The Left Handed Gun

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The Left Handed Gun
Left Handed Gun (1958).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Arthur Penn
Produced by Fred Coe
Screenplay by Leslie Stevens
Based on Teleplay 
by Gore Vidal
Starring Paul Newman
Lita Milan
John Dehner
Music by Alexander Courage
Cinematography J. Peverell Marley
Edited by Folmar Blangsted
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • May 7, 1958 (1958-05-07)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Left Handed Gun is a 1958 American western film and the film directorial debut of Arthur Penn,[1] starring Paul Newman as Billy the Kid and John Dehner as Pat Garrett.

The screenplay was written by Leslie Stevens from a teleplay by Gore Vidal, which he wrote for the television series The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse 1955 episode The Death of Billy the Kid, in which Newman also played the title character. Vidal revisited and revised the material in 1989 with a TV-movie entitled Billy the Kid. The title refers to the belief that Billy the Kid was left handed, and he shoots left handed in the film, though it is possible that this was a false conclusion drawn from a reversed photograph. The film attempts to portray Billy the Kid as a misunderstood youth who got mixed up in a cattle war and was dragged down by the hostile population of New Mexico.


Drifter William Bonney (Paul Newman), known as 'Billy the Kid' loses his horse and is befriended by cattle boss Tunstall, known as 'The Englishman', who is soon murdered by corrupt rival cattlemen led by the local sheriff. Bonney's plan for revenge, hunting down and killing all responsible via provoking gunfights endangers not only his surviving friends, but the territorial amnesty proclaimed by New Mexico governor Lew Wallace, causing his former friend Pat Garrett to finally become a sheriff and hunt him down. Meanwhile groupie Moultrie sends material fictionalizing and lionizing him back East, where it is turned into dime novels that make Billy the Kid a legend, causing Billy to confront Moultrie and throw his kit of materials in his face in rejection, ending in Moultrie betraying him to Garrett to eliminate the embarrassing real-life character so that his fictionalized version won't be disturbed. This leads to the finale where Garrett kills the exhausted discouraged Bonney after he faces him with an empty holster in an apparent attempt at "suicide by cop".[2]


The film was a flop in the United States, but was praised by French film critics for its bold experimentation with the stereotyped American Western genre. In 1961 it won the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.[3]



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