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Probably one of the most controversial films ever made, the Wild Bunch was
equally hated and admired upon it's release over 30 years ago. Even today,
as proof of it's staying power, it is still widely debated if Sam Peckinpah
made a masterpiece or a monstrosity. Personally, I'm of the firm belief that
Peckinpah contributed one of the finest American films of the last century.
The chemistry that Peckinpah was able to put on celluloid for this film is brilliant. William Holden and Ernest Borgnine as the leaders of the Bunch, play their roles with conviction and tenacity. Robert Ryan, once an outlaw with Holden, and now forced to hunt him down, portrays the tortured individual caught between an old friendship and the threat of incarceration in a vicious prison. Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are solidly believable as real life brothers as they depict their roles as Tector and Lyle Gorch, and finally Jaime Sanchez rounds out the gang as the fiercely patriotic Mexican, Angel.
Also a Peckinpah movie wouldn't be complete without L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin portraying the cowardly, scheming, body robbing bounty hunters eager for the money on the heads of the Wild Bunch.
This is a film that you can re-visit time and time again and relish the depth of the characters and feel their desperation as the west that they once knew has now become a distant memory.
Apart from the great casting, the tight scripting , exciting stuntwork, wonderful cinematography, gripping dialogue, and first class editing of the gunfights, this movie will be continually looked upon as one of the most important films of American cinema.
See it, enjoy it and experience great movie making!!
An incredible performance by Bill Holden is the high point of this
sensational, landmark film. Holden made a whole career out of
laid-back, easy-going, what-the-hell sort of characters but here, at
his zenith, he departs from type and plays a character so mean and so
embittered that in some ways he even out-Bronsons Bronson himself.
The Wild Bunch is a group of disillusioned outlaws who are out of time and they know it. When Sykes says that they've got one of those things (a car) up north that can fly, they gloomily accept that this new-fangled 20th Century is not for them.
It is a movie all about values and about a man's loyalty to his companions. Holden brilliantly declares that if you cannot stand by a man who rides with you, you are like some kind of animal. In the end, that is all these hunted men have: their loyalty to each other.
And so they band together for one last walk to try and rescue their doomed Mexican comrade. The bloodbath that follows is an eloquent summary of their lives. They who live by the gun.....
Superb performances by Holden in particular and also by O'Brien, Ryan, Borgnine, Oates and Johnson. Peckinpah's finest hour. Definitely ten out of ten.
I got this movie on DVD at the suggestion of my brother. I admit to knowing
nothing about it's director and a complete lack of familiarity with most of
it's actors or the mythology behind it's production (I was born years after
it was made). I can, however, safely say this: this is one of the greatest
movies ever made. Every aspect of the film is flawless, from the acting to
the cinematography to the script.
This is also the most truly macho of all macho movies. It's not cartoonish machismo, rather it's the kind of machismo you see in drywall hangers: no-nonsense comments like "We're after men" and "Let's go" predominate, the men don't swagger around and violence is approached (fairly) honestly. The reserved dialogue and physicality reminds me of "Seven Samaurai" (to which this film owes a great deal). To me, that is the highest praise that I can give a movie.
The photography is amazing: the desert looks sweltering and parched, the close-ups of actor's faces outdoes Sergio Leone and the action is probably the best ever filmed. Scorcese and Tarantino obviously owe a lot to Peckinpaw. The scene during the opening credits of "Reservoir Dogs" is a direct lift from this movie, just to cite one of countless examples.
The acting is on par with the direction. Robert Ryan steals the show and, c'mon, who doesn't love Ernest?
Some would poo-poo the films treatment of women, and I am not going to get involved in that debate. Just go see it because, like the best movies, it immerses you in a time and place. Smell the sage!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If "Shane" makes a myth of the West, "The Wild Bunch" demythologizes
it... If "Shane" draws sharp moral distinctions that are, literally,
black and white, "The Wild Bunch" spoils all moral distinctions,
offering us only choices between different modes of immorality... If in
"Shane" violence is viewed as a necessary evil only to be employed as a
last resort, and killing is depicted as fast and pure, in "The Wild
Bunch" violence is viewed with exaltation, and killing is prolonged,
tormented, and bloody...
