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DVD Verdict Review - The Wild Bunch Reviews Reviewed by Judge Mike Pinsky


                 THE WILD BUNCH
                 Warner Bros. // 1969 // 145 Minutes // Rated R
                 Reviewed by Judge Mike Pinsky // March 13th, 2001

                  The Charge 
                  "I'm exhausted when I see it. I'm literally exhausted for 
                  hours. And all it is, really, is a simple adventure story." -- 
                  Sam Peckinpah
                  Opening Statement 
                  "We've got to start thinking beyond our guns. Those days are 
                  closing fast," announces Pike Bishop (William Holden), early 
                  in The Wild Bunch. Indeed, by 1969, the western had burned 
                  itself out as a genre. The glory days of John Ford were over. 
                  Even mavericks like Sam Peckinpah, who had trained under the 
                  great Don Siegel and cut his teeth on classic television 
                  westerns like "Gunsmoke," were fading fast. But Peckinpah knew 
                  he had one last great battle left to fight. And in its wake, 
                  The Wild Bunch changed the face of action movies forever.
                  Facts of the Case 
                  In a dusty western border town in the year 1913, a cavalry 
                  troupe rides up to a bank. Scruffy, armed men watch them from 
                  a rooftop, waiting for the moment of ambush. Children in the 
                  street laugh, as they drop a scorpion onto an anthill. A 
                  Temperance Union meeting goes on nearby. But all is not as it 
                  seems: the troopers walk into the bank and pull out guns. 
                  Their robbery is swift and efficient. But as they exit the 
                  bank, using the temperance march as cover, the rooftop posse 
                  -- a group of railroad bounty hunters -- opens fire. There is 
                  swift and bloody carnage, but most of the robbers escape, 
                  leaving one of their own behind to be picked off by the posse. 
                  While the bounty hunters gleefully loot the corpses cluttering 
                  the streets, the sadistic children pile straw on top of the 
                  scorpion, still struggling against a thousand merciless ants, 
                  and light a fire...
                  The Evidence 
                  Rent almost any Hollywood action movie made in the last few 
                  years. See that arbitrary use of slow motion, which stylizes 
                  the violence into numbness? See that frenetic editing, which 
                  stylizes the violence into nonsense? Where did those directors 
                  steal their bag of tricks? And can anyone use those techniques 
                  and make them work?
                  The answer to both questions: Sam Peckinpah.
                  A volatile and talented director, Peckinpah works every note 
                  of The Wild Bunch with brooding intensity. Watch the gang 
                  silently take over a train, methodically uncoupling the engine 
                  and making off with a shipment of weapons while their 
                  adversaries nap in the rear car. Watch their stern march 
                  through town on their way to their final stand: no speeches, 
                  no melodrama -- just grim resignation at the thought that they 
                  must now die for a cause, because the new century has no other 
                  use for them. Many of these powerful sequences were improvised 
                  on set by Peckinpah, who pushed and prodded his cast into some 
                  of the best performances of their careers. And the best 
                  performance of his own career (even if he did still have ten 
                  more films left to go).
                  Wait, did I just say that the Wild Bunch must die? No 
                  surprises here. This story is a tragedy in the classic sense: 
                  characters doomed by their own pride and loyalty caught in a 
                  world that does not care about honor. The Wild Bunch are bank 
                  robbers, criminals, but they learn that the new 20th century 
                  demands a social and political awareness that the mythic "Old 
                  West" did not. After they discover that their bank robbery has 
                  only paid off in worthless metal (part of the railroad bounty 
                  hunters' ambush plan), they flee to Mexico, where they find 
                  the country embroiled in a civil war. Corrupt federal troops, 
                  lead by the gluttonous General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), 
                  consume the town of Agua Verde, while the poor people of the 
                  countryside scrounge for weapons to fight back (and their own 
