Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
Slim Pickens’ demise in “Pat Garret & Billy the Kid” is probably my favorite movie death scene. Pickens, a cowboy-movie staple, was typically a farcical figure — the guy you’d laugh at between the shoot-outs and the daring feats of horsemanship. But in a movie that’s explicitly about the extinguishment of the West, and of its iconography, Pickens is no mere actor; he has symbolic significance. And the way in which Sam Peckinpah treats him here gives him mythic weight and resonance. The big moment occurs at about 1:16 in the clip. It’s a hyperreal, loaded-to-overflowing image — the kind of thing only a freak talent like Peckinpah is capable of pulling off. Pickens, fatally injured and on the verge of expiring, is foregrounded against what is little more than a puddle. But the shot’s perspective and the magic-hour lighting make it seem a great and noble river, one whose flow and essence Pickens is on the verge of merging into. What a look Pickens summons at that moment! It’s as though he, like the character he’s playing, knows this is the last hurrah, the final sunset, and he’s trying to assay the whole of his life — to process all of his feelings, memories, and reflections — even as he realizes there’s no time to do it justice. At this instant, with its almost Tintoretto-like intensity, the comic cowpoke attains heroic stature; he’s like a Viking on the cusp of Valhalla. His devoted wife, played by Katy Jurado, can do nothing but watch. She can’t reach him now.