Film 44: Wild Bill
My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.
Last time we watched Streets Of Fire on the big screen at the Prince Charles Cinema. It’s one of the few films that would have been improved by being a musical.
Night Shift (1982)
The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)
Wild Bill (1995)
Rumble Fish (1983)
A relatively long shortlist this time round, and it was, by all accounts, tricky to narrow it down to seven. There were great lists to be had just from Willem Dafoe or Diane Lane’s filmographies. This time around neither of us remembered seeing any of the choices, and they’re a varied bunch.
Night Shift is a comedy about a brothel in a morgue starring Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton! Colors is a tough cop film set in gangland LA, with Sean Penn the hot-headed rookie to Robert Duvall’s experienced cop.
I didn’t go to see The Lincoln Lawyer at the cinema because I wasn’t really a fan of Matthew McConnaughey. Fast-forward a few years and I have a massive man-crush on him, so totally up for this.
I’ve been meaning to see Rumble Fish and Hollwoodland for years. Eddie and the Cruisers stars Michael Pare, so I’d love to see if he’s any better in it than he was in Streets Of Fire.
And then there’s Wild Bill, a Western biopic. I’ve been underwhelmed by both biopics and westerns recently, and especially by a western biopic.
So of course that’s the film Tim chose.
Diane Lane is the shared actor between Streets Of Fire and Wild Bill. In Streets Of Fire she’s a rock singer who gets kidnapped by a biker gang. She’s also in Rumble Fish and The Outsiders, both of which involve gangs and came out around the same time as Streets…
I haven’t actually seen her in that much, apart from Judge Dredd (the Stallone one), Trumbo and Man Of Steel, all of which I’ve tried to forget. She’s one of those names that I’ve always been aware of though. She didn’t have that much to do in Streets Of Fire, so I’m hoping Wild Bill might give me a bit more of a feel for her style.
Wild Bill and me
I don’t know much about this film, other than I almost shortlisted it myself before. It’s directed by Walter Hill (Warriors, Streets Of Fire) and stars Jeff Bridges which is pretty enticing. And it’s a biopic of Wild Bill Hickock. That’s about it…
As far as my knowledge of Wild Bill Hickock that’s at a similar level. In the TV show Deadwood (my gosh I love Deadwood) I remember he dies relatively early on. Shot in the back during a card game. And I’m pretty sure he joined a circus for a bit… Well hopefully even if the film isn’t great I’ll be able to learn a little more about the man himself – much like The Aviator recently.
The early career of legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickock is telescoped and culminates in his relocation in Deadwood and a reunion with Calamity Jane. 5.9 stars.
Well then. I’ve now watched the film and done a little bit of research. And I am Not Happy. Here’s an overview of the film (spoilers, but honestly I’m saving you a couple of hours of your life):
Wild Bill goes to Deadwood. A young man there is abusive towards him. Turns out years previously that Bill had a relationship with a woman who had a son from a previous marriage. They split, amicably. The woman’s life went downhill. The woman’s son blamed Wild Bill for his mother’s state and, guess what? He’s come to Deadwood to set things straight. After much to-ing and fro-ing the young man hires some goons, then can’t quite go through with it. Bill kills said goons but lets the young man live and buys him a drink. Young man shoots Wild Bill in the back.
Fine. Whatever. It wasn’t brilliantly told – the flashbacks were heavy handed – but was functional.
However. That’s not how it went down. The chap that killed Wild Bill in reality was someone who was angry about losing to him at cards the previous night. So the central pillar of the film is just a load of guff. At that point you might as well change some names and fictionalise the whole shebang and maybe we could all have a bit more fun.
The film is based in part on the book Deadwood, and in part on a play called Fathers and Sons. It’s the latter which is I think where this fictionalised version of events comes from. There’s an almost interesting scene in the film when the young man and his goons burst into a saloon where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are, and then… it’s a bit of a stand off. The young man could kill Bill, but doesn’t quite have the gumption. They stay in deadlock all night, before the man and his goons flee. That’s when Bill chases after them before bringing the boy back to the bar.
And that, as the whole film, could be quite interesting (if it stopped purporting to have any resemblance to reality). Turns out I think that’s what the play was. All the set-up and flashbacks in the film distract from this interesting and potentially tense night.
So I watched a mediocre film and came out actually knowing less about Wild Bill than I knew going in. Crumbs.
And Diane Lane? A relatively thankless role as Miss Perfect in flashbacks. What the hell did she ever see in Wild Bill? Or this script?
A final thought – Wild Bill was 39 when he was shot. I pointed out in my Wyatt Earp post that Doc Holliday died at 36. It was a shit old life in the West.
“You ought to know better than to touch another man’s hat,” says Wild Bill in the film. But apparently it’s fine to mess around with another man’s life story.
Loads of interesting people in this – not just Jeff Bridges and Diane Lane (plenty of her films on the longlist sounded worth a watch), but John Hurt, Keith Carradine, Ellen Barkin and Bruce Dern.
One thing is clear though: I won’t be picking a biopic. Or a western.
Although I do still have a hankering for Tombstone…