"Shane" delivered an old traditional story, a legend, a fabulous hero who idealized the West... "The Wild Bunch" presents it stormy, disturbing, hard to control, and blood-thirsty... In short, within the genre of the Western, "The Wild Bunch" is the precise opposite of "Shane." Each film may be considered an artifact of a view of the American frontier... "Shane," made during the quietude of 1953, romanticizes and idealizes... "The Wild Bunch," made fifteen years later in a turbulent time, tells us that the American Dream is dead...
The opening sequence of "The Wild Bunch" stakes out the virtue of the wild territory... A gang of desperadoes disguised as U. S. soldiers rides into a town, passing children torturing scorpions and adults attending a temperance meeting... The action starts inside the office when Pike, the leader of the bunch warns his men saying: 'If they move, kill'em!'
The Bunch robs the railway office, then finds itself ambushed by a gang of bounty hunters working for the railroad... A savage gunfight erupts, many innocents people are killed, and in few minutes, we discover that we are in middle of a territory full of rage and fury, in a terrain that is beyond good or evil, where the abusing use of force is beyond any reason...
Holden's group was never easy to handle... There is conflict and tension among them They range from the more idealistic Mexican member, Jaime Sanchez, to the wild Gorch brothers, Warren Oates and Ben Johnson But what binds them together in the last resort is their life-style and its demanding loyalty Holden puts it this way: 'When you side with a man, you stay with him, and if you can't do that, you're some kind of animal, you're finished. We're finished. All of us.'
If there are any myths left unexploded in the film, they take place on the Mexican side of the border, where the bandits' departure from a village is staged as it might have been in "Shane." The time of the film is 1913, when the American frontier was closing fast... Mexico, on the other hand, was still a romantic era, the time of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution...
Peckinpah's reputation was well known... He was an expert in violence, offering furious scenes with intense emotion and anger, even immoderately beyond the limit, making his film more important, more powerful, and memorable... Peckinpah sacrificed some two hundred people, most of them accentuated in slow motion, men falling with exaggerated blood flowing out their body...
We even witness the execution of one of Pike's man, seeing with astonishment how his throat is slashed with a knife... Mel Gibson carried it exactly and excessively, in his superb epic tale "Braveheart," when he showed us how a lovely bride is slain in the same way... His film was probably influenced by "The Wild Bunch" at least as I think with its technique and style...
The 'savor' of violence in 'slow motion' makes us understand the passion of Peckinpah toward violence... This pleasure for killing, this irresistible exhibition, this 'performance of death' as Peckinpah expressed it himself, could be interpreted maybe as criticism to violence...
"The Wild Bunch" is splendidly acted... William Holden as Pike, was never so magnificent since "Stalag 17" as I remember... It seems that Holden understood the message, specially in the brilliant scene when he clearly decides to rescue one of his men... This particular shot was outstanding because it involved Holden in a great embarrassment with zero dialog... Another proof was also the scene between Robert Ryan and Albert Dekker disputing about the bounty hunters, the 'trash' as Ryan called them...
The climax of the motion picture is astonishing... After Pike had shot the general, he and his pals stood 'peaceful' for a moment facing the Mexican soldiers... The wild bunch was already condemned... Nobody will survive... They were aware of it, we were aware of it... But in their mind, there was a certain determination to take with them as many Mexicans as they can... The seconds passed and in the moment that Pike puts a bullet between the eyes of a German adviser, we were in front of the bloodiest slaughter ever seen on the silver screen... Too much blood for a picture filmed in 1969... Mel Gibson exhilarating fashioned epic, repeated it in the battlefield in "Braveheart."
Now, if you consider "The Wild Bunch" a film against Classic Westerns, the action scenes are at its finest quality in the hijack of Pike's bunch to the army munitions train, and the long range shot, in slow motion, of the exploding bridge with Ryan and his bounty hunters...
