In each print edition of Wild West we tie the lead reviews to the cover story. For the Autumn 2022 issue that meant finding a passel of books and films relating to Billy the Kid and/or his adopted New Mexico (a territory at the time, as the “Land of Enchantment” didn’t gain statehood until Jan. 6, 1912, more than 30 years after Billy met his end at the muzzle of Sheriff Pat Garrett’s gun in Fort Sumner). New Mexico native author and Wild West contributor Melody Groves was up to the challenge, and below is her list of films with a New Mexico angle, if not always relating to the Kid. We’ve included a peek at the trailers to whet your appetite for Westerns. Let us know if we missed any. WW
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Young Guns (1988, Morgan Creek Productions, on DVD and Blu-ray)
Considered one of the more historically accurate of all Billy the Kid films, it retells the misadventures of the infamous New Mexico outlaw. Filmed in and around the state, the star-studded movie brings a youthful energy to the tales of Billy and his compadres. Featuring Emilio Estevez (as the Kid), Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Philips and Charlie Sheen, along with veteran Western stars, this action-packed film has plenty of authenticity and verve.
Appaloosa (2008, New Line Cinema and Axiom Films, on DVD and Blu-ray)
Based on a Robert B. Parker novel, this film was co-written by director Ed Harris and Robert Knott and stars Harris, Viggo Mortensen and Renée Zellweger. Terrorized by a local rancher, the townspeople of Appaloosa, New Mexico Territory, hire lawman Virgil Cole (Harris) and his deputy, Everett Hitch (Mortensen), to protect and regain control. Filmed in New Mexico, it was deemed by one reviewer “a well-made, satisfying, traditionalist Western with some odd quirks and turns.”
High Noon (1952, Stanley Kramer Productions, on DVD and Blu-ray)
This iconic Western based on author John W. Cunningham’s 1947 short story “The Tin Star” is set in the fictional town of Hadleyville, New Mexico Territory. Gary Cooper stars as Marshal Will Kane, the quintessential lawman going toe to toe with badmen on Main Street at, yes, high noon. First though, the newlywed marshal must decide whether to face the four revenge-minded badmen—played by Ian MacDonald, Sheb Wooley, Robert J. Wilke and Lee Van Cleef—or leave town with Quaker wife Amy (Grace Kelly). Despite getting no help from townsfolk (Lloyd Bridges, Lon Chaney Jr., Thomas Mitchell et al.), Kane does his duty. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, it won four.
I sent a man up five years ago for murder. he was supposed to hang. now he’s free
Chisum (1970, Batjac Productions, Warner Brothers, on DVD and Blu-ray)
Set in New Mexico Territory, this Western is loosely based on events and characters of the 1878 Lincoln County War. Presenting such historical figures as Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel), John Chisum (John Wayne) and John Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles), writer Andrew J. Fenady and director Andrew V. McLaglen brought to film the iconic American story of powerful landowners vs. powerful businessmen.
The Missing (2003, Revolution Studios, Imagine Entertainment, on DVD and Blu-ray)
Directed by Ron Howard, this spooky film is based on author Thomas Eidson’s 1996 novel The Last Ride. Set in 1885 New Mexico Territory and filmed in the state, the film is especially notable for its authentic use of the Apache language. Father and daughter Samuel Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) and Maggie Gilkeson (Cate Blanchett) battle not only each other but also the elements and attackers. Well received among American Indian populations, The Missing sparked cultural pride with its authenticity.