                  leader, Pancho Villa, is no less brutal than the government). 
                  Drawn into the middle of this political maelstrom, the gang 
                  makes a deal with Mapache and his German advisor (who wants to 
                  destabilize the American military in order to keep the U.S. 
                  out of the coming European war) to steal a trainload of army 
                  rifles. But the gang, at the prodding of the idealistic Angel 
                  (Jaime Sanchez), also intends to hand one crate of those 
                  rifles over to the rebels.
                  Meanwhile, the bounty hunters are led by Deke Thornton (Robert 
                  Ryan), Pike's former partner, who is trying to save his own 
                  neck by capitulating to the authorities (the railroad, which 
                  really conquered the West), selling his own soul for a place 
                  in the new order. But he seems disgusted by his own betrayal, 
                  as he snaps at his petty deputies, "We're after men, and I 
                  wish to God I was with them." This is exactly what makes The 
                  Wild Bunch work: the characters are rich and complex. We care 
                  about them, with all their strengths and flaws, as they 
                  struggle to understand a changing world where horses and 
                  six-shooters are giving way to cars and machine guns. And 
                  honor is giving way to the accountant and the bureaucrat.
                  We care about the characters -- and we care when they die. 
                  Peckinpah's use of violence, for which he has become justly 
                  notorious, is really quite judicious in The Wild Bunch. Slow 
                  motion, rapidly crosscut with regular speed footage, gives a 
                  sense of the breakneck pace of battle -- but Peckinpah's real 
                  skill lies in his editing of these battles. Never once do you 
                  lose track of what is happening. You see each and every death, 
                  and each one has impact. Credit here goes to Lucien Ballard 
                  (cinematography) and Lou Lombardo (editing), but this is 
                  really Peckinpah's guiding hand at work. We must care about 
                  the characters for the violence to have impact, so Peckinpah 
                  fleshes out the principals with careful bits of backstory 
                  (particularly the long history between Pike and Thornton) and 
                  directs the supporting cast to underplay in order to make them 
                  seem more thoughtful and less like western-movie clichés (the 
                  villain's grinning sidekick, the crabby old-timer, and so on). 
                  William Holden and Robert Ryan give marvelous performances as 
                  the world-weary opponents, locked in a battle of wits (note 
                  how each cleverly predicts the other's strategies throughout 
                  the film), forced by circumstance to be enemies when all they 
                  really want is to ride off into that mythic sunset together.
                  And the rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. It is easy to 
                  forget sometimes how good an actor Ernest Borgnine (here 
                  playing Dutch with a mix of boisterous humor and steel-eyed 
                  determination) can be, but his performance is one of the best 
                  of his career. And Edmund O'Brien gives conviction to 
                  cantankerous Sykes -- how many actors can successfully pull 
                  off a character 25 years older than they are?
                  Warner Brothers has remastered the film for its DVD release. 
                  Color-corrected and remixed with Dolby 5.1, this print is a 
                  joy to see. Although not anamorphically enhanced, the color is 
                  still rich and deep, showing off the warm browns and reds with 
                  excellent clarity. Many westerns, because they are shot 
                  outdoors, can easily look washed-out or monochromatic, but 
                  Peckinpah effectively uses a number of different terrains 
                  (woods, deserts, rivers, ravaged villages) to keep our eyes 
                  focused between gun battles and during the long, crucial 
                  stretches of character building. Warner Brothers has done a 
                  fine job making this print look as fresh as it did on its 
                  first release. Even better, the new 5.1 mix allows the 
                  thunderous gunshots to have the frightening punch Peckinpah 
                  As part of the DVD release, Warners has restored ten minutes 
                  of footage to the film, mostly Pike's flashbacks and bits of 
                  the Mapache subplot. With some films, such exposition might be 
