Billy Two Hats (MGM MOD)
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 99 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 19.98
Release Date: March 26, 2011
Review Date: April 22, 2011
A western that’s more character study than action-adventure film, Ted Kotcheff’s Billy Two Hats certainly has some action scenes (pretty inventively shot, too), but it’s in the relationships between characters in which the film makes its greatest impression. Appealing characters and a nicely paced running time make it a film worth watching, and by not concerning itself with necessarily happy endings or neatly tied-up plot strands, it plays more realistically now than some other westerns of the same period play today. It’s not a major film in the careers of any of its actors, but it’s an entertaining one.
An outlaw band headed by Scottish immigrant Arch Deans (Gregory Peck) is being stalked by Sheriff Henry Gifford (Jack Warden). He kills one of the gang and takes half-breed Billy Two Hats (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) prisoner before he’s freed by Arch who’s injured in their escape. Henry, winged in the shoulder by Arch deliberately instead of killing him, needs a bit of time to recuperate but so does Arch whose horse fell on his leg and broke it. With the territory alive with renegade Indians, no one is really safe, but Billy and Arch stumble on a farm run by the brutish Spencer (John Pearce) and his timorous wife Esther (Sian Barbara Allen) and make a deal with him to carry the injured Arch to the nearest town to get a wagon he and Billy can use to get to Mexico. Meanwhile, both Indians and Henry Gifford are closing in.
The movie was filmed in Israel, but the wide landscapes and rocky vistas are picture perfect replicas of the old West and serve the film and its director well. Kotcheff has cameraman Brian West shoot the vast terrain from interesting angles and perspectives staging an avalanche sequence especially well along with a shootout with the Indians that, while not ratcheting the tension to the max, plays quite well. Alan Sharp’s screenplay seems to be interested in delving into the bigotry of the Gifford character and the lack of same with the Deans character, but he’s not entirely successful, instead relying on clichés and predictable racial epithets instead of burrowing into these people to find out what makes them tick. (He’s more successful exploring a temporary deputy character played by David Huddleston whose opinions are guided by money and power.) The romantic element is disappointing so obviously is it set up and implemented.
Gregory Peck’s Scottish brogue isn’t the best heard in movies, but it’s successful enough to offer him a different kind of character to play, and his genuine warmth and appeal is unmistakably there as always. Desi Arnaz, Jr. is the weak link in the central cast with rather empty line readings and not enough emotional investment to hold up his end of the movie. Jack Warden excels as the tenacious sheriff refusing to give up his quest, and, as stated before, David Huddleston is similarly effective as the saloon owner willing to do anything for money or station. Sian Barbara Allen makes an acceptable woman in jeopardy even if her character’s stammer seems more convenient for plot purposes than organic to the character.
The film is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Though the disc has the same faint interlaced ghosting seen on other MGM MODs, the overall image quality is actually quite good. Sharpness especially in close-ups and medium shots excels, and color saturation is just fine. Flesh tones are occasionally ruddy, but that’s never a real problem. Black levels are no better than fair. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 10 of them.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Dialogue is always cleanly recorded and clearly discernible, and John Scott’s music and the sound effects never clash with it. There are no overriding audio artifacts like hiss or crackle. It’s a solid mono soundtrack of its era.
There is a theatrical trailer which runs 3 ¾ minutes and is in anamorphic widescreen.
3/5 (not an average)
Billy Two Hats gives its stars some interesting and unique roles to play and is certainly a film worth seeing. Audio and video on this made-on-demand disc are at acceptable levels of quality for those interested in purchasing.