Many familiar ’70s-cinema textures converge in the bleak Western Cry for Me, Billy, which boasts a handful of riveting scenes but underwhelms overall. The film’s biggest problem is a predictable storyline, so director William A. Graham’s leisurely approach exacerbates inherent sluggishness. Additionally, leading man Cliff Potts, a workaday actor in films and television from the late ’60s to the late ’90s (notwithstanding minor recent appearances), wasn’t up to the task of carrying a movie. Oh, and it should also be noted that despite his prominent billing, the great Harry Dean Stanton only appears in about 10 minutes of the movie, mostly in the beginning and then again toward the end.
Gun-toting drifter Billy (Potts) wanders into a tiny town, where he observes several Cavalry soldiers withholding water from a group of thirsty Indian prisoners. Incensed, Billy gives water to the prisoners, but later, when several prisoners escape, Billy watches helplessly while the soldiers kill the remaining Indians. Then Billy leaves town and encounters Little Sparrow (Maria Yolanda Aguayo), one of the escapees. She’s a beautiful young woman who for some reason is completely nude until Billy gives her a blanket. Despite a language barrier (the only word she ever speaks in the movie is Billy’s name), the two fall in love. Then, of course, the soldiers return to spoil their idyll, and bloodshed ensues.
Given the trite narrative, Cry for Me, Billy should be interminable, but several elements redeem the movie. Markson’s dialogue is excellent, and he does a terrific job sketching the minor characters whom Billy and Little Sparrow encounter. Better still, the cinematography by Jorden Cronenweth is gorgeous; in scene after scene, Cronenweth finds clever ways to put the sun behind actors, creating beautiful pictorial depth. Also priaseworthy are brief but effective turns by Stanton, James Gammon, Don Wilbanks, and others. Alas, the main story, though presented with great care, underwhelms until the grim final act. FYI, Aguayo, who later married her costar Potts, was originally billed as “Xochitl,” an Aztec word for “flower,” hence some online sources giving that word as the name of her character. The alias represented a failed attempt to give her screen debut a bit of intrigue.
Cry for Me, Billy: FUNKY