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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Wild Bunch can be found here.
After a failed bank robbery in Texas, the 'Wild Bunch', a group of aging outlaws Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), Lyle (Warren Oates) and Tector (Ben Johnson) Gorch, Angel (Jaime Sánchez), and leader Pike Bishop (William Holden) -- pursued by former member Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) and his posse of bounty hunters, flees to Mexico where they take a job robbing a weapons shipment from a U.S. Army train at the request of corrupt Mexican General Mapache (Emilio Fernández). But it is 1913, during the height of the Mexican Revolution, and the American West is changing around them.
The Wild Bunch is based on a story by Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner. The screenplay is by Walon Green and Sam Peckinpah.
The movie is meant to convey the idea of the Old West in its last years, before World War I broke out and more modernized weaponry (for the time) became prevalent. The guys in the Wild Bunch had been criminals for some time before this story begins. Just how long is something we don't know and isn't really answered. They're older, at least in their 50s, and are looking for a last big score before they retire in Mexico; hence, they take on the train heist. However, they're not above utilizing the latest weaponry like the Colt pistols, which were revolutionary because they could be reloaded much faster than a Colt Single Action Army pistol, which is the sidearm that we see Pike carrying late in the film. He doesn't use it though. He still seems to prefer the 1911. The overarching theme that director Sam Peckinpah was going for is the aging gunslinger/career criminal and how the modern world is catching up with them. More info on the weapons seen in the film can be found here.
They didn't want him double-crossing them. If they'd brought them in on the wagon in one load, Mapache could easily have killed them all and seized the weapons without paying the gang. Pike and Dutch are smart enough not to risk that, so they take payment in small amounts and give the general the rifles in small amounts as well. In the first exchange, Pike tells the general that, if he isn't back with the money in a specified amount of time, the rest of his gang will blow up the rifles.
Instead of releasing Angel, Mapache slits his throat, and Pike retaliates by shooting Mapache. Following a long moment during which everyone wonders what to do next, Pike starts it up again by shooting Captain Mohr (Fernando Wagner). Thereafter follows a long and bloody gunfight afterwhich the Germans, the federales, many Mexican villagers, and the Wild Bunch lay dead. Amidst the carnage, Deke and his posse ride into town. Deke appears dismayed by the scene, while the posse loads up the bodies of the Bunch and prepares to transport them north in order to collect the reward. Deke elects to stay behind in Agua Verde. In the final scene, as Deke sits quietly, his back resting against a wall, Freddie Sykes (Edmond O'Brien) rides into town. Sykes informs Deke that his posse has been ambushed and killed and asks whether Deke would like to ride with him and his boys. After sharing a laugh, Deke mounts his horse and rides off with Sykes.
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