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"Let's go."
TOMASBBloodhound16 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
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 other way.

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.

The Hound.
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Brutal and elegiac masterpiece.
hitchcockthelegend4 March 2008
Outlaws led by Pike Bishop on the Mexican/U.S. frontier face not only the passing of time, but bounty hunters (led by former partner of Pike, Deke Thornton) and the Mexican army as well.

In 1969 Sam Peckinpah picked up the torch that Arthur Penn lit with 1967's "Bonnie & Clyde", and literally poured gasoline on it to impact on cinema to the point that the shock wave is still being felt today. The death of the "Motion Picture Production Code" in 1967 ushered in a new era for cinema goers, it was a time for brave and intelligent directors to step up to the plate to deliver stark and emotive thunder, and with "The Wild Bunch", director Sam Peckinpah achieved this by the shed load.

The Wild Bunch doesn't set out to be liked, it is a harsh eye opening perception of the Western genre, this is the other side of the coin to the millions of Westerns that whoop and holler as the hero gets the girl and rides off into the sunset. Peckinpah's piece is thematically harsh and sad for the protagonists, for these are men out of their time, this is a despicable group of men, driven by greed and cynicism, they think of nothing to selling arms to a vile amoral army across the border.

The film opens with a glorious credit sequence as we witness "The Bunch" riding into town, the picture freeze frames in black & white for each credit offering, from here on in we know that we are to witness something different, and yes, something very special. The film is book-ended by ferocious bloody carnage, and sandwiched in the middle is an equally brilliant train robbery and a slow-mo bridge destruction of high quality. Yet the impact of these sequences are only enhanced because the quality of the writing is so good (Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner alongside Peckinpah).

There's no pointless discussions or scene filling explanations of the obvious. Each passage, in each segment, is thought through to gain credibility for the shattering and bloody climax. There is of course one massive and intriguing question that hangs over the film - just how did Peckinpah make such low moral men appear as heroes, as the "four outlaws of the apocalypse" stroll into town, their fate to them already known?. Well I'm not here to tell you that because you need to witness the film in its entirety for yourself. But it's merely one cheeky point of note in a truly majestic piece of work. A film that even today stands up as one of the greatest American films ever made. 10/10
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Still Savage, Still Bloody, Still Great
slokes27 November 2004
"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.
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Peckinpah's film marked the passing of the old West in an orgy of destruction, as its heroes go down with all guns blazing....
Nazi_Fighter_David10 December 1999
Warning: 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...
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The Wild Cinema of Peckinpah
Bogmeister27 August 2005
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.
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Peckinpah's ode to the closing of the American west.
Batjac - 4918 March 2000
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!!
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Pekinpah's best movie with magnificent scenes and stimulating images
ma-cortes13 December 2009
1913, nine men who came too late and stayed too long . This is the story about some men making their last stand . At the beginning , the wild bunch holds up a bank of Texas , but it goes wrong . The misfit group is formed by Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) , the Gorch brothers (Ben Johnson, Warren Oates) , Angel (Jaime Sanchez) , Sykes (Edmond O'Brien) and commanded by Pike (William Holden) . After that , they go to Mexican territory , being pursued by Thorton (Robert Ryan) and his ragtag band (Peckinpah's usual : Strother Martin and L. Q. Jones) . At the ending the Wild Bunch makes their last stand against a cruel Mexican general (Emilio Fernandez).

This excellent Western packs lots of action , shootouts, and explosive violence . Taut excitement throughout , beautifully photographed and spectacular bloodletting filmed in slow moving . Rich in texture and including intelligent screenplay full of incredibly lyrics scenes by Peckinpah and Roy Sickner , also producer . Vibrant as well as brilliant all-star-cast displays exceptional performances . Holden and Ryan are perfect as the older gunfighters with their own ethic codes . Furthermore , good secondaries as Bo Hopkins , Albert Dekker , L.Q Jones and Strother Martin gives one of the best performances . Colorful cinematography filmed in Mexico by Lucien Ballard in Technicolor and Panavision . Spectacular and sensitive musical score by Jerry Fielding , including Mexican popular song titled 'Golondrina' that is emotively sung when the bunch comes out of the Mexican village . The motion picture was stunningly directed by Sam Peckinpah , creating a true classic . Restored and reissued various times with diverse running . The Wild Bunch is a real must see for fans of the genre .
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A great period western...
dexter-315 October 1998
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.
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Let's go.
Torgo-2210 December 1999
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!
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The definitive end of the west Western
John-3763 October 2004
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.
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"Dutch, there are just some people who can't stand to admit they're wrong"
mokman17 February 1999
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 the 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.
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A Film So Radical It Destroyed A Whole Genre
Theo Robertson11 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The western was very much a staple diet of American cinema . It's a genre that wasn't really popular with critics but was popular with the general public both sides of the Atlantic probably to do with the romantic ideals and values of the good guy always defeating the bad guy in a straight fight . Along comes Sam Peckinpah and turns the genre on its head

