since tintypes are reversed images, the picture from the first tintype led to the myth of the left-handed gun. After the second tintype came to light, the reversed image was flipped to show the Kid as he actually posed, with a Winchester carbine in the left hand and his holstered Colt single-action on his right hip.
James Dean was signed to play Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun, but the role was given to Paul Newman after Deans death. It was the second role Newman inherited from Dean (who had also been signed to star in Somebody Up There Likes Me). And Paul Newman was widely felt to be miscast as Billy the Kid, since at 33, he was considerably older than the character.
On the surface, The Left Handed Gun appears to be a traditional Western, but its cowboy movie trappings are split apart by Newmans unorthodox performance. Fresh from his Actors Studio training, Newman (who starred in the original 1955 television version of the story, The Death of Billy the Kid, by Gore Vidal) defies convention by mumbling, flaring up, and contorting himself in poses of internal anguish.
Right: Paul Newman gave a tour de force performance as William Bonney (a.k.a. Billy the Kid) in the then-controversial film noir style 1958 Western, The Left Handed Gun.
Character Quote: I dont run. I dont hide. I go where I want. I do what I want! ~Billy the Kid (Paul Newman)