Paul Newman’s first feature-length western, a genre he was closely associated with throughout his career, 1958’s The Left Handed Gun is a must-see for fans of the actor. Newman stars in the film as the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, whose directorial debut was directed by Arthur Penn (he later directed such classics as Bonnie and Clyde and Alice’s Restaurant). Just as Penn portrayed Bonnie and Clyde as counterculture figures, The Left Handed Gun turned Billy the Kid into something of a misunderstood gunslinger.
The film sees a young William Bonney being given a home and job by a rancher named John Tunstall, only for Tunstall to be brutally murdered by his rivals. Seeking revenge, Bonney is branded a murderous outlaw while his old friend Pat Garrett is bent on bringing him down forever. Although it was initially unsuccessful in the United States (“At the time of its release, the film was considered too psychological and disturbing,” said a veteran film critic Emmanuel Levi), “The Left Handed Gun” would find more success abroad, whose reputation is improving domestically over time. It is now known as an important entry point in both Newman and Penn’s careers.