It's important to realise what was happening when THE WILD BUNCH was being produced . The Hollywood studio system had given way to " The New Hollywood " where the director was given sole creative control while The Hays Code strictly forbidding on screen sex and violence had given way to a certification system widening moral ambiguity and explicit adult themes . Director Sam Peckinpah stampedes through these new found artistic freedoms

The film gets off to a shocking opening and there's very much an influence of Eisenstein at play . As there's little internal logic to a woman remonstrating with Czarist troops in BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN there's equally little logic to the temperance society members continually walking in to the crossfire between the outlaws and the bounty hunters in a gun battle lasting four minutes . The emotional impact of the scene takes preference over logic and even today this remains a potent scene

Much of this is down to the editing . No other colour film before it contained so much rapid cross cutting editing . Many scenes - most notably the bloody shoot out ending contain a shot length of less than one second . American film theorist David Bordwell calculated at the end of the century the average shot length was three to six seconds while it was becoming slightly longer , so for a film released in 1969 this type of fast paced editing style is absolutely phenomenal

Peckinpah was a master of dubious morality and THE WILD BUNCH contains the theme of this amorality . The outlaws are desperate men but they have their own moral codes . When one of the outlaws wants to dispatch old timer Sykes anti-hero Pike Bishop self righteously dictates when you ride with a man it's for keeps , and the outlaws find a mortal redemption when they sacrifice their lives as an act of revenge for the execution of Angel

The legacy of THE WILD BUNCH is that it effective destroyed the traditional western . Afterwards there were only revisionary westerns such as LITTLE BIG MAN and DANCES WITH WOLVES and anti westerns such as McCABE AND MRS MILLER and THE CULPEPPER CATTLE CO being produced but never again would the western be a long term prolific production . That's what you call radical
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It's wild, all right
dee.reid27 June 2005
The "old" West was changing, and director Sam Peckinpah recognized those changing times. By 1969, Sergio Leone and his "Spaghetti" westerns were the real deal, but when Peckinpah brought forth his film, "The Wild Bunch," that same year, it ushered in a whole new wave of films as its vision was simply landmark. Building on the violent stylistic template and chic of "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967), "The Wild Bunch" begins and ends with two of the bloodiest screen battles ever envisioned, and it tells the story of an aging group of outlaws, led by William Holden and Ernest Borgnine, as they attempt one last score, with Robert Ryan as an ex-Wild Bunch member in hot pursuit. They become involved with Mexican rebels and from that point on, we get an engaging story as the outlaws party with the Mexican army, their hookers, and their alcohol - all of this leading up to the notorious ending where the Wild Bunch man their guns and duke-it-out with their enemies. "The Wild Bunch" has obtained a notorious reputation for being one of the most violent movies ever made and is credited for being the movie that changed the way we looked at the "old" West and action cinema in general. Sam Peckinpah was a true revolutionary during a time when America was not so innocent, as proved by "Bonnie and Clyde" two years before it.

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A perfect masterpiece and a milestone in the history of cinema
pzanardo27 October 2000
"The Wild Bunch" is a perfect masterpiece and a milestone in the history of cinema. Sam Peckinpah's innovative ideas (slow-motion, squirts of blood etc.) have been so widely imitated afterwards that it is impossible to realize nowadays how impressive the movie was for a 1969 audience. Actually, furious gun-fights with extraneous, innocent people involved and killed, the "heroes" shooting to women, the bounty hunters spoliating the corpses of their own mates are tough stuff even for current standards in violent movies.

When I saw the film for the first time in the early 70's, I was both shocked and enthusiast. After the long battle following the failed bank robbery, I thought that such a fantastic action scene by no means could be equalized. Thus I couldn't believe my eyes, seeing that the final slaughter at the Mapache's headquarters was even better! As a matter of fact, these two are by far the best action scenes ever filmed.

The story is perfectly built, no scene is superfluous. For instance: a seemingly marginal episode, the murder of Teresa by the jealous Angel, is useful to the encounter of Mapache with the outlaws of the wild bunch and also has decisive consequence in the remainder of the plot.

The whole cast works superbly. William Holden arguably gives the best performance of a luminous career. His Pike is the laconic boss, wholly aware of his charisma and authority. When he says "Let's go", we realize that no argument or hesitation is permitted. His character is rather complex. He appears to be a romantic out-cast, nostalgic of the faded good times of Old West. Nonetheless, he is cynical and ruthless, ready to sacrifice innocent people or to abandon his mates. Even when Pike decides to rescue Angel from Mapache's clutches, we don't forget that he cannot flee from Mapache's den, since the bounty hunters are expecting him.

Strangely enough, the real romantic, nostalgic figure is Dutch (Ernest Borgnine). His deep manly friendship towards Pike is a theme taken from classic western movies. And his romantic attitude is emphasized by the shy kind-of-love-story he has with a Mexican woman of Angel's village. The flower she gives to Dutch is perhaps a metaphor of his old-fashioned respect for women. Also note that Dutch is the only one of the bunch who doesn't look for a prostitute, before the final mortal clash with Mapache and his soldiers. Another hint of his idealization of women. Borgnine acts splendidly, as he always does, in fact.

