Wild Bill (1995 film)

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Wild Bill
Wild Bill (film poster).jpg
Original film poster
Directed by Walter Hill
Produced by Richard D. Zanuck
Lili Fini Zanuck
Written by Walter Hill
Based on Deadwood 
by Pete Dexter
Fathers and Sons 
by Thomas Babe
Starring Jeff Bridges
Ellen Barkin
John Hurt
Diane Lane
Keith Carradine
Christina Applegate
Bruce Dern
James Gammon
David Arquette
Marjoe Gortner
Narrated by John Hurt
Music by Van Dyke Parks
Cinematography Lloyd Ahern II
Edited by Freeman A. Davies
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • December 1, 1995 (1995-12-01)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million
Box office $2,193,982

Wild Bill is a 1995 Western film about the last days of legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickok. It stars Jeff Bridges, Ellen Barkin, John Hurt and Diane Lane. The film was distributed by United Artists. It was written and directed by Walter Hill, with writing credits also going to Pete Dexter, author of the book Deadwood, and Thomas Babe, author of the play Fathers and Sons.


A well-known lawman and scout of the 19th Century's western frontier, Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Bridges) has drifted to Deadwood, Dakota Territory. Jack McCall (David Arquette) is a young man whose mother and family have been slighted by Bill in the past, and is out for revenge.

Troubled by his on-again, off-again relationship with a woman called Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin), haunted by the ghosts of his past, and struggling with failing eyesight, Wild Bill faces with grave concern the arrival of this dangerous newcomer to town.




The play Fathers and Sons had been on Broadway in 1978; Deadwood was published in 1986. Hill says he took details of the town from the novel but the relationship between McCall and Hickok was mostly from the play.[1]

Thomas Babe, the author of the play, says he entirely made up the character of McCall, who he turned into Hickok's illegitimate son.. "I chose lurid," he says. "That he would drown cats, sleep with his mother, put on a dress was a portrait of nihilism. He was someone Wild Bill would not have as a son."[1]

Babe's play was seen in Los Angeles in 1980 by Walter Hill, who had been considering a film on Hickok. Hill:

I was interested that Wild Bill was interested in the thing that finally killed him, his own legend. He was this kind of expansive American personality, a historical artifact... Babe was more interested in Jack [McCall] and the Oedipal issues, questions of identity and sexual identity. So what was at the heart of the play wasn't for me. But everything around the heart was.[1]

Hill optioned the play and a screenplay about Hickok by Ned Wynn. In 1989 he wrote his own screenplay.

Meanwhile the team of Richard and Lili Zanuck had optioned Dexter's novel Deadwood after they hired him to write the script for the movie Rush. The Zanucks said they were interested in the project because it explored the nature of celebrity in a Western context. "Figures like Wild Bill were like rock stars," said Lili Zanuck. "They had sex appeal."[1]

Dexter wrote a script based on his novel which was sent to Barry Levinson and Sydney Pollack before going to Walter Hill.[1] Hill took material from Dexter's novel for the atmosphere of the town and relied on Babe's play heavily for the third act, the last hours of Hickok.


Hill said that Jeff Bridges was "an actor I greatly love... a very nice man, decent, hard working, got along well, no problems" but that there "was always a kind of tension between Jeff and myself" because "Jeff does a lot of takes, I don't. My focus is very intense, but when it gets to be you just doing it again and again I lose it and I find an awful lot of performers go stale. He would always have an idea he thought he could make something better."[2]


The film received mixed reviews, with a 41% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[3] and a 5.9 on the Internet Movie Database.[4] Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four, criticizing its pacing and plot. He recognized the film's ambition, aiming for "elegy" and "poetry" in its final act, but ultimately described it as flawed, writing, "We can see where it's headed, although it doesn't get there."[5] In a positive review, Bruce Fretts of Entertainment Weekly wrote that the movie "succeeds as a character study of a man whose idiosyncratic code of justice eventually catches up with him", and complimented Jeff Bridges' acting as vital to the film's success.[6] Variety, while also praising Jeff Bridges' performance, took a critical stance, observing that the film "comes to a near dead-stop in the final stretch".[7]

Wild Bill bombed at the box office. Produced on a budget of $30 million, it took in just over $2 million in the United States alone.


  1. ^ a b c d e The 'Wild Bill' of History, Here Mostly Made Up: The 'Wild Bill' of History, Here Made Up Waiter Hill's script told of the last days of the visually impaired, opium-addicted gunslinger Bill Hickok. By JAMIE DIAMOND. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 Nov 1995: H13.
  2. ^ "Interview with Walter Hill Chapter 4" Directors Guild of America accessed 12 July 2014
  3. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/wild_bill/
  4. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114938/
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (1995-12-01). "Wild Bill." Film review. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved 2015-01-22.
  6. ^ Fretts, Bruce (1995-12-08). "Wild Bill Review." Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved online from EW.com 2015-01-22.
  7. ^ "Wild Bill." Film review (1994-12-31). Variety. Retrieved online from Variety.com 2015-01-22.

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