The Wild Bunch
|Key Cast||William Holden, Ernest Borgnine|
“The Wild Bunch” Is a Gritty and Innovative Classic Western
One of the most influential (and bloodiest) Westerns ever made, Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 masterpiece “The Wild Bunch” also left its mark indelibly on filmmakers of all genres. From its innovative use of slow-motion sequences to its violent grittiness, this border-country tale retains its freshness and vigor decades later.
The western is set in 1913, as the Wild West is becoming increasingly tamed and civilized. Against this backdrop of changing times, Pike Bishop (William Holden) leads his gang of vintage desperadoes in a heist at a railroad office. They’re set upon by a former partner of Bishop’s, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), recently released from jail on the condition he lead a bounty posse to apprehend his old outlaw buddies. The ensuing gun battle claims both some members of Bishop’s gang as well as innocent civilians—and sets in motion a back-against-the-wall struggle that inevitably reflects the fading-out of the frontier era.
Bishop and the survivors—among them Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine) and Angel (Jaime Sanchez)—head for Mexico, embroiled in its bloody revolution, along the way reconnecting with another aged gunfighter, Freddie Sykes (Edmond O’Brien). Here the gang becomes entangled with a ruthless general named Mapache (Emilio Fernandez), even as they continue to contend with Thornton and his bounty hunters.
The desperation and bloodiness of “The Wild Bunch” movie gains even greater resonance when the viewer considers the cultural and political context of its original release: the tumult of the late 1960s, with Vietnam polarizing a citizenry thrumming with social struggle and transformation. Even today, the intensity and furious choreography of its gunfights, blood and gore can be startling—as startling as its cinematography is dazzling.
“The Wild Bunch” remains a progressive and defining American classic western. In 1999 it was added to the U.S. Library of Congress National Film Registry.
• Because of the enormous amount of violence and gore, “The Wild Bunch” was not well-received by everyone. There were many who found the violence revolting, especially scenes that showed numerous people being massacred. Joseph Gelmis, writing in Newsday magazine stated that this movie was “the bloodiest movie I’ve ever seen, maybe the bloodiest ever made.” Supporters of this enormous violence, however, stated that they believe Sam Peckinpah had to show the violence so graphically in order to condemn it.
In the Saturday Review magazine, Arthur Knight summed up his view of the controversy surrounding the level of violence in “The Wild Bunch” as follows:
“There are, at the very least, two ways of looking at violence. On the one hand, there is shock. Someone does something horrible to somebody else – stabs, mutilates, shoots in cold blood – and the immediate instinct is to protest, especially if it happens in a movie… The other approach is to recognize that violence lies all about us and go to such extremes in depicting it that the viewer is ultimately revolted and turns against it in any manifestation … I would prefer to believe that Sam Peckinpah was sincere when he stated that he wanted to make a picture so strong, so stomach-churning, so detailed in its catalogue of horrors that all the glamour, all the attraction of violence for its own sake would promptly disappear. I think he is wrong, but I very much doubt that anyone who was not totally honest in his wrongheadedness could ever come up with a picture as totally revolting as this.”
• Actor Ernest Borgnine, who plays Dutch Engstrom in the movie, said that “The Wild Bunch” is his personal favorite western and that he considered it one of the best western movies ever made.
• “The Wild Bunch” was added to the prestigious United States National Film Registry in 1999. Only 25 movies per year are chosen for this distinctive honor.
• “The Wild Bunch” was nominated for two Academy Awards – Best Screenplay and Best Music Score.
The Wild Bunch
“The Wild Bunch” movie is a gritty and innovative classic western starring William Holden and Ernest Borgnine. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, it won two Academy Awards and was added to the National Film Registry in 1999.
The Wild Bunch
This Blu-ray Disc version of “The Wild Bunch” has the best picture quality available for home viewing.
There’s also bonus material, including three documentaries:
• Sam Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade
• 1996 Oscar Nominee**The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage
• Excerpt from A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico and the Wild Bunch, a Documentary Film by Nick Redman
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