The character of Thornton (Robert Ryan), the old friend of Pike, forced to chase him cruelly, is interesting and superbly interpreted, but somewhat conventional with respect to the previous ones.

Excellent performances are given by Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Edmund O' Brien, Strother Martin, and, especially, Emilio Fernandez (the scaring, loathsome Mapache, fantastic job!).

In the movie we find many symbols of the decadence of the Old West and its legend. A significant one: the fire-arms of the out-laws. They no more use the classical Winchesters and single-action six-shooters, the paradigmatic weapons of West. They have modern, proficient, devastating pump-action shot-guns and semi-automatic Colt 45. In fact, Pike keeps a six-shooter in his holster, but he never draws it.

What else is to be praised in "The Wild Bunch"? The magnificent photography, the outstanding care for details, the essential, powerful dialogue? Actually, everything is perfect in this masterpiece.

Personally, I find just a fault in the film, a fault by no means artistic or technical: "The Wild Bunch" gave a (splendid but) decisive contribution to the death of the Western genre, which I love so much.

A final remark. "The Wild Bunch" received much censure because in it all women are represented as greedy prostitutes. Let me say that this sort of criticism is utterly preposterous. I mean, these fellows are assassins more at ease with bullets than with words. Which kind of women are they supposed to associate with? Perhaps some radical intellectual with a Harvard Ph. D. in the "History of Feminism"? Please!
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A great piece of cinema
bat-529 October 1998
Warning: 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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jameskinsman17 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The Wild Bunch (1969) is director Sam Peckinpah's vivid and provocative rendition of the west in the early 20th century. It is a remarkable film, both famed for bringing to screen one of the most vivid and visceral recreations of the dying west and for its intense portrayal of violence and brutality. Shot in widescreen, it is a dark and unrelenting tale of the 9 outlaws - the 'Wild Bunch' - united in friendship and in their fight against the vastly changing world around them. As they see the sun go down on their own way of life, changing technology and the industrial revolution is getting a firm grip on society and they see the dawn of a new west.

Other films of that period took a more anti-violence stance. Most notably is Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969), which provided lighthearted action and adopted a more romanticised view of the American frontier. The Wild Bunch however is honest in its view on human nature and is not scared of the fact that people in society can sometimes be fascinated and attracted to violence. This theme is evident right from the outset. In the opening scene, two children are standing in the middle of the street while people around them are being shot. Their initial reaction is one of horror, but quickly they start watching the carnage, unable to turn away. Most notably though, is the final scene of the film, where the remaining members of the bunch are killed in a selfless and redemptive act. The entire scene is filmed as a slow motion dance - a grim but breathtaking rumination on the obliteration of human life. This can be likened to an act of god, for example the destroying of Pompeii or Sodom. Natural disasters undeniably cause immense destruction and pain, but are still beautiful in terms of scale and grandeur.

The bunch themselves are not crusaders or misunderstood 'cookie cutter' outlaws out to get revenge; they are very much out there for themselves. Although they claim to live by a strict code of camaraderie and honour "when you side with a man you stick with him!" we continually see how they are willing to do anything in order to save their own skin. Pike is a very intelligent but deeply troubled character who espouses the aforementioned code of loyalty, however he rarely follows through on it until the end of the film. His selfish actions continually come back to haunt him, and he eventually condemns his actions and decides the most selfless thing he can do is to go back for Angel in a completely humanitarian gesture of loyalty and solidarity. He is cleansed in his death and it serves as the ultimate refusal to be tamed, and the acceptance that his way of life is at an end. Not only does this provide catharsis for Pike but also serves as a profound statement on the mentality of the criminal mind. He would rather purge his conscience and remain true to the life he has led than become a restrained and condemned prisoner of society.

The fatal shot to Pike, delivered by a child, serves as an allegory for the death of the west as Pike knew it. The children of the new age of technology and industry are killing off the remnants of the ageing past. It also further illustrates the inherent bloodlust in society and the suggestion that if driven far enough, anyone is capable of some degree of violence – a rather shocking truth that we are reminded of all too often in the news and media. The social commentary on human nature and its propensity for violence offered by "The Wild Bunch" still remains as relevant as ever.

Although the film won no Academy Awards (the academy rarely gives the nod to films containing high levels of violence despite being works of art – Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Exorcist), it was nominated in two categories - for Jerry Fielding's original musical score and for the film's story and screenplay (a collaboration between Walon Green and Sam Peckinpah). The Wild bunch is also responsible for increasing the acceptance and tolerance level for violence on the screen. This lasting effect can be seen in more recent work by directors such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and many others.
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"When You Side With A Man, You Stay With Him"
stryker-513 January 1999
Warning: Spoilers
A gang of American outlaws steals a trainload of US Army guns for a Mexican general, and are tracked relentlessly by bounty hunters.

