Billy the Kid (1930 film)

Billy the Kid is a 1930 American pre-Code film directed in widescreen by King Vidor about the relationship between frontier outlaw Billy the Kid (Johnny Mack Brown, billed as "John Mack Brown") and Pat Garrett (Wallace Beery), the man who later killed him.

Billy the Kid
Directed byKing Vidor
Produced byKing Vidor
Irving Thalberg
Written byWalter Noble Burns (book, The Saga of Billy the Kid)
Wanda Tuchock (continuity)
Laurence Stallings (dialogue)
Charles MacArthur (additional dialogue)
StarringJohn Mack Brown
Wallace Beery
Kay Johnson
CinematographyGordon Avil
Edited byHugh Wynn
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • October 18, 1930 (1930-10-18)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States



Directed by King Vidor, the movie was filmed in an early widescreen process called Realife, a 70mm format similar to Fox Film Corporation's Grandeur used for the lavish The Big Trail the same year.[1]

While The Big Trail, starring John Wayne, has been restored so that the 1930 widescreen process can be evaluated by modern viewers, no widescreen prints of Billy the Kid are known to currently exist and the movie can be viewed only in a standard-width version that was filmed simultaneously as the widescreen version. The widescreen format did not get a commercial foothold with movie-going audiences until The Robe two decades later.

In some newspaper ads, the more familiar Beery, a major star and frequent supporting player since the teens during the silent era, was accorded top billing over young Brown but not in the main posters. Within two years Beery had contractually become MGM's highest-paid actor while John Mack Brown was rechristened "Johnny Mack Brown" and demoted into B-Westerns after the studio reshot a film with Brown originally cast as the leading man, replacing him with Clark Gable.

Parts of the film were shot in Zion National Park, as well as in Gallup, New Mexico, the Grand Canyon, and in Porter Ranch and the San Fernando Valley. [2]:286


The film was remade in color in 1941 as Billy the Kid with Robert Taylor as Billy and Brian Donlevy as a fictionalized version of Pat Garrett. The Howard Hughes version two years later, called The Outlaw and mainly serving as an introductory vehicle for Jane Russell, owes at least as much to the 1930 film, particularly in the casting of Thomas Mitchell, who physically resembles Wallace Beery, as Garrett.

Films and television revisited the Pat Garrett-Billy the Kid relationship almost continuously in subsequent decades. Paul Newman played Billy in the '50s in The Left Handed Gun (for many years after Billy's death it was thought he was left-handed. This assumption was based on a photo that had been inadvertently flipped when printed. Billy was right handed); a television series was filmed in 1960 with the same theme called The Tall Man, with Barry Sullivan as Garrett and Clu Gulager as Billy; Sam Peckinpah directed a movie version, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, in the '70s with James Coburn as Garrett; and Val Kilmer played Billy in Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid, a lavish television version written by Gore Vidal and televised in 1989.

See also


  1. David Coles, "Magnified Grandeur, Widescreen 1926-1931"
  2. D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
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