New Mexico, 1881. The days of the Wild West are numbered.
Although Billy The Kid (Kris Kristofferson) is still living the life of an outlaw, his one-time trusted partner in crime Pat Garrett (James Coburn) has changed sides and has been elected Sheriff of Lincoln County. Now the cattle barons want Billy out of their hair.
Garrett sees no alternative but to advise his compadre to relocate to Mexico, but Billy cannot be persuaded. Shortly after their talk, Garrett sets a trap for him, and as gunfire breaks out two of Billy’s pals bite the dust.
Billy is placed under arrest but seizes an opportune moment to fly the coop, and Lincoln County, while Garrett is away. He fatally wounds two of Garrett’s deputies in the process – and so begins a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Bob Dylan – playing a mysterious, knife-throwing hick in the film, and also narrating the story – realised the beautiful, rustic musical score in just two days down Mexico way with the finest American session players and a few locals.
He wrote Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door for one of the slo-mo death scenes, and it fits like a gnarly rawhide glove.
In the history of the American West and in the Hollywood Western, Pat Garrett was a legendary sheriff who enforced the law with all his might. To Peckinpah, he is someone who betrayed both himself and the old West.
In Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid Garrett goes against his principles, assassinates his best friend and, in the end, never attains his goals.
The film was heavily censored by the film studio (MGM). Peckinpah’s original director’s cut (which was restored in the 1990s) also included a prologue which was cut from the studio release.
The sequence shows hired guns of the influential ranchers murdering Garrett about 30 years after he killed Billy at their request.
Sheriff Patrick J Garrett
William H ‘Billy The Kid’ Bonney
Governor Lew Wallace
Sheriff Kip McKinney
John W Poe