on March 29, 2003
There's not much that can be noted about Sam Peckinpah's brilliant 1969 western epic "The Wild Bunch" that has not already been written. It was an unanticipated, influential work where all things came together, but for a moment, the end product a huge, sweeping canvas of intimacy between comrades, violence between combatants, desperate anger amidst changing times. Part Kurosawa, part Siegel, part Fuller, part Ford, Peckinpah combined his inspirations with a healthy dose of 1960s rebellion producing the ultimate work of his generation, and one of the greatest westerns in history. It was Peckinpah's great fortune that the right actors were available for this film - William Holden and Robert Ryan in the twilight of their memorable careers, Ernest Borgnine with just enough youth to be a perfect and loyal presence, Edmond O'Brien chewing up the scenery with tobacco-stained teeth, and of course Peckinpah friends Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones and Warren Oates in salty supporting roles. It was also his great fortune cinematographer Lucien Ballard and composer Jerry Fielding were also on hand to participate in his steadfast vision.
Peckinpah also had something to prove at this point in his career, when he was still a hungry director with a vision, before alcoholism, disillusionment and celebrity status took hold. He hid nothing from viewers, and his contradictory heart was laid bare in "The Wild Bunch." The direction and editing during the violent moments of this film - the opening bank robbery and the concluding battle with the Mexican army - are some of the most unforgettable scenes ever put on film. But ironically, and this was usually the case in most Peckinpah films, it is the quiet moments one remembers. Pike (Holden) and Dutch's (Borgnine) melancholy conversation next to a campfire; The Bunch riding out of Angel's village as if in a funeral procession; Deke (Ryan) taking Pike's pistol from it's holster, gently holding it in his hand; and of course Pike standing in the doorway and mouthing two simple words, "Let's go."
And of course you have The Walk, in which Holden, Borgnine, Oates and Ben Johnson quietly begin loading their guns, cocking them, arming themselves, smiling at one another, standing shoulder to shoulder. There's not much left for these forgotten outlaws who have lived past their time. Just a code of honor, just their self respect. And so they Walk into the heart of the Mexican army to retrieve their comrade Angel, a prisoner and personal enemy of General Mapache. These surviving members of The Wild Bunch are free to go, but Angel, youthful, love-struck, rebellious, was one of them. They are not going to leave their comrade.
After viewing the extraordinary documentary "The Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage" and seeing the rare footage of Peckinpah literally improvising The Walk, walking alongside Holden, Borgnine, Oates and Johnson, inventing by instinct, one realizes how fiercely creative this man was as a director. This film was his moment in time, his vision, his idea, Peckinpah's nightmarish and amazing dream.
Peckinpah never really made a film quite like "The Wild Bunch" again. Of course, no director ever really has before or since. His uneven career of 14 films, some good, some not, has been celebrated and honored. Peckinpah the man, adorned in faded jeans and bandanna, certainly perpetuated his myth-like status. But in the end, you will always have "The Wild Bunch," an unforgettable film, raw, gritty, whiskey-soaked, sublime. I cry whenever I watch this film. I cry in awe. All things came together for Peckinpah on "The Wild Bunch," and the moment is everlasting.
on May 21, 2000
Sam Peckinpah's 'The Wild Bunch' is a masterpiece western. Not the best ever made, but close. So don't think I don't like this movie because I love it. However, since Mexicans are its villains, perhaps you'd be interested to read an opinion from this side of the border.
The Mexico of 'The Wild Bunch' looks more like a metaphor than a real place. It is both Heaven and Hell; the theatre where the bunch will find Death but also Redemption. Accordingly, every Mexican depicted in the picture is either a saint or a monster (no middle ground here, except for the Mexican member of the Bunch, who is aptly named "Angel", although a fallen one). This serves the story splendidly, for it's meant to be an epic ballad and not a travelogue, but it does jolt the Mexican viewer because the "good Mexico" is portrayed so idyllic it's unreal, while the "bad Mexico" is very, very accurate; in fact, no American movie has captured the look, sound, feel, texture and carnage of the Mexican Revolution as this one has (even if the grandiose final scene, where the Bunch kills hundreds of heavily armed soldiers all by themselves and none of the four falls down even when riddled by bullets, defies all logic!). Perhaps that's why it was banned in Mexico back when it was released in 1969.
Funny, for it was filmed in Mexico as well. The Texas bordertown you see at the begining of the story is actually Parras, Coahuila, and many of its citizens acted as extras in the movie: white ones as "Texans", brown ones as -what else?- Mexicans! Don Raúl Madero, brother of Francisco I. Madero, the man who started the Mexican Revolution, appears ...as a Texan! Even the two German officers are Mexican! So, as you can see, we Mexicans come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and hardly fit these two tiresome "noble peasant"-"greaser bandito" stereotypes American movies seem so comfortable with! I hope some day Hollywood realizes this and "walk the extra mile" to portray us for what we are: a very complex and diverse society. Neither saints, nor monsters, and certainly not mere bowling pins!
