Remembering ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 7, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 1751-4193
  • E-ISSN: 1751-4207



This article argues that Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, which accompanies a key scene in Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, has had its relevance to the narrative enhanced by the song’s widespread propagation. The analysis provides a context for Dylan’s score in Peckinpah’s oeuvre as well as within more general late 1960s and early 1970s scoring trends in the film western. Pertinent is the number of versions afforded Pat Garrett (a theatrical cut, a director’s preview and a hybrid ‘special edition’), resulting in either the inclusion or omission of Dylan’s vocals and lyrics. The presence, or lack thereof, of this important element affects the semantics of the scene and film. In tracing aspects of the history of the song’s presence in cinema after Pat Garrett, the article shows how the drama of the original ‘Heaven’s Door’ scene is often reiterated. This dovetails with Peckinpah’s and Dylan’s shared concerns with memory and cyclicality. Finally, the article illustrates that the use of popular ‘standards’ with judiciously omitted lyrics can suggest an interior monologue and a novelistic insight into a character’s thoughts.


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