Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cry for Me, Billy (1972)

          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


Unknown said...

But DON'T cry for me, Argentina.

JKruppa said...

Sounds like a missed opportunity, but I might watch this just to see what Cronenweth did.

top_cat_james said...

Couldn't help but notice you added a comma to today's title, while in the preceding review, you removed the ellipses from I Love My...Wife.

Can't wait for tomorrow's critique of Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow! (1971) with a question mark replacing the exclamation point. ;)

By Peter Hanson said...

It is interesting about the ellipsis, though -- while that punctuation is plainly evident in the poster and the old VHS packaging, all reference listings suggest the ellipsis is a stylization for marketing rather than a proper component of the title. Always fascinating to see which stylizations take root and which don't. For instance, I still refer to Steven Soderbergh's first feature as "sex, lies and videotape" and to a certain Nicolas Cage movie as "adaptation." even though capitalization and/or alternate punctuation often gets added in reference texts. Weird~

Unrelated -- jeepers, I'd love to find Rainbow somewhere, either the question-mark version or the exclamation-point version. That one's more or less disappeared from the face of the earth.