The Wild Bunch (1969)
Directed By: Sam Peckinpah
Written By: Walon Green, Sam Peckinpah, Roy N. Sickner
Stars: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson
Method Viewed: on the big screen
Reviewed By: Adam Griffith
Mark and I jumped at the chance to check out The Wild Bunch when we saw it was playing on the big screen. We attended The West Coast Film Festival in San Juan Capistrano on it’s final night, as The Wild Bunch was the film selected to close out the festival. Before the showing we sat through a discussion of the film. While I could have done without the discussion, I really enjoyed getting a chance to see The Wild Bunch the way it was intended to be seen. I also enjoyed getting to chow down on the free buffet at Sarducci’s Capistrano Depot. I could however, have done with out listening to people talk about how Obama was a socialist set on destroying America. Similarly, no one really cares what someone had to say to Barbara Streisand in 1976 or any talk about Luke Wilson’s suicide attempt and your friendship with his aunt. We came to talk about movies and The Wild Bunch in particular.
A group of outlaws in 1913 find the world around them is changing quickly. Their way of life is dying out. Modern society with its technological advances and the expanding roles of big business and government in a formerly wild frontier is vanishing quickly. Pike (William Holden), the gangs leader is hoping for one more big score. With a large enough haul he can get out of the game. unfortunately for everyone involved, one of the gangs former members Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), is now working for the bankers and railroad men trying to put an end to the gang. Sure it may not be the most original of themes in a western but any thoughts that this film is going to be a mainstream western is quickly dashed with the opening sequence.
Peckinpah assembled a stellar cast for this film. Not only did he assemble quality actors such as William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, and Robert Ryan to star in the picture. He also filled out the rest of the cast with an assemblage of authentic looking character actors. This film reeks of cowboy you can almost smell the gun powder, dust and saddle oil when the characters are on screen. It’s easy to see why this film is often included in any discussion of the top western films of all-time. Will the crew compromise their ideals and values when faced with a changing world?
Peckinpah was a visionary in the use of violence in film. 90,000 rounds were fired during the film. Some have stated that this is more ammunition than was used in this film than in the entirety of the Mexican Revolution of 1916, that is depicted in the film. It’s actually pretty amazing that the body count at the end of the film is only 145 when you consider all the rounds flying about. No actual Mexican soldiers were killed in the making of this film. Although, members of a Mexican cavalry regiment were used as soldiers in the film. It’s not just the bullets flying around that is impressive, the use of slow motion multiple cuts, some only seconds long and liberal use of blood were fairly unique at the time. It’s easy to see why Quentin Tarantino lists Sam Peckinpah as one of his influences.
Considered by many to be one of the greatest westerns of all time. The Wild Bunch is a groundbreaking work of cinema. Well unless of course you are John Wayne who felt that the film “destroyed the myth of the old west”. Well if Peckinpah destroyed the myth of the old west he did it with the help of the Browning M1917 .30-06 water-cooled machine gun. Everything about this film is bodacious it was wildly over budget and horrified many main stream critics upon its release. It’s director was a hard-drinking hard loving cinematic genius who often was at odds with the studios who financed his films. The film itself was originally threatened with an X rating due to the graphic violence and nudity. Those are real prostitutes by the way, Peckinpah liked to keep things authentic.
If you have never had the opportunity to watch the Wild Bunch. I highly suggest you saddle up for a full frontal assault of your senses as this film pulls few punches and may be hard for some to stomach. It’s a glorious western and well deserves all the praise it has received since it’s release. I am giving The Wild Bunch 3 Ernest Borgnine’s eating a popsicle. Go and watch it today!