"The Wild Bunch" is the film which, more than any other, fixes the Peckinpah 'style' for posterity to marvel at ... guns, tequila, dust, whores - and more guns. Typically for a Peckinpah movie, it is a threnody to the death of the Old West, permeated with the odour of decay. Dutch and Pike talk of their life together as free-ranging outlaws, and Pike observes that "those days are closing fast". Gatling guns and automobiles are transforming the world, leaving no safe haven for ageing bushwhackers. During the opening credits we see children feeding scorpions into an ants' nest. The graceful predators are overrun by sheer numbers, and pulled down by the ants. So it must be with Pike and his Wild Bunch.

Peckinpah's familiar theme of American-Mexican ambivalence is a current running through the film. The Mexicans are sometimes caricatures - there is plenty of "Muchachos, vamenos!" - but Angel (Jaime Sanchez) cuts a dignified figure and the humble people of Mexico are treated sympathetically. The action straddles the Texan-Mexican border, and in each country the true struggle is that of the free individual against the behemoth of federal government.

The masculine values of the Western - courage in the face of danger and loyalty to one's companeros - are central to this movie. When Pike's team realise that they have pulled off the robbery, the slow passing around of the whisky bottle is a semi-religious libation to the brotherhood of fighting-men. Though Pike and Deke (Robert Ryan) have a troubled personal history, and are now enemies, there is an unspoken bond of respect and affection between them. When Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) succumbs to his wounds, he dies calling Pike's name.

The film takes care to distinguish between the outlaw-heroes and the rabble. Pike, played by William Holden, is "the best". He runs his outfit with discipline and dignity. On the other hand, Thornton's motley crew are merely stupid scavengers. Like the vultures that they are, their one aim is to plunder corpses. In the Wild Bunch, even the unruly brothers, Lyle and Tector, have a noble side to their nature.

Peckinpah is sometimes pilloried for his technical tricks, and they are all on display here. It has to be said, they are well done. Actors are wired with electric squibs which squirt gouts of blood when they get shot. Men squirm and die in slow motion, allowing us to relish the carnage.

Other technical aspects of the film deserve commendation. The shot of a falling bridge depositing a company of mounted railroad deputies into the Rio Grande is outstanding, as are the compositions of men, dust and horses during the gunfights. Soft dunes of sand and sweeping rivers are filmed with loving rapture. The confusion of the soldiers under attack in the boxcar is conveyed powerfully by means of the then-unheard-of expedient of a handheld camera. Suspense is piled on skilfully during the railroad office attack, and extreme close-up is used throughout the film to heighten the moments of tension.

Pike's men receive a touching send-off from the humble folk of the pueblo who, knowing the nobility of a life outside the law, admire and love these strong, brave men. The life is a fine one, but it can end only one way. When the reckoning comes, the Wild Bunch meet it without flinching.
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The Last Real Men in a No-where's Land of Death
theowinthrop18 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Recently my health took a turn for the worst, and on the 17th I ended watching two different films while recuperating. One was EXECUTIVE SUITE, and the other THE WILD BUNCH. Both were shown in commemoration of the birthday of Mr. William Franklin Beedle, one of the best movie actors of the period from 1940 and 1981. Of course that birthday was given under his better known acting name: William Holden.

I have seen it mentioned that the flinty/slightly rocky tones of Holden's voice gives it a quality for honesty that few other film actors shared. He certainly sounded more modern in the film industry than the leading men of the 1930s. Their voices have a superiority in them, as opposed to the reality that Holden adds to his voice. He is able to mouth a truth with a cutting edge (frequently with bad results: witness his trying to get through to Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in SUNSET BLVD. only ends in his murder).

He seemed at his best when confronting the truth. In THE WILD BUNCH he is Pike Bishop, leader of a gang of train and bank robbers who work with such military precision, that they frequently pull themselves out of hopeless traps. At the beginning of the film Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Jaime Sanchez, Warren Oates, and Ben Johnson attempt a bank robbery, not realizing it was a trap set by Albert Dekker, wherein the bank is also surrounded by an "army" under Robert Ryan. A massacre of innocent civilians results that Dekker will not acknowledge as something he'll sweat over. Also most of the men given to Ryan have been killed (Dekker is a high ranking railroad official - that's his key to settling everything and evading responsibility - and hires cheap psychotics and misfits like Strother Martin for his "army").

Peckinpaugh worked frequently on the fly - he would innovate as went along. This gives his best work it's bite. Sometimes though one wishes he would have had luck to do some plot development. We eventually learn that the smart Ryan was Holden's partner but was wounded and captured and whipped (presumably at order of Dekker) until he agreed to help end "the Wild Bunch". This explains why the two never aim at each other, and also understand each other's perfect moves. But Dekker apparently hates Holden for some incident that left him looking like an ass. It's never explained what it was - because Dekker died (in a grotesque hanging accident) while the film was being made. I suspect the plot would have pulled him in a bit more (and possibly a second type of retribution might have caught up with him). Instead, Mr. Dekker's character "Harrigan" eventually drifts out of the film. Pity.

