Monday, November 22, 2010

Billy Two Hats (1974)

Competently made but forgettable, Billy Two Hats was part of Gregory Peck’s ongoing campaign to grow beyond his noble onscreen persona. Whereas in more extreme endeavors like The Boys from Brazil (1978), he went completely against type by playing villains, in Billy Two Hats he stretches by playing an outlaw with an accent. But even though Peck’s Scottish brogue came naturally, given his family’s roots in the British isles, Alan Sharp’s limp screenplay keeps him from achieving liftoff. It doesn’t help that Peck is tethered, buddy-movie style, to Desi Arnaz Jr., a former child actor whose transition to grown-up roles was not a cause for celebration. The story is standard stuff about an outlaw named Deans (Peck) and his hot-blooded half-breed sidekick Billy (Arnaz) getting chased across the frontier by dogged Sheriff Gifford (Jack Warden). The only novel aspect of the narrative is that for much of the picture Deans is unable to walk, so Billy drags him around the desert while the older man reclines in a cot. This creates lots of opportunities for the Scottish rascal to regale his companion with monologues, and Peck’s voice is such a gorgeous instrument that some of the chatty bits are entertaining; he also cuts a great figure with his thick black beard and sloppily bundled clothing, even when confined to the cot. Warden and David Huddleston acquit themselves well in bland roles as Wild West meanies, and because it’s a mid-’70s Western, high-adventure lyricism steadily gives way to “meaningful” gloom. But, alas, there’s nothing here that wasn’t done more effectively in a dozen other movies. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on

Billy Two Hats: LAME


Guy Callaway said...

As this was shot in Israel, I've always wondered if Jewison financed it to use up frozen assests from 'Jesus Christ Superstar', filmed there the year before.

Unknown said...

Alan Sharp wrote Ulzana's Raid, which - forgive the pun - is sharp. This sounds a bit like Charlie One Eye, which is a funny movie. It's directed by Ted Kotcheff, the Canadian who made Wake in Fright and First Blood. Right ... I'm going to track this down.