Western: The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah)
Buch: Sam Peckinpah, Walon Green, Roy N. Sickner -
Kamera: Lucien Ballard -
Musik: Jerry Fielding -
Produzent: Phil Feldman
It's 1913, a bunch of outlaws, led by Pike Bishop, have been running rampant along the U.S.- Mexican border. Although this "bunch" of aging desperadoes make their fortunes through robbery
and killing, they have a strict code of honour of which they are bound by. But their world is changing rapidly around them - progress is changing the land, and
desperation is destroying the ethics of those around them. "The Wild
Bunch" realize that their place in time is nearly at an end, and they
decide to call it quits and retire after one final haul.
William Holden is Pike Bishop, the charismatic, no-nonsense leader of the Bunch; Ernest Borgnine is Dutch, his dogged, faithful second-in-command; Jaime Sanchez is the alert, graceful Angel, the Bunch's only Mexican (and its one
out-and-out idealist); Warren Oates and Ben Johnson are the scurrilous Gorch brothers, Lyle and Tector; Bo Hopkins is Crazy Lee, who has unforgettable psychotic eyes. Pike's nemeses are his ex-partner, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a haunted man who has been hired out of Yuma Prison to hunt Pike down; the ruthless railroad security chief Harrigan (Albert Dekker); and a scurvy band of "gutter trash" (including Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones) out for bounty.
The Wildbunch is
hailed as being one of director Sam Peckinpah's best, but it is more
than that ... is it an example of American cinema at its best, and rightfully
The Wild Bunch is certainly not a
western if one thinks in terms of the simple politics of early John Wayne
films, or those of Audie Murphy or Alan Ladd but, and this illuminates
another framework, it is seen by some to reflect a change in America's
psyche. So here we encounter a social framework. The contrast between
this film and the earlier ones of more straightforward tone is taken up
by Philip French who states: "The Wild Bunch [is] a violent, apocalyptic
movie...in contrast to The Magnificent Seven where a less
equivocal wild bunch intervene in the internal politics of Mexico almost
as if they had anticipated the call of Kennedy's inaugural address ... Now
one views The Wild Bunch as a new-style, soured Kennedy western
and a rather obvious and bitter allegory about Vietnam".
Sam Peckinpah's controversial The Wild Bunch caused quite a
stir when it was released. It was denounced heavily from all corners,
yet, as with Bonnie and Clyde two years earlier, survived the
outcry and is hailed as one of the first great modern American films.
It is brutal and violent, to be sure, and the flying bodies and
spraying blood (if John Woo ever saw it, the first and final scenes
must have been an inspiration to him) must have given sixties'
audiences quite a shock. What so often happens with controversial
classics is that the intellectual content beneath the madness (missing
in the imitations, made by those who can't see beyond the madness
itself) isn't discovered and accepted for some time afterward.
The Wild Bunch, for starters, is an absorbing character study.
In a broader sense, it's an account of the passing of an old, and in
some twisted way honorable, code. The wild bunch is a gang of big time
thieves. They steal from banks and trains and so forth, but they only
use violence when it's necessary, and they'd prefer not to kill
civilians. The new generation doesn't understand these values --
for them, violence and pain is fun. Perhaps the generation before the
wild bunch also had a code, one older and more honorable than the
bunch's. Then what code, if any, would follow that of the young
generation in this film?
The acting is terrific. The movie stars William Holden, Robert Ryan,
Ernest Borgnine, and others. See the widescreen version if at all
possible, for Peckinpah makes efficient use of his frame, and try to
see the director's cut, too, which contains flashback sequences
important to understanding the characters. (Initially they were
removed to shorten the running time so theaters could fit in more
screenings per day.)
The Wild Bunch ranks among the greatest Westerns ever made by sheer testosterone alone. It's quite violent, even by today's standards, but totally exhilirating in the take-no-prisoners attitude in Peckinpah's gritty vision. Great performances, landmark directing, a terrific script and beautiful cinematography create an Old West unlike any other before in Hollywood. Fittingly enough, this film represented the death of the Western, both on screen and in Hollywood, before the revisionism of Clint Eastwood later on. A true classic and damn near a masterpiece.
Peckinpah called it a movie about bad men in bad times, but it's much more than that. To me, it's about human nature, shifting values, and what it is to be a man. Those lovely long shots are in Texas and Mexico, but they could be landscapes of the soul.
You know those oddball art experiences, the ones where you find yourself reading an artwork completely differently than how it's asking you to take it? Bizarre, aren't they? Yet sometimes they're OK. The Wild Bunch, for example, famously asks you to take it as an anti-violence movie, yet what's most memorable about the film is how beautiful the violence it shows is. Finally the best way to take the movie may be as an ambivalent, poetic hymn to violence.
Where does The Wild Bunch ask you to take it as an anti-violence film? Been a while since I last saw the film, but in the three or four viewings I've had of the film I don't ever recall it being anti-violence; I thought the balletic quality of the gunfight scenes was one of its selling points from the get-go...
James, As you're right to point out, the case of The Wild Bunch is infinitely more complicated than the Goldbacher case, and Peckinpah-ites will never be finished trying to make some sense of the movie's meanings, sigh. But here's my gloss: In terms of its narrative, the film's an ode to a vanishing code of honor and way of life. But almost no one ever seems to have taken the film that way. Everyone takes it as being "about violence" instead. "Violence" became its generally accepted theme. Pro or anti? The funny thing is that Peckinpah was apparently genuinely surprised that so many people took the film's ultraviolence as a kick and a turn-on. He'd wanted to horrify them. I'm away from my Peckinpah bios, but here are a couple of quotes from Peckinpah I dredged up online, which I hope are accurate:
"Violence is ugly, brutalizing, and bloody fucking awful. It's not fun and games and cowboys and Indians, it's a terrible, ugly thing. And yet there's a certain response that you get from it, an excitement, because we're all violent people, we have violence within us...I think everybody will be a little sickened by it, at least I hope so, or a little dismayed, at least dismayed -- which is the effect that I'm trying for. "
And: "I wanted to show what the hell it feels like to get shot."
As I recall (and my memory may be faulty), the film was semi-intended to be an anti-Vietnam War movie. Then people got off on the violence, Peckinpah became known as Bloody Sam, and eventually became quite bitter about how he'd become stereotyped in that way (even as he kept marketing the stuff).