P.S.: Many great Mexican directors, all personal friends of Peckinpah, appear in the film. Emilio "Indio" Fernández (Mapache) and Chano Urueta (Angel's grandfather) were the best of our cinema's Golden Age. Fernando Wagner (German officer) was also a competent theatre director, and Alfonso Arau (Herrera) is best known for his international hit 'Like Water for Chocolate'. Jorge Russek (Zamorra) was an outstanding photographer for National Geographic, and Sonia Amelio (Teresa) is a world-aclaimmed dancer (she was even awarded with an "Order of Lenin" back in the Soviet Union). And just for the record, the word "Mapache" ("racoon") stands for "coward thief". No Mexican general, no matter how corrupt, would use, I believe, such a nickname! And since Mapache is "a killer working for Huerta", the action takes place in 1913, not 1916 (Huerta was ousted in early 1914).
on January 26, 2006
There are other Peckinpah films I like better. There are other Peckinpah films which are more emotionally affecting. There are other Peckinpah films which are easier to watch. There are other Peckinpah films...But this is the THE Peckinpah film for anyone who wants to know what the fuss is all about. THE WILD BUNCH is Peckinpah's most significant, influential, daring, and ferocious assault on the limits of cinema. This is one of the few movies in cinematic history which fundamentally changed the language of cinema. Violence, death, and carnage would never be treated the same way by the movies after this film. The very idea of action in films can be divided into those made before THE WILD BUNCH and those made after it. Practically every action film you will ever see is little more than a pale attempt at imitating the great original. Watch this movie, and you will see where it all began.
Beyond this, however, there is the film itself; and now that the controversy it engendered has faded into history and its slow-motion carnage has become cinematic banality, the film has begun to emerge in its own right. This is all too the good, because THE WILD BUNCH taken on its own terms is an extraordinary cinematic experience. A tone poem written in adrenaline.
THE WILD BUNCH is, as its creator expressed, essentially a film about bad men in changing times. The changing times, however, brings out the best in these bad men; and a film which begins as a high-spirited bloody romp ends as an epic, apocalyptic tragedy, as its characters choose to go out in an orgy of erotic carnage which changed the cinematic landscape forever.
Peckinpah's skills are magnificently on display in this film. Still youthful as a director, there is not a trace of maturity in this film. It is magnificently adolescent. The camera careens, the cuts flash by, the sound crashes and creaks, the music swells and dies in jagged eruptions.
There is hardly a misstep here. The script, by Peckinpah and Walon Green, is literate, historically knowledgable, and thankfully lacking in the cloying camp which typified the '60s Westerns. The photography by Lucien Ballard is sun-blasted and shadow worn, unafraid of the brutal contrasts so often avoided by today's cinematographers. Jerry Fielding's score is a masterwork, swinging between mariachi ballads and off-kilter rhythms. His music for the Bunch's final walk into immortality overlaps a drunken Spanish ballad with a pulsing snare drum in a completely different rhythm, creating a dissonance which telegraphs the apocalypse to come.
Criminally overlooked by critics obsessed with the film's violence is the quality of the cast. Ernest Borgnine, Jaime Sanchez, and Edmond O'Brien embody their characters so fully that one can hardly imagine them in another role. Emilio Fernandez gives us an indelible caricature of a Mexican general drunk with power and dissapation. Robert Ryan carefully walks the line between his characters honor and his betrayal. And William Holden - in a role rumored to be modeled on Peckinpah himself - gives the performance of his life, culminating in the moment when the sight of a young prostitute, a sleeping baby, and a dying bird finally gives him the strength to live up to his own professed ideals. He and Warren Oates are given what may be the most simple and powerful exchange in modern cinema. "Let's go." "Why not." Four words which never fail to send chills up your spine.
This film is a modern classic. It changed cinema forever. It turned its maker into a legend. It is also a very great film. Put history aside and enjoy it.
on October 24, 2000
It would be impossible for film fans to have a conversation about controversial movies throughout the years, and for the epic western, "The Wild Bunch" not to get a solid mention.
Since I first saw this film over twenty years ago, I have owned numerous versions on VHS and laser disc, and it is particularly satisfying to finally have the restored directors version, with the accompanying documentary "The Wild Bunch : An album in montage" available on DVD in true widescreen format.