                  better off removed in order to kick up the film's pace, but in 
                  the case of The Wild Bunch, such character-development stuff 
                  is absolutely essential in order to give the characters 
                  (particularly Pike) texture. Also included on the disc is a 
                  35-minute documentary, "The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage." 
                  Produced in 1996, the film shows off black and white 
                  production footage and photographs in order to chronicle the 
                  making of Peckinpah's masterpiece. Voice-overs from the 
                  surviving cast and crew (and actors filling in for the dead 
                  ones -- Ed Harris stands in for the steely voice of Peckinpah, 
                  who died in 1984) discuss their impressions of the production 
                  and Peckinpah's methods. Peckinpah saw himself as a bit of an 
                  outlaw and certainly empathized with Pike and his gang. Much 
                  is also made of his skill at on-set improvisation and his 
                  notorious temper. The documentary is a welcome addition 
                  (however, I am not sure it deserved its 1996 Oscar 
                  nomination), although I wish it had gone a bit more into 
                  Peckinpah's career outside this film, or maybe the critical 
                  controversy that met The Wild Bunch on its release, or maybe 
                  more about some of the rest of the crew (editor, 
                  cinematographer, composer).
                  The production notes provided on the DVD do not have much to 
                  say about these things either. A couple of screen-pages about 
                  how the portrayal of violence was groundbreaking (why? Much of 
                  the audience for this film, 30 years later, has seen so many 
                  weak imitations of Peckinpah that a little context is in 
                  order), a list of what scenes were restored for this edition 
                  (which is a nice touch), and a passing mention of the main 
                  themes of the film (that whole personal honor thing) and 
                  Peckinpah's use of slow-motion and cross-cutting. 
                  Filmographies and brief biographies of the principal actors 
                  and Peckinpah, as well as a full-frame trailer (a bit 
                  washed-out, but otherwise in pretty good shape), are also 
                  The Rebuttal Witnesses 
                  Of course, if you just pop the DVD in your player, you may 
                  never find these extras. Warners' packaging of this film is 
                  quite awkward. The feature itself is split into two parts: the 
                  first hour and 35 minutes on one side of the disc, the last 50 
                  on the other -- and it cuts in mid-scene! They should have 
                  split it a few minutes sooner, after the second act's 
                  climactic bridge assault. Hey guys, this is DVD: you don't 
                  have to rely on reel changes. Worse still, on both sides, the 
                  disc defaults to the film automatically. No menu. In order to 
                  get to the menu and find the extras (or heaven forbid the 
                  scene index), you have to fiddle with your remote (they say on 
                  the case that MENU works, but on my remote DIGEST was the only 
                  button that brought up the menu -- you'll have to figure it 
                  out for yourself). Now while I do understand that this disc 
                  came out a few years ago (1997), and two-disc sets were not 
                  yet in fashion, Warner's cheap packaging (in an easily damaged 
                  snapper case no less) is still pretty annoying. But, if you 
                  can get beyond this relic of marketing strategies-gone-by, the 
                  film itself is a masterpiece.
                  Closing Statement 
                  Silly packaging decisions aside, The Wild Bunch is a welcome 
                  addition to the collection of any fan of westerns or action 
                  films. Any director who wants to learn how to show off a fight 
                  sequence properly is instructed to purchase this disc 
                  immediately. The price is reasonable ($20 retail, cheaper 
                  online) for a film that is historically significant and yet 
                  still packs a punch.
                  The Verdict 
                  This court decrees that whoever at Warner Brothers decided it 
                  would be a good idea to package this disc in such an annoying 
                  fashion is to be hogtied and dragged behind a new-fangled 
                  automobile. Everyone else associated with this film is 
                  acquitted and receives a fair share of the loot.