With Rogers and his mongrel dog soldiers following Holden and his men, the latter enter Mexico. They catch up with Holden's other gang member, Edmond O'Brien. A grizzled old guy, apparently his past is as violent as the other members of the gang.

But what comes across is that Holden, Borgnine, O'Brien, Johnson, Oates, and Sanchez are more complex than just violent. They'll use violence to win or gain a point, but they have strong senses of honor. They believe in loyalty to each other. There is an early scene where Holden has to kill another member who is blind from the wounds of battle, and they don't have the time to bury the poor guy. Everyone is upset by this (they'd like to do so) but time is of the essence - so his corpse is left out for the buzzards. Another matter is their sense of right and wrong. The American Capitalists are no better in this part of the world with their armies of the creepy than the Mexican Warlords like General Mapache (Emilio Fernandez - in an interesting villain part - he wants to beat Pancho Villa, making one appreciate that notorious "murderer and bigamist."as a relative rationalist*)

*This quote on Villa is from Theodore Roosevelt, believe it or not!

It's a world of the dead, but one gets a vision that the hideousness of the world of 1916 (with Pershing's troops adding their idiocies to the mess; so do two members of the Imperial German Military Commission to Mexico - the "Zimmermann Telegram" is coming up in a year) was headed that way from way back. Peckinpaugh frequently has Holden recall "happier times" (even though Borgnine quickly wonders what was so happy about them!). They were happy because everyone was younger, and had more time to smell the roses. Violence abounded in the 1890s, when Holden was nearly shot dead with his lover by her husband (who got away with it). Justice is a vague ideal - although "the Wild Bunch" seeks it. The one who most seeks it is Sanchez, who has seen his family, friends, neighbors slaughtered and robbed by Fernandez). Sanchez is determined to destroy the warlord, and free the people. The others realize this is useless, but in the end he turns out to be the final catalyst of the conclusion of the film.

Yes, Peckinpaugh's artistic, slow motion violence is there too, but that is only technique. The issue is how the last real men of the West go out with a clean sweep of the society. And in the end they enter legend - their bodies reclaimed from the Martins and jackals who seek to use them for "proof of bounty".
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if they move---kill em
dav07dan0229 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Director: Sam Peckinpah, Script: Walon Green, Peckinpah, Story: Roy N. Sickner, Cast: William Holden (Pike Bishop), Ernest Borgnine (Dutch Engstrom), Robert Ryon (Deke Thornton), Edmond O'Brian (Freddie Sykes), Warren Oates (Lyle Gorch), Ben Johnson (Tector Gorch), Jamie Sanchez (Angel), Emilo Fernandez (The General), Strather Martin(Coffer), L.Q. Jones (T.C.), Albert Dekker (Pat Harrigan)

Peckinpah's Wild Bunch is one of the most compelling and moving of all westerns and perhaps all films. It is one of the all time greatest films. It is a movie about dignity and honour. The "Wild Bunch", led by Pike Bishop(Willam Holdon) and Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), are a wild group of aging outlaws on a quest to get that one last chance 'to score' before they retire. This film symbolizes both the aging of the outlaws and the end of the 'traditional' west. Set in 1913, the old west has given way to the industrial revolution and these men want no part of it.

The movie opens up with the group riding into town dressed as armed soldiers. They rob a train station but get ambushed in the process by a group of bounty hunters resulting in a bloody shoot-out where innocent people get killed. These bounty hunters are a bunch of low life criminals hired by the detective of the railroad to go after the Wild Bunch. The man leading the group of bounty hunters,Thornton (Robert Ryan)was once a member of the gang. He is forced by the detective to go after them or go back to prison. The group of men ride out of town and end up at a Mexican village across the Rio Grande. It is here where they open up their bags of gold only to discover that they are filled with metal washers. They where hoping to retire after this robbery. In this village, they meet up with a Mexican named Angel who becomes one of the bunch. Still hoping to get their gold, they get involved with a corrupt Mexican general. The general wants to have total control of northern Mexico and so he makes a deal with the bunch. The gang rob a train carrying army rifles. They agree to give the general 16 boxes of rifles from the robbery in exchange for $ 10,000 in gold. Angel wants to have arms for the people of his village so they can be protected. They give one of the sixteen boxes to Angel in lew of the gold. When they present the boxes to the general, they tell him that one box fell into the river. The general had found out otherwise, they accuse Angel of theft. The Mexican general and his men take Angel and something bad happens to him. The Wild Bunch go after Angel and a major shoot-out ensues resulting in a extremely violent and sad end.

