Electric guitar... a bunch of young actors. The Western is being reborn (or attempting it anyway) with Young Guns.
But then they've got to go and have 50-year-old Terence Stamp as Tunstall. Tunstall was 24 when he met Billy the Kid... Emilio Estevez (Billy) is 26, about 8 years too old. Kiefer Sutherland at 22 is actually 7 years younger than his character, Doc Scurlock. Lou Diamond Phillips is about the right age for Jose Chavez y Chavez (Phillips 26, Chavez 27). Charlie Sheen, at 23, is 5 years younger than his character Dick Brewer. Casey Siemaszko, 27, is 3 years younger than his character, Charlie Bowdre.
(Odd detail, that I only noticed because I was recently there. Tunstall tells Billy he can stay at the ranch or, if he wants, the Santa Fe leaves out of Albuquerque in the morning. That's a good distance to get by morning. Tunstall's ranch was south of the town of Lincoln, not sure how far, but from Lincoln to Albuquerque is 185 miles. The Pony Express riders were only expected to do 75 miles a day. And, this is already suppertime.)
Jack Palance, 69, is 12 years older than his character, Murphy. But Jeremy Lepard, 61, is 31 years older than his character, Murphy's business partner Dolan. They've got 49-year-old Patrick Wayne playing Pat Garrett here but then he drops to 37-year-old William Peterson for the sequel; Pat Garrett would have been 28 during the Lincoln County War, and 31 when he shot Billy the Kid.
(Billy meets Pat Garrett and speaks of him as if he's already famous. I'm not sure if Garrett was even back in New Mexico at this point in 1878 but he certainly wasn't famous. Chasing after Billy the Kid 2-3 years after this is what made him famous. I guess, since the filmmakers were just covering the Lincoln County War, they just included Garrett to be coy.)
McSween (Terry O'Quinn) wants the "regulators" deputized, and Justice Wilson (Victor Izay) insists none of them is even 21 years of age. In fact, Billy was probably the only regulator under the age of 21 at the time. And, not one of the actors is. But, you gotta reinforce this new Western as a young man's game.
The regulators here only have 6 men, five of which have specific counterparts with the real regulators. But, at any given time, there was probably at least a dozen, plus some Mexican supporters. There were 11 regulators, for example, present when McCloskey (Geoffrey Blake) and Baker (Cody Palance) and Morton (Sam Gauny) were killed. The general description (from Robert Utley's (1989) Billy the Kid A Short and Violent Life) seems to be that each regulator shot each man; Baker and Morton had each been shot 11 times. (Interestingly, Tom O'Folliard (Balthazar Getty, 15, playing a guy who was really 31), Jim French (Alan Ruck) and Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater), who are only in the sequel, were among those 11.) The main members, those 11 I guess, were known as the "iron clad."
Among the ironclad was Fred Waite, a Chickasaw, who I guess was mashed together with the Mexican Chavez y Chavez here. In the sequel, French seems to be an amalgam of French and Henry Newton Brown. John Middleton and cousins George and Frank Coe just aren't here at all. The big problem this film has is that of the characters we have, only Billy was actually present for their assassination of Sheriff Brady. (Which happened before the shootout with Buckshot Roberts.)
The Sand Creek Masscare Chavez talks about, actually happened back in 1864, some 22 years before he says. And, Murphy had nothing to do with it. It was Union soldiers under Lieutenant George S. Eayre and General John M. Chivington. Also, it was Cheyenne, while Chavez seems to be Navajo. (Phillips, by the way, is about 1/8 Cherokee.)
(Now, I hadn't watched the original Young Guns in quite a while. I'd seen Young Guns II more times. The music here, not to mention the main lineup of young men, was quite deliberately ripped off by the TV show Young Riders. I recently watched the pilot episode of that show and it's basically a less R-rated version of this, with even more historical inaccuracy.)
Enough about the history; let's just be clear, there are a lot of historical inaccuracies in Young Guns. What this film was, though, was an injection of new blood into a genre that wasn't even getting old anymore. It was basically deceased.
(This wasn't the first time. Clint Eastwood was only 34 when he starred in Sergio Leone's first Western, Fistfull of Dollars, not quite as young as these guys, but much younger than the aging Western stars.)
Enough about the history? That doesn't sound like me.