Sam Peckinpah's blood and thunder tale of outlaws on the Texas/Mexican border with their own set of unique morals has been such a dynamic influence on many directors and future films since it's release way back in 1969. But what sets "The Wild Bunch" apart from it's many imitators is it's deep, almost mythical storytelling, the complex moral nature of the characters peopling the tale and the gritty passion & energy that Peckinpah infused into the entire production. William Holden and Ernest Borgnine are simply tremendous as Pike & Dutch, the leaders of the Bunch...each man with his own individuality. Ben Johnson & Warren Oates portray the crazy Gorch Brothers, Jaime Sanchez is the arrogant and fiercely partiotic Mexican, Angel...and Edmond O'Brien is the grizzly, old timer Sykes.
Additionally, Peckinpah's film features Emilio Fernandez as the bloated, evil dictator Mapache...Albert Dekker as the manipulative and remorseless railroad man, Harrigan....and Robert Ryan putting in another one of his strong performances as the ex-gang member turned reluctant bounty hunter, Deke Thornton. And a Peckinpah movie almost wouldn't be complete without the appearance of LQ Jones and Strother Martin as a pair of filthy, grave robbing bounty hunters out for the reward on the heads of the Wild Bunch.
The Wild Bunch pulls no punches in it's tale of desperado's who they themselves are desperately running out of time...as Holden reflects in the film "We've got to start thinking beyond our guns...those days are closing fast". Whilst "The Wild Bunch" is most notorious for it's two bloody shootouts that book end the film's 144 minute running time...there is so much excitement, passion, adventure and personal conflict within the movie that can be found upon each repeated viewing of this stunning work.
A film that can be treasured and enjoyed by any true film fan....The Wild Bunch will be continually looked upon as one of the most important contributions to American cinema.
on July 17, 2001
Unquestionably the greatest film that Sam Peckinpah directed, this is also one of the great American movies of the 20th century. This epic western about the last days of a ruthless gang of outlaws along the Texas-Mexico line in 1913 remains world-class to this day. William Holden and Ernest Borgnine give their usual sterling performances as the leaders of the Bunch, with Peckinpah stalwarts Warren Oates and Ben Johnson as the Gorches. Edmond O'Brien gives us his Gabby Hayes best as the elder participant in the group. And the sometimes underrated Robert Ryan is excellent as the sympathetic heavy, who must go after Holden under threat of a life in jail, and do so with a scummy group of bounty hunters (including Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones) he calls "gutter trash."
THE WILD BUNCH is also blessed with great cinematography by the legendary Lucien Ballard, a fine score by Jerry Fielding, and world-class editing. But a review of this movie wouldn't be complete, of course, without discussing the film's extreme and intense violence, particularly in the battle between the Bunch and Emilio Fernandez's Mexican federales that concludes the film. Peckinpah managed this by having as many as six cameras running at different speeds, from thirty-two to 128 frames per second, to capture a good deal of the action scenes and violence in slow motion. When edited together with the parts that were shot at regular speed, the effect was a cascading montage of violent action, the likes of which had not been seen since Sergei Eisenstein's BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, and which, aside from Peckinpah, would not be tried by any other major director until Oliver Stone did something very similar in his 1991 film JFK. As a result, THE WILD BUNCH had something like 3,600 different cuts to it, which was the most of any film up to that time, if not *all* time.
Often imitated in its violence but never duplicated in its influence, THE WILD BUNCH is a distinctly American epic and, along with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and BONNIE AND CLYDE, remains not only a groundbreaking film of the 1960s, but a groundbreaking movie for eternity.
on January 17, 2006
Sam Peckinpah's classic western finally got the treatment deserving of it with this special Edition DVD. For years all that was available was a disappointing movie only version of the film that you had to flip over to see the whole thing. Thankfully, this one was given the dual layer treatment and you're able to watch the whole thing with out issue, plus the improved transfer makes the film a little easier to watch, while at the same time maintaining the gritty feel of Peckinpah's original vision.
As far as the features are concerned, there's a pretty good catch of them. The commentary is quite insightful, and the three documentaries including Sam Peckinpah's West done by the western channel a couple of years ago, give more insight into the film and Peckinpah himself.
A must have for movie lovers of all kinds, as well as one of the last truly great westerns ever made.
on January 14, 2006
Many fans of this masterpiece suffered for decades with the shoddy Warner offerings. First there was the original VHS edition from the late seventies. For eighty bucks, one received a VHS in an oversized box that contained a muddy transfer which was brutally hacked, chopped, panned and scanned. And the Beta edition was not much better. Then came the disappointing laser disc editons. Yeah, we finally got a letterbox version, but the picture and sound quality really left something to be desired. All the fans rejoiced when word hit the street that a Director's cut was finally coming out on DVD. But keeping with tradition, Warner gave its fans the shaft once again with a muddy, non-anamorphic DVD edition.
