Tuesday, January 26, 2010


"If they move, kill 'em!" Beginning and ending with two of the bloodiest battles in screen history, Sam Peckinpah's classic revisionist Western ruthlessly takes apart the myths of the West. Released in the late '60s discord over Vietnam, in the wake of the controversial Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and the brutal "spaghetti westerns" of Sergio Leone, The Wild Bunch polarized critics and audiences over its ferocious bloodshed. One side hailed it as a classic appropriately pitched to the violence and nihilism of the times, while the other reviled it as depraved. After a failed payroll robbery, the outlaw Bunch, led by aging Pike Bishop (William Holden) and including Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), Angel (Jaime Sanchez), and Lyle and Tector Gorch (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson), heads for Mexico pursued by the gang of Pike's friend-turned-nemesis Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan). Ultimately caught between the corruption of railroad fat cat Harrigan (Albert Dekker) and federale general Mapache (Emilio Fernandez), and without a frontier for escape, the Bunch opts for a final Pyrrhic victory, striding purposefully to confront Mapache and avenge their friend Angel.
(Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide)

Wild Bunch Poster
From Internet Movie Poster Awards

“The Wild Bunch.”
L to R: Ben Johnson as Tector Gorch
Warren Oates as Lyle Gorch
William Holden as Pike Bishop
Ernest Borgnine as Dutch Engstrom

The Wild Bunch (1969)
From The Daily Movie Wallpaper

The movie opens with a fabulous and bloody 15 minute shoot out including trampled bodies, slow motion, and all the good stuff. Before the shooting had started, you could see some town kids at the side of the road torturing some ants with some scorpions, or vice versa. You knew you were watching a brilliant movie when after the long opening shoot out the kids, pretty much unimpressed, go back to their previous occupation, and step the torture up a notch by burning both, scorpions and ants. The movie is set against the background of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

1910 - 1920
From emersonkent.com

The original idea of the Mexican Revolution was to overthrow the Diaz Regime. However, things spun totally out of control. Historian John Womack, Jr. sums up the chaos of the Mexican Revolution in his book Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, "The revolutionaries won. The question was: Which revolutionaries?"
Director Sam Peckinpah makes it raw and might be too strong for you. And he's not done with you just yet. The shoot out aftermath provides further inside into the flexibility of human morals. Right next to children who are running to a bloody corpse, yelling "Daddy, Daddy", folks are robbing the dead and bickering over who gets to keep what.
The movie is, first of all, about old and worn men. Holden and his fellow actors (Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Edmund O’Brien, Ben Johnson and the wonderful Robert Ryan) look lined and bone-tired. They have been making a living by crime for many years, and although Ryan is now hired by the law, it is only under threat that he will return to jail if he doesn’t capture the bunch. The men provided to him by a railroad mogul are shifty and unreliable; they don’t understand the code of the bunch.
And what is that code? It’s not very pleasant. It says that you stand by your friends and against the world, that you wrest a criminal living from the banks, the railroads and the other places where the money is, and that while you don’t shoot at civilians unnecessarily, it is best if they don’t get in the way. The two great violent set-pieces in the movie involve a lot of civilians. One comes through a botched bank robbery at the beginning of the film, and the other comes at the end, where Pike looks at Angel’s body being dragged through the square, and says “God, I hate to see that,” and then later walks into a bordello and says, “Let’s go,” and everybody knows what he means, and they walk out and begin the suicidal showdown with the heavily armed rebels. Lots of bystanders are killed in both sequences (one of the bunch picks a scrap from a woman’s dress off of his boot), but there is also cheap sentimentality, as when Pike gives gold to a prostitute with a child, before walking out to die.
(Chicago Sun-Times Inc.)

A lotta folks’ll tell you this is the best Western ever, and they’ve got their reasons. It’s an All-Timer for sure. It’s about a group of old gunfighters in the early 1900’s who’ve been around so long that they’re just out-dated, obsolete in the changing “Old West”. So they’re gonna pull one last job and then retire to Mexico, chased by another crew with badges, but then they get pulled into taking sides in the Mexican civil war for money, and it all spirals into a great big crazy bloody bullet-filled finale (One of the greatest final sequences ever). It’s got some cheesy stuff in it too, you know, old-movie cheese in parts, but the whole thing’s punched up with these dark themes of loyalty and betrayal and brutality and survival and extinction. And then there’s the violence. Especially for its time, this flick took the gunfights and bullet-wounds to new artistic extremes. The director, Sam Peckinpah, who’d made a more “classical” western 7 years before this (1962’s Ride the High Country), was pullin’ out all the stops and pullin’ no punches in directing this one. During the gunfights, he so artfully mixes and matches different shots of different speeds (slo-mo) to put together amazing sequences of what was at the time widely dubbed “balletic violence”. It’s harsh, brutal, and yes, beautiful. With great performances, especially from two worn-out-looking old pros, William Holden and Robert Ryan on opposite sides of the same dinosaur-outlaw coin. Dig into this one for sure if you never have before.
(Jack The Movie Guy)

