Sheriff Pat Garrett (Robert Lowery) tells the story of his friendship and later pursuit of Billy the Kid (Don “Red” Berry). As Garrett explains it, Billy could be a charming and likable outlaw but he just refused to go straight. After Billy rescued Garrett from an Indian attack, Garrett even tried to arrange for Billy to get a pardon from New Mexico’s governor, Lew Wallace (Claude Stroud), but when the pardon didn’t arrive in time, Billy felt had been betrayed and continued his life as an outlaw. Eventually, it fell upon Garrett to track down and put his old friend out of commission.
This film really should have been called I Shot Billy The Man because Don Berry was nearly 40 when he played Billy and he looked like he was closer to 50. Berry makes the mistake of wearing hair piece, which just makes it seem as if George Constanza somehow got cast as a notorious western outlaw. As was true in even his worst westerns, Berry is a convincing gunslinger but he’s just not a very convincing kid. Meanwhile, Robert Lowery is a boringly upright Pat Garrett. There’s none of the moral ambiguity that’s present in some of the better retellings of the life of Billy the Kid.
Tom Neal, an authentic tough guy who is best remembered for starring in Detour and for sabotaging his own career by nearly beating actor Franchot Tone to death, appears as a member of Billy’s gang. Neal was almost as old as Berry but it still seems like the film would have worked better if Neal has played Billy, Berry had played Pat, and Lowery would have taken the less important role of Charlie. Neal would have brought some authentic toughness to the role while Berry’s onscreen charisma would have countered how boring the film’s version of Pat Garrett comes across as being. As it is, with Berry miscast and Lowery giving a bland peformance and the entire movie limited by its low budget (it was produced by Robert Lippert, who made Roger Corman seem extravagant by comparison), I Shot Billy The Kid is one of the more forgettable films about the life of William Bonney.