Much like Leone's Good Bad and Ugly, their is no "good" guy or "bad" guy. Their are no moral certainties in this film. Well their actually are some. These are honour and loyalty. Like Pike says " When you side with a man, you stay with him". "And if you can't do that, your some kind of animal, your finished". Peckinpah makes us feel for the characters in this movie, we get to know them. Which makes the ending all the more tragic. This loyalty also extends to Thornton. He has no choice but to go after the bunch and once being a member himself, he struggles with this. A lot goes on during the course of this film. One has to see it more than once because something new can be found each time. This film will stay with you long after you watch it.
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An American masterpiece; one of the greatest Westerns (and films) of all time
Hancock_the_Superb16 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Pike Bishop (William Holden) is the aging leader of a motley collection of outlaws (Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Edmond O'Brien, Jaime Sanchez, Bo Hopkins) who try to pull off one last score in 1913 Texas. But a robbery goes horribly wrong when bounty hunters led by railroad detective Harrigan (Albert Dekker) ambush them, leading to a bloody massacre. The Bunch flees into Mexico, pursued by a posse led by Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), Pike's ex-partner. The Bunch finds themselves working for bloodthirsty Federale Mapache (Emilio Fernandez), who is trying to suppress Pancho Villa's revolutionaries - but their loyalty is conflicted when Angel (Sanchez) turns out to be a member of an Indian tribe oppressed by Mapache. After robbing a US Army arms shipment, the Bunch allows Angel to take some guns for his tribe - but Angel is captured by Mapache and brutally tortured. Finally, Pike, "tired of being hunted" and sick of himself, leads the gang in a desperate last stand.

"The Wild Bunch" is an American masterpiece. Best-known for revolutionizing big-screen violence, Sam Peckinpah's magnum opus is far more than just a blood-soaked splatter-fest. It's the distillation of Peckinpah's world-view - corruption, moral ambiguity, changing times and men, the horror and glamor of violence, and the complex nature of honor and loyalty. Any misguided critic who views Westerns as outdated popular entertainment needs to watch this film; it has enough character, narrative and thematic depth to put many novels to shame.

Indeed, The Wild Bunch is a cinematic novel. It portrays the theme of doomed men struggling to outlive their time, and the inherent impossibility of doing so. Men like Pike, Dutch, the Gorch Brothers, and Deke Thornton are products of their time - men who are clever and cunning but not particularly intelligent, who live by a Code, and who see violence as a way of life. In this new era, honor and loyalty are irrelevant; Harrigan and his scruffy bounty hunters are concerned only with personal profit, which, as Pike himself admits, "cuts an awful lot of family ties". Even the Bunch's unity is questionable: the surly Gorch Brothers dispute Pike's every move; grouchy old Sykes is a grumbling, cackling liability; and the idealistic Angel traps the Bunch into an unwitting death. Only Dutch remains unremittingly loyal to Pike, but ultimately, they HAVE to stick together in order to stay alive - they simply have no other choice.

Pike Bishop is a fascinating creation, a tragic hero of Shakespearean proportions. He is a man trapped by his own sense of loyalty and honor - "When you side with a man, you stick with him" - but he repeatedly fails to live up to it. He leaves Crazy Lee to die, similarly betrays Sykes, lets Angel be captured by Mapache, and, we later learn, is responsible for Thornton's arrest. In spite of his bluster, he's really a selfish, petty man who's only happy when he's in control (see the train robbery, where Pike is able, albeit briefly, to recapture his youth). He has too many scars, too many betrayals and failures to simply move on; he's a haunted man who knows his time is up, and his attempts to "modernize" his gang are laughable. Ultimately, sick of himself, Pike makes a stand - and ultimately, by sacrificing his gang for Angel, he finally lives up to his code.

Deke Thornton is Pike's mirror image. Thornton was Pike's partner whom he left to be captured. Offered a choice between continued imprisonment and hunting down his old gang ("30 Days to get Pike, or 30 Days back to Yuma"), Thornton chooses the latter; he knows the old days are over, and unlike Pike is willing to change. He, too, is trapped by his own sense of honor; he loathes the greedy, incompetent bounty hunters and longs to join his gang, but he gave Harrigan his word, and cannot break it. This is an agonizing compromise, often explored by Peckinpah; it's interesting to compare Thornton to Tyreen from "Major Dundee", or more pertinently "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" which plays as The Wild Bunch told by Deke Thornton.

One would be remiss if they discussed the film without mentioning the violence. The movie features three scenes of horrifically graphic violence, with squibs and fake blood, rapid parallel editing, and slow motion. The violence isn't nearly as graphic as the spate of action and horror films since, and yet is infinitely more effective; if not actually realistic, its sheer visceral impact makes up for artificiality. Accused by ignorants of glamorizing violence, Peckinpah simply shows violence as it is; repulsive and horrific, but perversely thrilling. If this weren't the case, then why would violent Westerns and action movies be so popular? It's not exactly a subtle statement, but one of immense power; the violence is not gratuitous, but necessary to show a world where violence has become not only commonplace, but impersonal, cold, and acceptable.

