At this point, it’s easy to determine that when it comes to movies, no matter how big the production, there’s absolutely no guarantee it’s going to find any success. There have been plenty of instances when the hype outshines the actual final product. Studios have used many different tactics to get people in the seats at theaters, and nothing is ever a guarantee. One tactic often used, like with the 1995 film Wild Bill, starring Jeff Bridges, is to stack up highly recognizable names to lure in ticket buyers.
Like many unfortunate films before it, Wild Bill is the perfect example of how it doesn’t matter how many big names are on the marquee, there’s never any way to predict the creation of a classic. On paper, the Western flick, which stars Bridges as the title character, Wild Bill Hickok, appears to have all the ingredients to be a critically acclaimed moneymaker. Those who have seen the series Deadwood, know how interesting the character’s story is. However, that plan never came to fruition as Wild Bill came and went much like a tumbleweed. But still, it’s interesting to see the talent that went into this Walter Hill-directed movie.
For those who haven’t seen it (and there’s a good chance you haven’t), Wild Bill focuses on the final days of the iconic gunslinger, as he finds himself in conflict with a rapidly changing American society. Despite the film’s less-than-impressive release, Bridges still puts forth an excellent performance as he complements the impressive ensemble cast of talented actors. Any Western fan will find that the movie itself is entertaining and well-directed. Hill successfully captures the right tone and flavor that makes up a quality film set in a time of gritty lawlessness.
The legendary Wild Bill Hickok, who was born James Butler Hickok in 1837, was famous for his skills as a gunfighter, professional gambler, and even his time upholding the law as a peacemaker. His iconic image was enhanced with his long hair and handlebar mustache. The gunslinger’s fame came from a 1861 shootout in Springfield, Missouri, when he shot three men who were attempting to ambush him. This kicked off the start of his legendary history. There have been plenty of times the legend has popped in film and TV, with original productions and Western remakes.
The most famous part of Wild Bill Hickok’s story (which, of course, is portrayed in the film), was his death. Legend has it that in 1876, he was shot and killed at a poker table in Deadwood, South Dakota. He famously was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights, which, from that point on, would come to be known as the “dead man’s hand.” The scene was well-crafted for this 1995 film and was only enhanced by the talented performers involved.
Ellen Barkin Strapped on Her Boots
By the time Ellen Barkin signed on to be in Wild Bill, she had already established herself as a popular and talented actress. Fans already knew her from hits such as The Big Easy, Sea of Love, and Diner. Adding her to the credit list was a no-brainer for Wild Bill as she took on the role of Calamity Jane. For those who don’t know, Calamity Jane was a well-known rough and tough partner of Hickok. In fact, Calamity Jane was well-known enough to be a main character in a Western movie, herself and Barkin’s performance exhibited this strong independent character. Barkin’s take on the role captured the real Calamity Jane’s intimidating pushback whenever someone attempted to cast her aside for being a woman. Of course, the subpar success of Wild Bill didn’t hurt Barkin’s career in any way, as she went on to be in films such as Ocean’s Thirteen and the series Animal Kingdom.
Diane Lane Was a Faithful Love for Wild Bill
Leading up to joining the star-studded cast of Wild Bill, Diane Lane had already earned her spot in the Hollywood elite category, popping up in many features, including A Little Romance, which got her nominated for a Golden Globe Award. In this film, Lane played the character Susanna Moore, who happened to be the love interest of Bridges’ Hickok. And her performance captured the ins and outs of this complex character, showcasing her wide range of talents. Lane’s career took off yet again after Wild Bill, starring in movies such as A Walk on the Moon and Unfaithful. She would then grab herself an Academy Award nomination for the 2003 film Under the Tuscan Sun.
Before Crafting Wizard Wands, John Hurt Was Ready to Duel Himself
Even though Wild Bill Hickok had plenty of reasons not to trust everyone who entered his public life, he still had a few select friends, and one of them was Charlie Prince. John Hurt took on this role, using the commanding persona and charm he had been dishing out to audiences long before stepping into this role. As Wild Bill”came and went, Hurt carried on with his impressive career, with roles in films such as Contact, the Harry Potter series, and more. His performance in Wild Bill quieted any naysayer who believed a British actor couldn’t play an American role, especially in a Western.
Christina Applegate and David Arquette Rounded Out the All-Star Cast
Who knew that after all those years of playing Kelly Bundy in Married with Children, Christina Applegate would display her performance versatility when she took on the role of Lurline in Wild Bill. The character is shown to have an interesting relationship with Wild Bill Hickok, and Applegate proved that she was more than the ditzy teenager she portrayed on the sitcom she was known for. Of course, Applegate would go on to continue to show her range in films like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Bad Moms, and several more TV series.
Before Wild Bill, David Arquette was virtually an unknown actor, that is besides, of course, his well-known family name. As the famous story goes, Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the head during a poker game, and the man who did it was named Jack McCall, portrayed by Arquette in the film. After Wild Bill, Arquette went on to appear in movies such as the Scream franchise, Never Been Kissed, and even had a stint in pro wrestling.
It is unfortunate that the 1995 film Wild Bill didn’t receive the praise and recognition it may have deserved. It was clear that these talented faces had no idea what the final outcome would be as their performances proved that they weren’t in it for a quick buck. Wild Bill is a reminder for producers and studios across Hollywood that a strong cast never guarantees a successful film. They may look great on posters and the marquee, but there are so many other factors that hinge on whether audiences show up, or read about the obscure film decades later. Wild Bill came and went but is now worth a look at, simply to see a quality production with some of Hollywood’s elite.