The first American Western to be filmed in Israel, director Ted Kotcheff’s (Life at the Top, Fun With Dick and Jane, North Dallas Forty) Billy Two Hats has made its way to Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Released in 1974, this is a fairly slow-paced affair, but with Gregory Peck and Jack Warden along for the ride, for fans of the genre, this one is worth a look.
Prior to his late career resurgence in The Omen (1976), Gregory Peck tried his hand at a series of different roles, including I Walk the Line (1970), Shootout (1971) and this somewhat unusual western. He plays an aging, bible thumping outlaw named Arch Deans, with a Scottish burr. He and his partner, the much younger half-breed Billy Two Hats (Desi Arnaz, Jr.), are on the run after accidently killing a deputy during a bank robbery. No nonsense Sheriff Henry Gifford (Jack Warden) captures Billy at a remote trading post run by an ex-buffalo hunter named Copeland (David Huddleston) and his squaw (Dawn Little Sky), Deans returns to free Billy and wings the sheriff in the shoulder. While the criminals are fleeing, Copeland wings Deans in the leg with his buffalo hunting rifle. With Deans unable to ride a horse, Billy builds an Indian cot to drag Deans behind his horse. With the sheriff in pursuit, the wanted men stop at a remote ranch, near the Mexican border run by a mean-spirited man named Spencer (John Pearce) and his frightened bought wife from St. Louis named Esther (Sian Barbara Allen). When Deans goes in search of a doctor in the nearest town with Spencer, they’re attacked by four Indians. Meanwhile, Billy is left to take care of Esther and watch for the sheriff. He’s seduced by Esther and then overtaken by the bigoted sheriff.
Few would argue that Peck is a fine actor, but he never quite gets the Scottish burr down. Despite that, he manages to make his character engaging, in what is otherwise a pedestrian western. While Israel seems like a bit of an odd place to film a western, director Kotcheff uses the sun-scorched landscapes to his advantage. While Peck injects some vitality into the proceedings, Desi Arnaz Jr. (son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) struggles here. No offense, but I’m not sure why his name deserves above the title status. While he has a few credits—Marco (1973) and a small role as his father in the musical biopic Mambo Kings (1992)—and his chemistry with Peck is surprisingly good, this isn’t headlining stuff.
While Billy Two Hats isn’t one of Gregory Peck’s best films, it’s an interesting one, and deserves a place in the collections of any of his fans. Desi Arnaz Jr. isn’t a great actor, but he works well with Peck, who elevates his performance. The always reliable Jack Warden does a fine job as the Sherriff.
Presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer has some noticeable softness at times. The brown/gray/blue color palette is on the dullish side, but some of that may have been the filmmaker’s intention. The image has a nice level of grain and only a couple of scratches throughout. Faces look slightly dark at times, but for a film that’s more than forty years old, this transfer isn’t too bad.
The DTS-HD Mono audio track does the job, but it’s nothing that will blow you away. Clarity is very good, whether it be dialogue or the galloping of horses. Levels are well balanced and I noticed only a couple of audio dropouts during conversations.
There are no subtitles included.
The following extras are available:
- Interview with Director Ted Kotcheff (HD, 11:47) In this recent interview, Kotcheff discusses Norman Jewison’s influence on the movie, filming in Israel, working with Gregory Peck and more.
- Trailer Gallery: Includes trailers for Billy Two Hats, Moby Dick (1956) and On the Beach, all of which star Gregory Peck.
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