The movie features arguably the finest cast assembled for a Western. William Holden gives one of his best performances, using his own persona as a fading star to accentuate Pike's character. Ernest Borgnine's endlessly loyal Dutch and Robert Ryan's compromised Thornton complement Holden perfectly. Albert Dekker and Emilio Fernandez are both hiss-able villains who make it easier to sympathize with our protagonists. The supporting cast includes Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones as bounty hunters, Dub Taylor as a Bible-thumping preacher (was R.G. Armstrong unavailable?), and Bo Hopkins in a memorable bit as Crazy Lee. Only Edmond O'Brien's scenery-chewing as Sykes and Jaime Sanchez's theatrically "mannered" Angel are weak points, but neither is actively bad.

This isn't to mention Lucien Ballard's gorgeous cinematography, or Jerry Fielding's beautiful, poignant score, or the subtle symbolism and supporting characters. The Wild Bunch is, simply put, an American masterpiece, and one of the great films of all time.

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Peckinpah's masterpiece
jluis19847 February 2007
After the bitter experience that was to make "Major Dundee" in 1965, director Sam Peckinpah spent years without working on any theatrical film (although he did made a small TV movie in 1966), disenchanted with the studio actions over the film he thought was going to be his masterpiece. Fortunately, the years in silence payed off when in 1969, Peckinpah returned to film-making with a vengeance in the form of a film that would change the face of the Western genre for ever: "The Wild Bunch". Peckinpah was not a stranger to the genre, as he had directed several Western TV series and also already had a classic in his resumé ("Ride the High Country", which in many ways predates the themes of "The Wild Bunch"); but it was with "The Wild Bunch" when he finally started a new stage for American Western movies, after the revolution that the Spaghetti Westerns meant in the mid part of the 60s.

Set in 1917, "The Wild Bunch" is the story of an aging gang of outlaws and their attempts to make a final big score before retiring. Led by Pike (William Holden) and Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), the Bunch attempts to rob a bank in Texas where a vast amount of money is supposed to be kept. After the robbery becomes a savage massacre, only five members of the group manage to escape to Mexico: Pike, Dutch, the Gorch brothers (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson) and the Mexican Ángel (Jaime Sánchez). With their hopes broken after the failed robbery, Pike's gang decides to work for General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), a Mexican general who hires them to steal a shipment of U.S. military equipment in order to have the upper hand in the Mexican Revolution. Without nothing to lose, and knowing that they are being followed after the shootout in Texas, the Bunch prepares for a last ride.

Based on a story by Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner, the movie follows the themes that Peckinpah had already explored in his previous two films: aging outlaws facing change, the end of the Wild West, and most importantly, honor between friends. With a script written by Peckinpah and Green, the film is an epic story that, like Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West", deals with the arrival of civilization, the final taming of the West and the effects this had in the persons that made it what it was. However, unlike Leone's epic, "The Wild Bunch" gives special importance to the characters and the relationships between them. Not only every member of the Bunch is explored, but also the men pursuing them, and a lot of accurate background is given to the Mexican Revolution and their fighters. It's remarkable the way that the characters are written, in the sense that more than protagonists they become almost like living persons that one can easily sympathize with.

Peckinpah once again proves that this was his favorite genre by making one of the most beautiful Westerns ever made. With an excellent use of slow-motion and a cinematography that shows the influence of Italian films, Peckinpah creates an opera of violence that fits perfectly the epic tone of the story. His care for realism and obvious respect for the many cultures present in his film sets the tone for what in the future would be called "revisionist Westerns". As he did previously in "Ride the High Country", Peckinpah focuses on the themes of redemption and adaptation to change, and his use of the 20th Century's modern machinery to imply change is considered one of "The Wild Bunch"'s main icons. The influence of this film in modern action films has probably been covered many times in other reviews, so I'll only state the obvious: it's enormous.

The cast of the film is simply perfect, all giving a terrific performance and making the most of their characters. Story says that many big names were considered before William Holden, but honestly I can't see anyone delivering a better performance than him as Pike Bishop, the Bunch's leader. Ernest Borgnine as the complex Dutch Engstrom probably gave his best performance in this movie too, and makes an excellent counterpart to Holden's troubled character. Personally, I find Robert Ryan to be the highlight of the film, even when his character has very few screen time, he probably symbolizes the best what Peckinpah had in mind in this film. Finally, the performances by Oates, O'Brien, Johnson and Sánchez as the rest of the bunch are definitely excellent. Legendary directors Emilio Fernández and Chano Urueta appear in small roles, but both deliver unforgettable performances.

Many words have been written about the visual violence of this movie and its influence in future films, but personally, what makes "The Wild Bunch" a unique Western, is the high quality of the script it has. Many films have quotable phrases or one-liners, but the brilliantly written dialogs of this movie have a power akin to the best works of literature, as often there is a deep meaning in every line and every scene. Peckinpah is very honest in his portrayal of the dying American West, and is not afraid of showing both the good and bad sides of the human soul. Like in spaghetti Westerns, there is not a defined "good" or "evil", but Peckinpah goes beyond the Italian films and completely demythologizes the concept of "heroes" and "villians", keeping his characters simply as "humans".

