The Western movie genre is one that I enjoy a great deal. When I saw Luke Ryan’s article about “The Magnificent Seven” I thought I’d write one about of my favorite film in the genre.
The film in question is the polar opposite of the adaptation of “Seven Samurai” by Akira Kurosawa, “The Magnificent Seven,” a perfect yin-yang. The seven gunfighters led by Yul Brynner are on a quest for atonement for past sins, putting others above themselves, while the gang being lead by William Holden in “The Wild Bunch” are no good sonofabitches, trying to survive and adapt to a fast-changing world.
The man responsible for that Western epic was the director and script editor Sam Peckinpah, a very complicated, troubled, but talented and visionary man, who was also a USMC veteran. It is alleged that even though he was never in combat, his experiences while stationed in China at the end of WWII played a role in his dark and violent cinematography, and fueled his alcohol and substances abuse.
His films usually explore the theme of survival in a fast-changing and cynical world, and “The Wild Bunch” is no exception. The film is set in 1913 where an aging group of outlaws is heading for one last job before fading into oblivion as a result of technological and societal changes. The beginning of the film sets the tone, Pike Bishop (William Holden) screams “if they move, kill them” — and they did exactly that. The botched robbery at the start of the film results in a gunfight that other Westerns had as a climax, but not here. The gang escapes to Mexico where their involvement in the Mexican revolution will bring a very bloody, very violent end. It is not a heroic end; it is not violence in the service of a greater good, it is violence because those men didn’t know any other way, it was them and their obsolete code of honor against the world.
The film is not only powerful in themes or shocking for 1969 standards of violence — it is violent even for today’s standards — but also delivers in breakthrough cinematography and editing. Multiple cameras, set up at different speeds and multiple angles, and amazing editing that makes the scenes amazingly fast paced and will set your screen ablaze. I remember many years ago I read somewhere, that it was the favorite film of an ODA to watch before they head “down river” during the Vietnam War, and I can surely tell you it will give you a pump.
Featured image: This image is known as the “Fort Worth Five Photograph.” Front row left to right: Harry A. Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid, Ben Kilpatrick, alias the Tall Texan, Robert Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy; Standing: Will Carver & Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry; Fort Worth, Texas, 1900. | From the studio of John Schwartz. [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons.