Thursday, April 30, 2015

Billy the Kid vs. Wyatt Earp

No, I don't think a movie with that title was made, although there is a cheapie 60s horror movie called Billy the Kid Versus Dracula, from the same people who gave us Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. Both of them have shown up in the TCM Underground slots at one time or another, although I don't think they're scheduled to show up any time soon. I mention the two old west figures, however, because tonight's lineup on TCM is a bunch of movies about Billy the Kid. Of the movies, the one that sticks out as seeming a bit more interesting in the sense that I haven't seen it but wouldn't mind it showing up at a more convenient time, is the 1930 Billy the Kid starring Johnny Mack Brown, at 3:30 AM.

Seeing a night of Billy the Kid movies led me to look up the movies that have Billy the Kid as a character, and then ask myself whether he showed up more often in movies than that other Western figure, Wyatt Earp. The answer is Billy the Kid, by a good ways, I think. The IMDb character pages list TV shows as well as movies, with TV episode appearances featuring prominently in the places you can see both characters. Billy the Kid was also the title character in a series of early 1940s movies put out by Poverty Row studio Pruducers Releasing Corporation, played first by Bob Steele, and then by Buster Crabbe.

Why does Billy the Kid show up rather more often? I'm not certain, but I'd guess it's in part due to the fact that Billy the Kid was an outlaw, which makes for much more interesting story lines than being the good guy. Look at how often Jesse James shows up in the movies, for example. But I also wonder if it has something to do with the fact that Billy the Kid died young. He was killed in 1881, so by the time Hollywood would have started making movies in earnest in the 1910s, he would have been dead 30 years and there was no wory about libelling people. Wyatt Earp, on the other hand, died peacefully at the age of 80 in 1929 in Los Angeles. He had actually worked in Hollywood consulting on several films, and his pallbearers included William S. Hart and Tom Mix. With a reputation like that and a wife in need of money (Earp's wife Josephine lived into the 1940s and was known to gamble), I can imagine why Hollywood wouldn't want to portray Wyatt Earp as a character.

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