- Directed by Sam Peckinpah
- June 18, 1969
A group of aging outlaws are in search of one last big score as the Old West they once thrived in disappears around them.
The Wild Bunch is not necessarily my cup of tea, but it was entertaining. This is a Revisionist Western and the characters in those are all terrible people and the goal is to subvert the tropes of the traditional Western. I prefer my Westerns to be more like cinematic comfort food. Maybe subverting tropes is why Westerns are not as popular as they once were. People like and find comfort in tropes. Subvert them too often and they no longer wish to view that genre. Anyway…
I have seen some Sam Peckinpah work such as the original Straw Dogs and The Getaway and this follows the character mold of those films. There are no decent people here really. They are all varying shades of terrible.
The acting is fine but then again these were all fine actors. In the gang of old timers we have William Holden as Pike Bishop who leads the aging gang. Ernest Borgnine is his righthand man Dutch Engstrom. Brothers Lyle and Tector Gorch are played by Warren Oates and Ben Johnson respectively. Angel is played by Jaime Sánchez. Old timer Freddie Sykes is played by Edmond O’Brien.
Robert Ryan is Deke Thornton who was at one point Pike’s partner before Deke got arrested. Now, to stay out of jail, Deke has agreed to track his old gang for the railroad and bring them to justice. Deke probably would rather be with his old gang as the posse he currently has is clearly not of the caliber of his previous partners.
There is a lot of double-dealing and backstabbing in The Wild Bunch. I understand they are all terrible people but there is a certain level of backstabbing and double-dealing that makes functioning as a criminal highly improbable and that occurs often in the story. There is no way an outlaw from any era could be successful in that environment.
The action scenes are well helmed and over the top with tons of blood squibs. There must have been 15 to 20 gallons of fake blood used every time bullets started to fly. The final fight, one of the best in film, is insane and spattered with gratuitous amounts of red.
Just about everybody in this film dies by the end. Only two characters make it all the way to the final moments. The film certainly has its moments. I do not think I could have watched until the end if it did not have some good acting and some good moments in the story.
One of the themes in this film is change. Specifically the ending of one way of life and the beginning of another. Pike early on notes that they need to think beyond their guns because they are getting too old and their world is all but ended.
Another theme is betrayal. In the opening robbery they left T.C. (L.Q. Jones) behind as they made their escape, and it haunts them to one extent or another for the rest of the film. There are points where it seems like they are trying to make amends for that betrayal.
The Wild Bunch is certainly not my favorite film ever. If you are into Revisionist Westerns, then this is a must see but if you like the older style of Western then you can probably skip this one.