Wild Bill (1995)

Wild Bill (1995), directed by Walter Hill.

Vignettes from the violent life of Wild Bill Hickock, sometimes lawman and always dangerous. It all leads up to the last days in Deadwood and his time with Calamity Jane, dressed in buckskin and wielding a bullwhip, but definitely feminine in her interest in Bill.

They are having sex in a deserted barroom when gunmen burst in and get the drop on them. He: "You inconsiderate bastards!" She: "Would you mind averting your eyes? I'm a little exposed here".

I had never heard of this before it appeared on a limited-edition Blu-ray. Two themes emerge in the non-linear plot: Wild Bill growing old under the weight of his past, losing his sight and smoking opium, which gives him disturbing dreams. And the encounters with the weak and somewhat mental son of one his former lovers who has tracked him down to kill him. This is David Arquette as Jack McCall, who was hung for the murder.

If you like gun-play in your westerns this is a good entry. Hickock is a charismatic and fearless killing machine who never draws first. Just don't touch his hat. You can see Jeff Bridges working up to his Rooster Cogburn in True Grit (2010) 15 years later.

I'm surprised at the poor ratings and reviews. Critics don't think it delivers on its elegiac promise and charge that the story halts in the final third. I liked it all the way through.

The Deadwood (2004) TV series covered some of the same ground. It was no doubt more realistic in showing the grubbiness of the tent city; I don't know about the language. Here, a woman comes into the saloon: "Man outside gave me a dollar to say you are a horse fornicator". Wild Bill: "Did he say what horse?"

Ellen Barkin is Calamity Jane and John Hurt is best friend and peacemaker Charlie. Hurt in a western reminds me of Heaven's Gate (1980). I prefer not to remember Dead Man (1995), same year as this one.

Smaller parts for old flame Diane Lane (Streets of Fire (1984)) and Keith Carradine as Buffallo Bill; he would play Wild Bill in Deadwood (2004). Christina Applegate is a prostitute and Bruce Dern has a shootout from a wheelchair. I always enjoy rough-voiced James Gammon.

Director Walter Hill also gets a screenwriting credit. He would direct and be "consulting producer" on the first episode of Deadwood (2004), which keeps coming up.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. Image quality is just fair, but I'm not sure a super-sharp look at the antique age of myth would work.