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c. 1973

The real hero in Bob Dylan’s Western

The movie was a flop, but it did give us one of Dylan's most iconic songs ever

DURANGO, MEXICO - MAY 1973: Bob Dylan appears in a film still for 'Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid' (for which he also did the soundtrack) which was released in May 1973 and filmed in Durango, Mexico. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Bob Dylan emerged onto the New York folk scene like a man who had stepped out of America’s past, his voice deeply weather-worn and timeless. 

In other words, he was perfect casting material for a Western.

And it was Sam Peckinpah who eventually cast him into the Wild West, in his 1973 production of ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’.

Dylan shared screen time with James Coburn as Pat, and Kris Kristofferson as Billy.

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Dylan’s voice, however, did not appear centre-stage.  His character, Alias, a supporter of Billy, said barely anything.

And the film did not fare much better – Peckinpah and the studio would eventually fall out, and in fact Peckinpah washed his hands of the final film.

It was edited radically by the studio. To no avail.

The critics and the public were not kind – the film bombed on all fronts. 

Nevertheless, as well as contributing a largely instrumental music score, Dylan brought to the production what is now regarded as an bonafide classic – ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’.

The song that has gone on to assume huge significance – yet, in the film, it merely accompanies the death of a minor gunfighter.

1973
Bob Dylan wears a stovepipe hat in a still from the film
MGM Studios / Getty Images
1973
A close-up of Dylan
Bettmann / Getty Images
1973
Dylan in a bandana
Bettmann / Getty Images
1973
Dylan displays his roping skills
Bettmann / Getty Images
1973
Even the Western Dob Dylan played the guitar
Bettmann / Getty Images
1973
Dylan stands outside the town newspaper office
Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection / Getty Images
1973
Dylan and Kristofferson
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
1973
Dylan in apron looking on
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
1973
A color shot of Dylan with extras
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
1973
Dylan leads his horse across the Mexican desert, where the film was shot
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
1973
Dylan wipes the blade of his dagger as he crouches in front of a doorway
Fotos International / Getty Images

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