It's certainly grim and nihilistic at first sight, but few films capture the concepts of true friendship and loyalty like this movie does. The Western genre is often misunderstood a simple stories of cowboys and Indians; but "The Wild Bunch" proves that there is more than that in the genre. With the possible exception of "Straw Dogs", Peckinpah never get the chance to make a movie the way he wanted after this classic, so "The Wild Bunch" proudly stands as the masterpiece of the rebel director. 10/10.
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johno-2113 March 2006
The Western was a staple of the movie industry from it's earliest beginnings until they started to fade from popularity by in the 60's and were becoming increasingly rare by decades end. They never really died of course but good ones became far and few between. This is one the most extravagantly violent shoot-em-up western's ever made. director Sam Peckinpaugh seeing they might be on their way out wanted them to go out with a bang in his film The Wild Bunch. A great ensemble cast here includes William Holden, Ernest Borginine, Robert Ryan, Edmund O' Brien, and Warren Oates with great character actors Strother Martin, Ben Johnson and Dub Taylor. Veteran cinematographer Lucien Ballard who would have a 55 year career as at his best here. Versatile art director ed Carrere worked on his final film in The Wild Bunch and Lou Lombardo who was given the complicated job of film editing this movie turned out a fine product. It received two Academy Award nominations for music, and screenplay but should have received more and especially for sound. May be to overboard on violence for some but I would give this epic western a 9.0 out of 10 and recommend it.
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a dusky but highly overrated western
dbdumonteil10 December 2010
For some people who aren't familiar with his work, the name of Sam Peckinpah remains associated with two films: The Wild Bunch (1969) and Straw Dogs (1971). These two pieces of world are linked with a feature that became a trademark in Peckinpah's cinema: violence. The filmmaker who signed remarkable westerns prior to the 1969 film always contended about The Wild Bunch that violence was the inevitable consequence of a world about to collapse. Although, it is usually revered as one of the most important westerns ever made, I do not think it's a work on a par with other unforgettable westerns made by Anthony Mann or John Ford.

Numerous elements that pigeonhole "The Wild Bunch" as a pessimistic western are here. William Holden and his gang appear to be jaded men who only want to call it a day. They have a strong tendency for alcohol and prostitutes. Even if they are linked by a strong friendship, they are conscious they have no place to go or to be in a changing world: see the sequences with the car. Furthermore, the machine guns they have to snatch was just being invented. Without mentioning, of course, the famous opening sequence with the children playing cruelly with the scorpions being eaten by ants.

So, why is The Wild Bunch ultimately underwhelming? Because if Peckinpah had focused and tightened all the aforementioned features instead of letting his taste for gratuitous violence explode, the result would have been much more palatable. Besides, the only real violent sequences are located at the beginning and at the end of this overlong film. The massacres end up looking like slaughters and they are superfluous filler with the rest of the film. Filming men being killed with massive amounts of blood in slow motion doesn't help matters. Claude Chabrol who sadly died three months ago said about it that it was an example of hateful violence.

Between these two would-be pivotal sequences, the film loses its "raison d'etre" dealing with violence if we can put it this way. The action is often sluggish and the events aren't worth a good storytelling. And Robert Ryan's gang is particularly hateful.

If you want blood, Peckinpah's film has got it. And as for me, the omnipresence of violence to epitomize the end of the western genre isn't proof of an artistic success. There are more subtle devices to express it. See Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992).
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Far Too Long...
Xstal14 September 2020
... and ever so slightly tedious. I always struggle with Ernest Borgnine as a bad guy, a killer, he'd be the last person to get into any of the scrapes encountered here - these roles just don't fit his persona at all. Similarly William Holden - I just don't see him as the kind of guy that's prepared to kill in cold blood for the spoils - reminding me more of a grandparent as much as anything else and making me feel nauseous when he's around younger women.

Too long, tedious and miscast.
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demystified violence
RanchoTuVu13 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Coming on the heels of Leone's westerns with Clint Eastwood, The Wild Bunch busted through the barriers that confined Hollywood westerns like a wrecking ball. While Leone made these stark westerns, Peckinpah dished up the sentimentality to go along with the slow motion gunfights adding a little soul to the mix and softening the starkness, especially with the cast of Borgnine, Holden, Oates, Johnson, O'Brien, and Sanchez. They're outlaws who rob trains and sell guns to Mexican revolutionaries, not the evil killers in Leone's films like Fonda and his gang in Once Upon A Time In The West. The feeling is heightened by Lucien Ballard's cinematography that captures the action and the landscape. What Leone lacked in sentimentality, he more than made up for in the killer soundtracks and stark imagery and loner characters. The Bunch were a team, brothers almost, who in the end die to save one of their own, going down fighting a losing battle with Oates especially impressive blasting away with the Gatling gun. The Wild Bunch is a film with gravity. It has the heaviness of John Ford's finest westerns, bathed in blood, booze, and golden light.
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