Billy Two Hats (1974)
“Against the Law Against the Odds Against the Land Itself”
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Cast: Gregory Peck, Desi Arnaz Jr., Jack Warden
Synopsis: When someone is killed during a bank robbery by Deans, half-breed Billy Two Hats and their partner, the robbers flee.
Both the Western and Gregory Peck’s career were in decline when he made Billy Two Hats, a resolutely routine western, and it’s perhaps not surprising given Peck’s amateurish attempt at a Scottish accent and the film’s determinedly revisionist nature, a development of the genre that had already grown a little stale by 1974.
Peck plays Arch Deans, the ageing mentor of fellow gang member Billy Two Hats (Desi Arnaz Jr.), who returns to release his young friend from the handcuffs of sheriff Henry Gifford (Jack Warner), only to suffer a broken leg courtesy of saloon owner Copeland’s (David Huddlestone) buffalo gun. That’s right, this is one of those westerns laden down with metaphors. Although Deans and Two-Hats are, in the eyes of society, the villains of the piece, it’s the sheriff, a racist product of his times, and the common man – represented by a farmer named Spencer (John Pearce), who bought his stuttering wife (Sian Barbara Allen) by mail order and charges the wounded Deans an extortionate price for carriage to safety – who are the real rogues.
The story in Billy Two Hats takes second place to the symbolism and message, and it comes across as a case of overbearing pretension by the time the end credits roll. The elegiac tone lends the character of Deans an undeserved air of nobility thanks to his depiction as a relic from a better past that is slowly being eradicated from the unforgiving land like the buffalo which Copeland dreamily recalls in an early scene. Warden gives a decent performance as the sheriff driven more by hatred than a desire to see the law upheld, but Peck and that ridiculous accent are a constant distraction, and Desi Arnaz is too bland to make much of an impression either way.
(Reviewed 24th April 2012)