William Holden as Pike Bishop
Leader of a gang of bank robbers
From Alt Film Guide

From Chicago Sun-Times Inc.
Peckinpah’s film is majestic in so many ways. Visually speaking, it’s a remarkable window on the American past (thanks to D.P. Lucien Ballard) — every shot teems with life, yet is tinged with an elegiac beauty. Peckinpah’s vision is vast, dense with incident and complexity of character, and a truly tragic sense of existence. And the performances are remarkable, from Ryan to Ernest Borgnine as Holden’s old friend Dutch, to a tremendous supporting cast that includes Peckinpah regular L.Q Jones, Strother Martin, Emilio Fern├índez, Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, and the great Albert Dekker. At the center of the movie is Holden, making his entrance into modern American cinema and creating in Pike Bishop one of its most lasting characters. "Whether it’s too violent or not I simply don’t know," said Peckinpah. "I tried to make it as tough as I know how." Pauline Kael famously and aptly declared that The Wild Bunch was a "traumatic poem of violence, with imagery as ambivalent as Goya’s."
(Alt Film Guide)

Images from Flixster

Robert Ryan, William Holden (at gatling gun)
Ernest Borgnine (on ground)
From silentfilmstillarchive.com

A machine-gun massacre provides the fitting climax to Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch -- a grim classic that shattered the silver screen's romanticized vision of the American West. Its fatalism and graphic violence were, even in 1969, a shocking break from the bloodless duels and selfless heroics of, say, High Noon.
Set in 1913, The Wild Bunch is armed with advanced firepower and, consequently, body counts usually not seen in Westerns. The mechanized brutality of World War I was, of course, only a year away for the film's gang of antiheroes; the movie's opening bank robbery -- a bloodbath courtesy of semiautomatic pistols, not available to the Peacemaker-toting gunslingers of yore -- set the stage for the coming carnage.
But while gruesome forebodings of trench warfare and industrialism spatter the picture -- there's even a Model T used as a torture machine -- it's really the cloud of a later conflict, the Vietnam War, that casts its gloom on the movie's psychological palette. Filmed in '68 (the year when a record-high 16,589 American soldiers died), The Wild Bunch was informed by the real-life military violence, news of which was being reported on American TV screens daily. Vietnam informed Peckinpah's assault on viewers and should be remembered by contemporary audiences confronting the movie's phantasmagoria of senseless brutality.
(American Movie Classics Company LLC)

Images from DVD Beaver

From the opening sequence, in which a circle of laughing children poke at a scorpion writhing in a sea of ants, to the infamous blood-spurting finale. Peckinpah completely rewrites John Ford's Western mythology - by looking at the passing of the Old West from the point of view of the marginalized outlaws rather than the law-abiding settlers. Though he spares us none of the callousness and brutality of Holden and his gang, Peckinpah nevertheless presents their macho code of loyalty as a positive value in a world increasingly dominated by corrupt railroad magnates and their mercenary killers (Holden's old buddy Ryan). The flight into Mexico, where they virtually embrace their death at the hands of double-crossing general Fernandez and his rabble army, is a nihilistic acknowledgment of the men's anachronistic status. In purely cinematic terms, the film is a savagely beautiful spectacle, Lucien Ballard's superb cinematography complementing Peckinpah's darkly elegiac vision.
(Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide by NF at DVD Beaver)
The movie was photographed by Lucien Ballard, in dusty reds and golds and browns and shadows. The editing, by Lou Lombardo, uses slow motion to draw the violent scenes out into meditations on themselves. Every actor was perfectly cast to play exactly what he could play; even the small roles need no explanation. Peckinpah possibly identified with the wild bunch. Like them, he was an obsolete, violent, hard-drinking misfit with his own code, and did not fit easily into the new world of automobiles, and Hollywood studios.
(Chicago Sun-Times Inc.)

Images from bloodysampeckinpah.blogspot.com

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