"The Wild Bunch" depicts the Mexican music, life in the villages, their special cult to the death, their drunken fiesta, their women, the keen look at the Mexican face, especially the faces of the children, sometimes observers, sometimes participating in the whole twisted ethic of violence
One last note: Desperation and death wish ride side by side in Peckinpah's motion picture... If the Bunch (Holden, Borgnine, Oates, Johnson, Sanchez and veteran outlaw Edmond O'Brien) are desperate, their bounty-hunter pursuers are no less so...
"The Wild Bunch" is one of those movies people don't agree on, even
those that agree it's great. It's definitely complex, entertaining in a
disturbing way, and manages to be at once nihilistic and moralistic,
not an easy trick, especially for a cowboy film.
The first problem we have to deal with when watching this film is the fact there's very quickly a gunfight going on and, against all movie convention, no one to root for. There's an all-star cast on one side, including William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, and Warren Oates, but against all expectation, they turn out to be a pretty black crew. About the first thing out of Holden's mouth, said about a cowed group of innocents, is "If they move, kill 'em," and before the battle is over, we've seen him and his team commit all sorts of savagery. About the only reason we don't immediately see them as evil is that the people they battle are no better.
Over time, we are encouraged to find something of value in Holden's Pike Bishop and his ruthless confederates, as they ride away, lick their wounds, and try to figure out how to get something else going, anything. The only problem is its 1913 and these outlaws are running out of time and options. "I'd like to make one good score and back off," is how Pike says it, to which Borgnine's faithful buddy Dutch exclaims: "Back off to what?!"
Chasing the bunch, and offering the viewer the film's one sympathetic character, is Robert Ryan as Deke Thornton, a former partner of Pike's who doesn't want to go back to jail and for whom killing the bunch is the one unpleasant means of securing his freedom. Ryan, who died in 1973, is probably not as recognizable as the other leads today, but he lends a sad, elegiac presence to his on-screen moments that give the film much of its grace and warmth.
The final star is director Sam Peckinpah, who made a truly revolutionary film that not only pushed the art of film forward but holds up today as a cinematic experience. Time has been kind to this film in a way it hasn't to other ground-breaking auteur moments from the same era, like "MASH" and "Easy Rider." When "The Wild Bunch" came out just as the 1960s were ending, people were truly shocked by the violence and cruel characters. Today, of course, such things are so common, and so mindlessly celebrated, that we find ourselves admiring what Peckinpah does for the surprisingly subtle and restrained way he goes about presenting us with mayhem and carnage, and his refusal to glorify it, however exciting and entertaining the overall package.
Surprisingly for a director who had trouble getting work at the time, Peckinpah landed three Oscar winners in the cast, and a fourth, Ben Johnson, who'd win his a couple of years later. Obviously, the acting is strong, each player investing his spare lines with the right degree of space and spirit, but it's probably worked even better that the movie game in 1969 was in the process of passing the fuddy-duddy likes of Holden, Borgnine, and Edmond O'Brien behind. This makes them very believable as a group of hard-nosed has-beens. In that light, it's kind of cool how hip this film so quickly became when it was released.
It's such a good film it's easy to overlook minor weaknesses. There's a nice bit of symbolism in the beginning, now famous, where the gang rides past a group of children tormenting scorpions and ants, but the point, once made, is beaten into the ground. There are some bits of convenience that stick out, like when a gunned-down outlaw rises and mows down his attackers with a few too-precise shotgun blasts. The general dislikeability of just about everything and everybody does feel a bit of a weight after a couple of viewings.
But what's great is just awesome, especially that opening sequence and the final showdown at Bloody Porch. Such terrific punch-drunk ambiance, it's almost a shame to watch it sober. The feeling of a new era coming upon us, which we see in everything from the doughboy uniforms at the outset to the car General Mapache rides around in, is redoubled by the glorious splendor, even clarity of this picture. Is it too much to praise a movie for the quality of the film stock itself? This is a paradox film, one about obsolescence and growing old that remains startling new-looking and fresh 35 years on.
This is simply one of the best westerns, maybe overall best films ever made.
Peckinpah's best by far. It is one of those
films that grabs you by the thoat and doesn't let you go until it is over.
