Classic Scene: Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid

Off to the Wild West with Sam Peckinpah

Sam Peckinpah’s films, from The Wild Bunch to Straw Dogs, have found widespread acclaim over the years, but none is quite as revered as his elegy to Wild West anti-heroes, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid. The 1973 release was accompanied by a score and soundtrack by Bob Dylan (and most prominently features “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”), which received a nomination for Best Original Score at the Grammy Awards. But the film wasn’t without its controversies.

Did you know…

1) Monte Hellman was originally signed up to direct from Rudy Wurlitzer’s script, but Peckinpah became involved through lead actor James Coburn. In the original script Pat and Billy never met onscreen until the film’s conclusion, but Peckinpah rewrote entire parts of the script to give it a more cyclical narrative, effectively straining his relationship with Wurlitzer. Wurlitzer went on to write Slow Fade in 1984, a book about a drug-addled, egocentric control freak and Hollywood director, which is thought to be based on this experience.

2) The film created an even greater rumpus off screen between the filmmaker and studio. Not only did MGM take the finished film and released an entirely re-edited version much to cast and crew’s chagrin, but they also challenged the production itself: MGM exec James Aubrey was a notorious cheapskate who cut the budget, slashed the schedule and refused to let a camera mechanic join the crew. When early footage was out of focus, due to an easily fixed mechanical fault, Peckinpah rose from his seat, stood on a chair and urinated on the screen — Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid became a literal pissing contest.