A Punk a Pimp and a Prostitute – Rediscovering ‘Dirty Little Billy’ (US 1972 – 93 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - June 09, 2014
A Punk a Pimp and a Prostitute – Rediscovering ‘Dirty Little Billy’ (US 1972 – 93 mins)

A wonderfully offbeat yet realistic western, ‘Dirty Little Billy’ is a fictional account of the early life and career of William Bonney, a year or two before he would become notorious as ‘Billy the Kid’.

It’s 1870’s Kansas, and young outsider Billy Bonney, escapes his miserable home life and finds solace in a rundown saloon which is being occupied by a pimp; Goldie, and his prostitute girlfriend Berle. Goldie takes to the kid after Billy proves his loyalty to him, and responds by teaching Billy how to shoot. Various scrapes with locals, lawmen and cattle rustlers, result in the violent deaths of Goldie and Berle, leaving Billy to embark on his now-legendary solo career.

In his best role outside of ‘Bonnie & Clyde’, Michael J Pollard is excellent as the simple-minded Billy. At 33, he was a bit too old for the role, but his offbeat features and child-like mannerisms, convince us. Pollard was going through a bit of a western period at this time, having just made ‘The Legend of Frenchie King’ (71), an entertaining French production with Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale, and later ‘Four of the Apocalypse’ (’75), a violent Italian production for Lucio Fulci.

‘Peyton Place’ star and television western regular; Richard Evans, has his best film role here as the ruthless, unpredictable outlaw Goldie. Evans would continue mainly in television, although he did have a supporting role in Franklin J. Schaffners ‘Islands in the Stream’ (’77), with George C. Scott and David Hemmings. Cute Lee Purcell is very good in a strong role as prostitute Berle. She shows that she can certainly hold her own in this cold, masculine world. Never is this clearer than in the films most shocking moment when Berle gets into a fight with the girlfriend of a card shark, which ends with Purcell slicing off the woman’s ear. Always watchable, Purcell featured in some decent cult flicks, co-starring with Dennis Hopper and Warren Oates in the 1973 sleeper ‘Kid Blue’, and later appeared in ‘Big Wednesday’ (’78), ‘Stir crazy (’80) and ‘Valley Girl’ (’83), among others.

Stan Dragoti made his directorial debut here, and does as great job with the gritty material. In a rather sporadic career, it’s strange that all of Dragoti’s other features were all comedies, including ‘Love at First Bite’ (’79), with George Hamilton, and the pleasant domestic comedy ‘Mr Mom’ (’83), with Michael Keaton. The excellent supporting cast includes Dran Hamilton as Billy’s mother Catherine, and Willard Sage as his hateful stepfather Henry. Gary Busey also has an early role, while Ed Lauter, Nick Nolte and Dick Van Patten all appearing in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it parts.

‘Dirty Little Billy’ is a beautifully atmospheric western that, in spite of its largely saloon-based locale, never outstays its welcome. With fully realised characters and a sordid, filthy setting, ‘Dirty Little Billy’ is a real Seventies sleeper, and one of the muddiest movies ever made!

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