Brilliant casting. I would be hard pressed to find someone who could have
played Pike's part better than William Holden. But the rest of the cast for
the main characters: Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates Ben
Johnson, Jaimie Sanchez and Edmund
O'Brien are equally effective in their respective roles. Even
secondary actors, namely Strother Martin and LQ Jones are also great as the
"gutter trash" bounty hunters Robert Ryan has to lead in chasing down Pike
and his band.
This movie deals with aging gunfighters who had outlived their era, and see their "code of conduct" now passe' in the early 20th Century on the eve of World War I. Technology
in the way of cars, planes, and machine guns has rendered living and dying more impersonal than in Pike's et. al day. In some ways, with the end of the millennium at hand and all the vast technological changes, and changes in values, habits, and lifestyles that have taken place, even in the last couple of decades, many of us viewing the picture can sense just a bit of empathy with the main characters... Although this movie is an action film, there is a sort of foreboding throughout the film that the end is near for them. Yet when it occurs it will happen on their terms. One of my favorite scenes is when Pike and Dutch are sitting in their bedrolls by the fire at Angel's village. Pike talks about the railroad man Harrigan and how "some people just can't stand to admit they're wrong... or learn by it!" And then Dutch asks Pike if he believes they had learned anything today, referring to the bloodbath in the opening scene in Starbuck, to which Pike replies "I sure hope to God we did." The movie when released in 1969 received a lot of criticism for the violence, which was indeed unparralelled at that time. But it is relatively tame by today's standards. Moreover, the violence is not gratuitious as we see in so many films today. You see consquences to the violence hence the "death ballet." the two children holding each other during the shootout in the opening scene, and Robert Ryan's agonizing chagrin at carnage in the street and noticing the young children emulating the gunfighters in the street, the dead bodies not yet removed.. A suprising number of people who have seen this film have not seen the Director's Cut which was re-released in 1994. It puts back in many key scenes, which develops Pike and Deke Thorton's past, which is crucial to tying the movie together and making it a brilliant film. Without these scenes, then it makes little or no sense.. Unfortunately, many television stations when showing this film show the "butchered" version........
A 30th Anniversary addition has recently come out that includes a half-hour documentary "The Wild Bunch: A Portait in Montage, " which, made in 1996 received much acclaim, including an Oscar Nomination.. It makes the viewer even more appreciate Peckinpah's brilliant improvisational skill as well as the technical feats, such as the unforgettable Rio Grade river bridge scene.
Critics of Sam Peckinpah generally focus on the gore and violence in his films. "The Wild Bunch" will probably not assuage these critics, but the violence is not gratuitous. In fact, it is almost perfectly meshed in this story of a group of outlaws held together by some frail and some strong bonds who realize that their era - and probably their lives - are almost at an end. The story also deals with a man (Robert Ryan) who was wounded and forced out of the gang, and who must now capture and kill his friend (William Holden), with no option other than to succeed. This film is also about loyalty, choice and honor, and is carried by surprisingly strong acting and writing. Yes the violence is on a large scale (which seems to be commonplace for films portraying the Mexican Revolution), but it is completely in place with these characters and the era in which they live. This is not always a pleasant film to watch, but it is very rewarding, and may be the best film Peckinpah made.
Peckinpah has a rep and this is the film which provided most of it. I
had the privilege of actually seeing this on the big screen once, in
the late seventies. As the beginning credits end, Pike (Holden) tells
his bunch "If they move, Kill 'em!" Then Peckinpah's credit appears. A
woman seated behind me gasped, whispering "oh, no..." Oh, my. It
sounded like the lady didn't know she'd wandered into a Peckinpah film
and she knew what she was in for. When you enter Peckinpah-land, you
need to be prepared. There are no punches pulled, no sidestepping the
unpleasant aspects of life. Peckinpah's characters are tough men; I
mean, really tough, not phony-Hollywood tough. In this case, they are
coarsened by what seems to be years on the trail, blasted by the sun,
snapped at by rattlesnakes, and harassed by bandits. And at this point,
they've pretty much had it.
