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.