Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 143: Young Billy Young
Budd Boetticher (arguably the greatest director of Westerns) once said that Burt Kennedy was the best writer of the genre. It’s hard to contradict his statement when you consider masterpieces he scripted like The Tall T and Seven Men From Now. However, his career as a director during which he helmed a large number of Westerns, some that he wrote and some that he didn’t, demonstrates a checkered results. I have seen Support Your Local Gunfighter, The War Wagon (when I was kid), along with two television Westerns he directed, The Alamo: Thirteen Days of Glory and Once Upon a Texas Train. As I dive deep into the history of “The Men who Made Westerns” (title for my prospective book), I will continue to study Kennedy but so far the results are uneven at best.
Young Billy Young is no exception. It features some remarkably great scenes, mostly between Robert Mitchum and Angie Dickinson. Others fall flat. Mitchum’s relationship with the titular character played by Robert Walker Jr. never feels grounded. I understand the concept that Mitchum has adopted the young outlaw as a surrogate son for the one he lost but their connection isn’t well developed, especially near the end when characters suddenly change without having learned any lessons.
There are also some very odd plot choices. For instance, two characters in a row, Angie’s prostitute and the town doctor, claim to have seen and interacted with Mitchum in the past though he has no recollection of them. I could believe it with one but not with two… how bad is this guy’s memory? But that’s the thing, it’s not well thought out. Kennedy just uses plot devices to steer the narrative where he wants it to go instead of letting the characters drive the story. When one supporting character randomly shows up in the finale, I rolled my eyes at the laziness of the script, which doesn’t even work hard to set up this surprise.
That story is also too reminiscent of Rio Bravo, made a decade earlier. From Angie’s role to the siege at the jail, Kennedy should have been more conscious of the similarities. The film remains watchable and entertaining, mostly because of Mitchum, but it’s not a very good Western.
Watched on Tubi.