Not that they're complaining, mind you. They've lived their lives how they saw fit, this bunch, and they make no apologies for any of it. I believe the actual year is around 1913, just before World War I begins. Most of the action takes place in Mexico, where the Bunch becomes involved with a local general (Fernandez) with the usual delusions of grandeur. If you go by the name of the character Angel, the general can be viewed as a version of the devil. That would make the Bunch avenging angels at the end. But heroes? No, not at all. They have their own code, they know instinctively they're stronger together than on each own, but they reason this concept out also - Peckinpah wants to make sure it's clear these are not unthinking savages. They're just men, who've reached a point in history where they must make a crucial turn. History, it seems, has no real use for them anymore. It's quite simple - they either fade slowly or go out quickly. In a film such as this, with its now insurmountable rep, you tend to wait for those big set pieces, especially the climactic battle. Wait for it, wait for it... here it is. Bam! - you're in Peckinpah territory. You're a part of history.
There comes a point at which every man reaches the end of the road and
is forced to make a decision. Fade away, or go out in a blaze of glory.
It goes without saying that the main characters of this film chose the
latter. Sam Peckinpah's classic western is the tale of a gang of
outlaws who see the world they know slipping away all around them.
Scores are getting more dangerous. Technology is making killing too
easy. Still they fight on, because they simply wouldn't have it any
William Holden plays a man named Pike Bishop. He and his gang of outlaws hit banks, trains, you name it. They stick together no matter how thick things get. After a failed attempt at a bank robbery in which nearly an entire town is gunned down, the gang sets out to steal a shipment of new guns from the US Army and sell them to a Mexican general. But this will not be an easy score. Not only will they have to fend of US soldiers, but the railroad has hired a former member of their gang named Deke Thornton and a bunch of sloppy bounty hunters to stop them. Also, the Mexican general is a dangerous man with hundreds of men at his disposal. Pancho Villa and his army are also in the area. Bullets are going to fly, and fly they do.
From the opening shot of children torturing a couple scorpions to death by feeding them to a colony of ants, this film makes its point very thoroughly about violence. In this shot we see efficient killers overwhelmed by an army of a weaker species of animal. The scorpions are a metaphor for Pike and his gang. Outnumbered at every turn, they are still a handful for those who would try to hunt them down.
Pike and his men are able to pull off the score and deliver the guns to the general. But they don't go riding off happily into the sunset like the heroes of a traditional western. Their story could never end that way. Knowing that their way of life is coming to an end, and knowing that one of the gang is being tortured by the general, Pike calls the remaining members together. "Let's go," he simply tells them. Each man knows what this means. They grab every gun they own and all the ammunition they can carry. Then they take a nice stroll down the main street of the general's compound to pay him and his army a little visit. The resulting gun battle has to be seen to be believed.
Once the shooting stops, there is an odd; sad feeling that settles over the compound. The bounty hunters show up when the vultures do. The sight of his former companions' dead bodies slumped over the backs of horses is too much for Thornton to bear. You know he would have rather been there by their side during the battle, and now he cannot bring himself to claim the reward for their hides. He simply sits down in the dirt as the survivors of the compound quietly file out and an ominous wind begins blowing through the dusty streets. Moments later it's his turn to make a choice. You can't help but feel he made the right one.
The Wild Bunch is an incredible film. If ever a film was ahead of it's time, this is it. See it! 10 of 10 stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In The Wild Bunch, we see bodies riddled full of bullets in such agonizing slow motion that it would be painful to watch if it weren't so amazing to watch. Peckinpah stages his gunfights like a ballet. The initial shot that opens the piece is only a prelude to a dance that is filled with flying lead and blood. As we follow the exploits of a group of outlaws, running from time and their own fate, the action scenes become more elaborate than the prior scene. The train hijacking is suspenseful and far more convincing than any of the run of the mill action films being produced today. Peckinpah fuses the screen with images that foretell the fate of the Wild Bunch. You know that they will meet their end once Pike says "Let's go." The others know what they have to do, and they know that they won't come out of it alive, but that's the only way they know. The final shootout is alive with bullets flying everywhere. The screen literally explodes as the Bunch makes their final stand. To see this film is to be overwhelmed by it. Compared to today's violence in films, it almost seems tame. Those films lack a decent story, and thus the violence becomes gratuitous. With The Wild Bunch, you are seeing the last ride of a group of outlaws that only know one way of life.
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