Billy Bathgate
Original Theatrical Poster
Directed byRobert Benton
Screenplay byTom Stoppard
Based onBilly Bathgate
by E.L. Doctorow
Produced byRobert F. Colesbury
Arlene Donovan
CinematographyNéstor Almendros
Edited byAlan Heim
David Ray
Robert M. Reitano
Music byMark Isham
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • November 1, 1991 (1991-11-01)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$48 million[1]
Box office$15.5 million[1]

Billy Bathgate is a 1991 American biographical gangster film directed by Robert Benton, starring Loren Dean as the title character and Dustin Hoffman as real-life gangster Dutch Schultz. The film co-stars Nicole Kidman, Steven Hill, Steve Buscemi and Bruce Willis. Although Billy is a fictional character, at least four of the other characters in the film were real people. The screenplay was adapted by British writer Tom Stoppard from E.L. Doctorow's 1989 novel of the same name. Doctorow distanced himself from the film for the extensive deviations from the book. It received negative reviews and was a box-office bomb, grossing a mere $15.5 million against its $48 million budget.


Billy Behan is a poor Irish American teenager from the Bronx in the 1920s. One day, he catches the attention of wealthy Jewish mobster Dutch Schultz. Changing his last name to Bathgate after a local street, Billy goes to work for Schultz's organization, serving mostly as a gofer for Schultz. Billy is present when Schultz personally commits two brutal murders: his trusted lieutenant, Bo Weinberg, who Schultz believes betrayed him after learning that Weinberg was secretly meeting with rival bosses, is dumped in the water wearing cement shoes; and his top enforcer, "Big" Julie Martin, who is shot dead by Dutch for stealing $50,000 from the organization's accounts, and defiantly stating that he's "entitled" to it. Despite this, Billy comes to see Schultz as a father figure, and the mob as his chance to make it big.

Facing criminal charges of tax evasion in an upstate New York court, Schultz brings his entourage, including Billy and his mistress Drew Preston (who was previously Bo's mistress), as he temporarily moves into the local community. He successfully charms the residents, presenting himself as good natured and easygoing while doing many charitable acts, even faking conversion to Catholicism. While Dutch is attending his trial, Billy is assigned to watch Drew. His loyalties to Schultz are tested as he begins falling in love with the flirtatious Drew. Realizing that Dutch intends to have Drew murdered for cheating on him, Billy is able to get in contact with her real husband, wealthy Harvey, who manages to take Drew home, whisking her out of harm's way on a private plane before Schultz's men can make their move.

Despite being acquitted by a sympathetic jury, Dutch is soon indicted again. After running into difficulties paying for his legal defense, he decides to have state prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey assassinated. This request is denied by the mob's governing authority, the Commission, out of fear that killing Dewey will bring too much heat upon the Mafia. Schultz sends Billy to bribe a member of the Commission, but the bribe is rejected. When Billy returns with the bad news, Schultz angrily blames him for not doing enough, and Billy is fired by Schultz's right-hand man, Otto Berman, who, seemingly foreseeing doom ahead for the out-of-control Schultz, lets him keep the bribe money as a gift. As Billy leaves, he is ambushed and beaten by gangsters working for Commission head Lucky Luciano, and is then forced to watch as Luciano's men storm Dutch's safe-haven restaurant where he is dining. Dutch, Berman, and his two henchmen are swiftly gunned down. Billy is taken to meet Luciano, who tells him that he knows where Billy's family lives if he ever speaks of what happened to Dutch, before letting him go, along with his envelope of cash.



The film was shot in Hamlet, North Carolina,[2] and Saratoga Springs, New York.


Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 36%, based on 25 reviews.[3] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on a scale of A+ to F.[4]

Variety wrote, "This refined, intelligent drama about thugs appeals considerably to the head but has little impact in the gut, which is not exactly how it should be with gangster films."[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 2 stars out of 4, and wrote, "Billy Bathgate cost a lot of money to make, they say, but it's not there on the screen."[6]

Box office

The movie debuted at number 4,[7] and underperformed against its $48 million budget.


Nicole Kidman was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.[8]


  1. ^ a b "Billy Bathgate". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 2018-06-16. Retrieved 2020-12-20.
  2. ^ Mayfield, Mark (March 11, 1992). "In N.C., lingering pain, anger : Fatal fire fixed in memories". USA Today. p. 5A.
  3. ^ "Billy Bathgate". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 2012-06-24.
  4. ^ "BILLY BATHGATE (1991) C+". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  5. ^ Variety Staff (1 January 1991). "Billy Bathgate". Variety. Archived from the original on 12 January 2021. Retrieved 20 December 2020. the $40 million-plus production bears no signs of the rumored troubles of its making.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 1, 1991). "Billy Bathgate". Chicago Sun-Times.
  7. ^ "Weekend Box Office : 'People' Tops a Lackluster Bunch". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2021-01-12. Retrieved 2020-06-08.
  8. ^ "Nicole Kidman". Golden Globes. Archived from the original on 2018-03-25. Retrieved 2021-01-10.