The youth culture of the 1980s would jump onto everything. Estevez had already starred in two films based on S.E. Hinton's novels, and was in both the teen-centric The Breakfast Club and 20s-centric St. Elmo's Fire, not to mention the bank robbery film Wisdom. Kiefer Sutherland had played a good teen villain in Stand by Me and The Lost Boys. Lou Diamond Phillips had made a name for himself in La Bamba and Stand and Deliver. Charlie Sheen had notable parts in Lucas, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Platoon. Casey Siemaszko had parts in Back to the Future and Stand by Me and Three O'Clock High. Christian Slater (in the sequel) has notable roles in The Legend of Billie Jean, Heathers, Gleaming the Cube, and his Pump Up the Volume was in theaters just three weeks after Young Guns II. There was a whole lot of popular teen film stars here.
There was more to it, as well. Two years before Young Guns, you had a war movie (sort of) in Iron Eagle (and it's sequel would be out just a few months after Young Guns. Just a week before Young Guns, you had the similarly plotted The Rescue. Meanwhile, you've got Die Hard in theaters, and we've had our third Rambo movie, four Rocky films, and so many other films (e.g Commando) and franchises that deal in singular males or small groups (Lethal Weapon just the previous year, for example) fighting off larger forces. We love underdogs, and here we're manufacturing more.
The regulators were not so outnumbered in reality, but Hollywood doesn't care. It makes a better story when there are a handful of men surrounded, and the military is called in against them. In reality, there were a bunch of regulators, including Scurlock and Bowdre, in the Ellis Store with about 20 Mexicans (led by a woman, no less) on their side positioned around the town. And, holed up in the McSween House (where they all are in the movie) were McSween and his wife, Billy, Chavez, the here-absent Brown, French and O'Folliard, as well as a dozen Mexicans. The army did get involved, but it doesn't sound like they were too involved in the fight. Their arrival got the regulators to break position and then the McSween House was set alight. Billy didn't make that long-distance shot at Charlie Crawford; that was done from 500 yards by Doc Scurlock's father-in-law, who was not Chinese because Doc's wife was hispanic. Billy didn't kill Murphy; Murphy wasn't even in Lincoln at the time of the five-day "Battle of Lincoln" that ended the Lincoln County War.
The PALS gravemarker came because of a flood around the turn of the century that also washed away the bones. The marker I just went to see this past week is not the original and if it was Billy that Garrett killed at Fort Sumner, his bones are not in that location either.
Now, on with some more "history"--Young Guns II.
Since we're dealing in history, it's interesting to note that in 1877, two years before the start of this film, Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh (Christian Slater) (who was really known as "Dirty Dave" but since the first film had "Dirty Steve" I guess that seemed repetitive) was tracked by Wyatt Earp. He had also played cards with Doc Holliday and would be captured by Bat Masterson... who I seem to have missed in all these Westerns, though I know he was in a few. And, Rudabaugh may have joined up with the Clanton gang after the events of this film, meaning he could have been involved in the assassination of Morgan Earp.
At the Autry Museum near here, they've got some of Pat Garrett's belongings on display.
Pat Garrett certainly knew Billy, though I don't know if he ever rode with him like at start of this film. But, the betrayal story is more interesting than simple opportunism. Young Guns II offers us Garrett choosing to be a legend. He not only takes the offer of Sheriff but takes a reporter along to write the story of his pursuit of Billy the Kid.
What Young Guns II really offers is Billy the Kid really becoming an outlaw. Choosing to be an outlaw. The Lincoln County War is over. Most of the killing here is unjustified. But, Billy and company are fun. They do drugs (in the first film), they visit a brothel (in the sequel), and they dance (in the original)... Recall that nice crosscut in Titanic from the Irish party to the boring upper class after-dinner talk. We love ourselves some lower-class (here READ: outlaw) partying, and we love ourselves some rebels. But, the rebellion already happened. This Western is actually a strange one (and the only sequel I bothered with this month) in that it shows us what happened next. What happened next isn't often that interesting. Recall the exchange in Stand by Me--after Gordie tells his Lard Ass Hogan story, Teddy wants to know what happened next. But, the story's over. That's both the best part and the worst part of stories--they are finite. When they stories come from reality, though, and characters keep going...
We get the slow death of a gang and Billy's realization that he led these men to their deaths. And, for what? Because, as he tells Scurlock, in Mexico he'd just be another gringo.
My final thought on both Young Guns films: where's the damn scarf? Billy the Kid quite famously loved to wear brightly colored scarves.