Needless to say, I was pretty pessimistic when word began circulating about the latest DVD release. Of course, I immediately placed my advance order with Amazon. After all, I'd already shelled out hundreds of dollars for this movie, so what would another eighteen bucks matter?
I viewed the movie last evening with two friends who are also fans of The Wild Bunch. I played the DVD on a Denon DVD 3910, which was digitally connected to a 60" Sony Grand Wega. The moment the opening sequence began to play, we could immediately see that this was the edition we'd been waiting all these years for. It brought me back to 1969, when I saw the movie's Manhattan premiere. The colors are finally back to their correct shades, and the audio is right on track. Dialogue is crisp and can be clearly heard, even among menacing gunshots and thundering explosions (get your subwoofers ready). Jerry Fielding's wonderful music score will once again stimulate those little hairs on the back of your neck. I also found myself noticing little scenes (some only a few frames long) that I hadn't really noticed since watching the movie in the theatre. And, thanks to the higher resolution of this DVD edition, one can now see all the subtle details, such as decaying teeth or scattered raindrops falling from a threatning sky.
The extras are icing on an already delicious cake, but I can only give this DVD edition a four out of five possible stars because of the amateurish authoring job. One will see what I mean when trying to navigate through its features.
I guess fans of this epic now have only one more edition to look forward to; High Definition.
Enjoy the movie!
on August 14, 2009
There are a plethora of reviews of the movie, but my review is a comparison of the BD vs DVD version. The BD version is by far, the best version released but it shows the limitations of the older material that was less obvious in DVD. The audio and video is the clearest and sharpest ever but there is a lack of dynamic range in both; color gamuts are narrower, color are sometimes muted, and sound shortcomings are more obvious in BD -- lacking bass and treble so the midrange tends to be loudest. In a few frame colors are off, for example in the scene were Bo Hopkins is shot, the 'blood' the results is brown, versus red. The final gun battle scene is also different from the first 90% of the movie, its less sharp. The final frames with Ryan and O'Brien is even less sharp. I'm not sure if all these issues are due to problems with available film masters, details I couldn't notice on DVD that are Peckinpah's doing, or the lack of care from the digital process, as by comparison, the 1969 2001: Space Odyssey is near perfect audio and visually, lacking only enhanced sound imaging typically of modern movies.
on December 7, 1998
Western cinematography at its best, strong willed anti-hero gunslingers and William Holden's usual strong performance make for the Classic Western of the 60's and certainly better than 99.9% of the westerns made since. Being a bit of a purist, the widescreen DVD is an absolute must for the ultimate Peckinpah experience.
Of course being a Pechinpah film eliminates the squimish, those who demand fast plot development, most of the fairer gender, and those who don't enjoy slow motion death scenes greater than five minutes in duration. Admitedly It is a male testosterone joy ride and you couldn't find a worse choice for romantic nights.
If you liked the story, pace and characters of "The Unforgiven" (Best Picture 1992), this is a likely one for you to add to your collection. If you find yourself enjoying the violence of some Tarantino or Scorsese films - see this.
Many movie historians site "The Wild Bunch" as the movie that ushered in graphic depiction of gore and violence so prevelent today. All have there own takes, for me here the violence does fit the movie and themes presented much like "Raging Bull" (Best Picture 1980). It is far more than the Van Damme or Segal violence for violence sake tripe films of today.
on April 17, 2002
I often feel that if Shane, WyattEarp(the John Ford version) the lawmen of Rio Bravo or High Noon had seen Pike Bishop and Co. walking down their streets, it would've of been a fine time to go fishing. These outlaws are tougher to kill than Dracula and would have pistolwhipped the Count for his drinking habits. This is the closest an American film has caught the mood of a Viking saga; bloody heroes, magnificently bad yet courageous foes,and a sense of doom Gotterdamrung style. Pike Bishop is not a Fordian character like Wayne in the Searchers or in Red River; he is far more harder than those two iron wimps.He holds a pack of wolves together only Dutch truly backs him and his good friend Deke which his arrogance caused to be captured and "corrupted" by the railroad/modernity,is forced to hunt him down with a pack of scurvy hounds that in "the great days" they would have turned on and slaughtered. But because of Pike's continuing guilt at his partner's capture he tries to avoid "to kick hell out of 'em,' like Warren Oates younger Gortch suggests. But. Antiauthoritarianism makes the Bunch take that stroll against Mapaches minions. And like a western version of the Nibelung Saga, they go akillin'. Into legend. Even Matt Dillon would of got out of Dodge seeing that primal force coming.