We look back at the 1969 shoot-'em-up starring Robert Mitchum.
Editor's Note: Throughout the month of October, C&I is celebrating the golden westerns of 1969, a year that changed the game for the beloved film genre. Check the Entertainment tab each day to see a different film recommendation by C&I senior writer Joe Leydon. And be on the lookout for the upcoming November/December 2019 print edition, which prominently features one of the 25 greatest films of 1969 on its cover.
While filming this modestly engaging shoot-‘em-up — his second 1969 collaboration with director Burt Kennedy (The Good Guys and The Bad Guys) — on the well-trod western backlot streets of Old Tucson Studios in Arizona, Robert Mitchum joked to a visiting journalist that, in more ways than one, he was covering familiar ground. “Every time, the same damned role,” he mock-mournfully protested, describing his part as a deputy marshal on the trail of a well-heeled varmint who killed his son during a jailbreak years earlier. “I’m wearing the same damn hat and the same damn boots I wore in Five Card Stud.”
True to tell, Young Billy Young really is a formulaic concoction. Still, Mitchum capably propels the film through sheer dint of his casual authority — and dry-witted sarcasm. When an aged stagecoach driver (Paul Fix) wonders aloud what brought Mitchum’s Ben Kane to town, the notoriously efficient lawman offhandedly replies: “Doctor told me I better find a climate with a little less lead in the air.” Both men appreciate the joke, of course, because they know the straight-shooting Kane never aims to please.
Mitchum — who also sings, quite well, the title theme song under the opening and closing credits — gets fine support from well-cast actors who somehow breathe fresh life into generic supporting characters. Chief among them: Robert Walker Jr. as the eponymous Billy Young, a callow gunslinger who desperately needs but only reluctant accepts Kane as a mentor; Angie Dickinson as a dancehall gal who’s not entirely unlike the character Dickinson played in Rio Bravo; David Carradine as a hired gun who just happens to be the son of the villain (John Anderson) in Kane’s gunsights; and Jack Kelly of TV’s Maverick as a conniving town boss with a propensity for slapping around women. We don’t have to tell you what happens to guys like that in movies like this, do we?
Of course, you in turn might ask: Is Young Billy Young worth watching? To paraphrase Mitchum’s famous reply to a similar question about another of his many movies: Well, if it’s a hot night, and your TV is in an air-conditioned room, what the hell?