DIRTY LITTLE BILLY (director/writer: Stan Dragoti; screenwriter: Charles Moss; cinematographer: Ralph Woolsey; editor: David Wages; music: Sascha Burland; cast: Michael J Pollard (Bill Bonney), Richard Evans (Goldie Evans), Lee Purcell (Berle), Charles Aidman (Ben Antrim), Dran Hamilton (Catherine McCarty), Willard Sage (Henry McCarty), Ronny Graham (Charlie Nile ), Josip Elic (Jawbone), Gary Busey (Basil Crabtree), Rosary Nix (Lou); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jack L. Warner; Columbia Pictures; 1972)
“Offbeat western that thankfully doesn’t glorify the outlaw legend Billy the Kid.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Stan Dragoti (“Love At First Bite”/”Mr. Mom”/”Necessary Roughness”), former television commercials director, debuts as a movie director with this surreal offbeat western that thankfully doesn’t glorify the outlaw legend Billy the Kid. Cowriters Dragoti and Charles Moss characterize Billy before his fame as the village idiot (history concurs), as he grovels to find his bearings in the muddy town of Coffeyville by living with the tramp gunslinger/pimp/card shark Goldie Evans (Richard Evans) and his prostitute girlfriend Berle (Lee Purcell) in the rundown saloon owned by the good-natured Jawbone (Josip Elic).
In the 1870s, mentally retarded teenager Billy Bonney (Michael J Pollard) leaves NYC and arrives with his mother Catherine (Dran Hamilton) and his gruff stepfather Henry McCarty (Willard Sage) in the bleak dead-end prairie town of Coffeyville, Kansas. The hard-working Henry bought some farm property from Mayor Ben Antrim (Charles Aidman) and begins a new life as a farmer, but is angered that lazy city boy Billy is useless on the farm. Billy is forced to run away from the farm and ends up living in squalor in the saloon with the town bad guys Berle and Goldie. After Goldie pulls a gun on a buffalo hunter during a high stakes card game, that results in a knife fight between the hunter’s gal Louisiana (Rosary Nix) and Berle, whereby Berle slices off her ear and Billy proves his loyalty by sticking up for Goldie and trying to shoot the hunter with his own gun. Though the gun backfires, Goldie still appreciates the effort and responds by taking Billy into his gang and teaching him how to shoot. At Billy’s stepfather’s funeral, Ben offers Billy a soft job in town and tells Billy he hired a new lawman to kick Goldie out of town. But Billy remains with Goldie and leaves town with him after Berle is killed by the locals while making her town exit. The two try to join up with Big Jim’s cattle rustling gang hiding in the hills, but before Big Jim shoots them Billy kills the entire gang and gets his first taste of blood to start his mythic outlaw career.
Character actor Michael J. Pollard gives the role his usual bizarre performance of rolling his eyes and acting weird as a punky kid making his mark on the cold world. It works here, as this squalid, unromantic vision of the west has some beautifully realized visionary moments debunking the cowboy myth. It was the final film produced by mogul Jack L. Warner, who had cut his ties with Warner Bros. in 1972 and released this one through his former rival Columbia Pictures.
REVIEWED ON 7/10/2011 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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