Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Dirty Little Billy" is a grimy little film

Cleveland Press February 3, 1973

There's been a trend in movies lately to debunk the Old West, to present it as the grimy, muddy, filthy sleazy place it probably was.

There were "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Doe" and "Bad Company," to name a few that come readily to mind.

Now there's "Dirty Little Billy" which purports to tell about the early days of Billy the Kid before he became Billy the Kid.

THE PICTURE is the ultimate in grimy westerns, so labored in presenting a veneer of soiled skin, filthy clothing and muddy terrain that the effect is finally superficial. Never have so many people been so unwashed for so long.

Underneath, there is as little drama as there is variety, only a persistent sameness.

Michael J. Pollard plays the title role and the part depends on his particular mannerisms for effect. He rolls his eyes, looks off into space, breaks his sentences, engages in long pauses.

BILLY, HIS MOTHER and his stepfather are shown arriving in the muddy Western town, ex-New Yorkers buying a farm which is really a run-down shack. Billy falls in the mud as soon as he - steps off the train and he never really stops falling.

He's presented as a smart-alecky, lazy teenager. He was a bum in New York, is still a bum out West and if he doesn't know what he wants he sure knows what he doesn't want and that's work of any kind.

He also isn't very tough, just cheeky. He runs away from home and takes refuge in the shack that passes for the town saloon. There he is befriended by the local bad guy, Goldie (Richard Evans) and Goldie's prostitute girl friend, Berle (Lee Purcell).

MOST OF THE movie remains earth-bound in the gritty, filthy saloon where Billy takes on a wide-eyed approach to a life of sin and degradation. By the time he emerges he has learned about booze, gambling, back-stabbing, sex and firing a gun -- just shoot wildly in every direction, you're bound to hit something.

The evolution from timid lazy boy to sneaky wastrel tries to be funny but depends for its humor mostly on the funny things Pollard can do with his face and his eyes. While these are considerable, they are not enough to carry 94 minutes of grittiness and grime.