                  Perp Profile
                  Studio: Warner Bros.
                  Video Formats:
                  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic
                  Audio Formats:
                  • Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
                  • English
                  • French
                  • Spanish
                  Running Time: 145 Minutes
                  Release Year: 1969
                  MPAA Rating: Rated R

                  Distinguishing Marks
                  • Cast Biographies and Filmographies
                  • Production Notes
                  • Theatrical Trailer
                  • Documentary: "The Wild Bunch: An Album In Montage"


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The Wild Bunch (1969) article by Jonathan L. Bowen

A collection of aging outlaws under the leadership of Pike Bishop (William Holden) is the most wanted group of men in the West in 1913. When they try to score what they think will be a simple bank robbery, they find themselves surrounded and outnumbered by mercenaries employed by the railroad companies that have suffered from the gang's robberies. One of the former members of the gang and a friend of Pike's, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), decides to help capture or kill the gang because otherwise he has to serve a prison sentence at Yuma. Escaping the ambush at the bank a few men short, but with bags from the bank, they quickly discover nothing but metal washers as their reward. 

The men in the gang know their time as gunslingers is quickly approaching an ending point, but they need one last, lucrative score before they can retire from crime. They decide to leave for Mexico, where they hope they will be able to avoid the men chasing them. When they arrive in the country, they soon meet with Generalissimo Mapache (Emilio Fernandez), a Mexican general with German ties who is fighting against Poncho Villa. Wanting to find men from the United States who do not care for their government, German advisor and Commander Frederick Mohr (Fernando Wagner) and Mapache's Lieutenant Zamorra (Jorge Russek) hire the gang to steal a shipment of guns and ammunition from an American Army munitions train. For the successful completion of the mission, they offer $10,000 in gold to the Wild Bunch. 

Director Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch is one of the greatest Westerns ever made, coming at the end of a decade loaded with classic Western films, especially spaghetti Westerns from director Sergio Leone starring Clint Eastwood. Leone made '60s Western classics such as A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For A Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1967). Additionally, a much more light-hearted, less controversial classic Western came to theaters in 1969, namely Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Both films, however, end with their characters dying in a climactic final gunfight. 

The Wild Bunch both begins and ends with massacres, both involving members of the gang, but the final battle is especially brutal. As a condition of helping the group steal the guns and ammo from the United States Army munitions train, Angel (Jaime Sánchez), the Mexican member of the group, has asked for one of the sixteen crates to arm his people, forgoing his payment of gold in exchange for the favor. General Mapache does not believe the excuse that one crate simply disappeared on the trail; he knows Angel stole it. Mapache takes Angel captive, even torturing him, though the Wild Bunch, hopelessly outnumbered, cannot idly watch their friend suffer. In the final showdown, Pike, Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), Tector Gorch (Ben Johnson), and Lyle Gorch (Warren Oates) kill most of the essential leaders in the camp, including Mapache, but they are facing several hundred Mexican soldiers. Their last stand is valiant, yet foolhardy. 

The final showdown is one of the most bloody, violent, fantastic sequences ever filmed. It is simply brilliant, stunning, and a great ending to an undeniably masterful Western. The four men, aging gunfighters in a new era, show a courage and loyalty that the supposed "good guys" of the movie, the bounty hunters, entirely lack. The members of the Wild Bunch are not great, noble men, but audiences cannot help but feel sympathy for their plight in the movie nonetheless. The sheer complexity and number of shots in the movie's final shootout is breathtaking, doubtlessly inspiring future directors such as Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) and John Woo (Hard Boiled, The Killer, Face/Off). 

A theme common in many Westerns, if not most of them, is the end of the Old West and the changing times in the country. The shrinking wilderness, continued settlement of the West, and technological progress of the twentieth century threaten the gunslinger way of life. Dutch says when seeing a car once, "Now what in the hell is that?" Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956), and Unforgiven (1992) all have similar themes. The Wild Bunch seems especially appropriate for the time of its release, however, when the Western film largely faded from popularity by the end of the '60s. Although, Peckinpah directed a number of less popular Westerns in the coming years, such as The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) and Junior Bonner (1972). 

The Wild Bunch capitalizes on another trend of the late 1960s, which is the popularity of the anti-hero. Perhaps during no other time in American film history has the anti-hero dominated the most popular and memorable films to such a heavy extent. The Graduate (1967), Easy Rider (1967), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and Midnight Cowboy (1969) are basically the essential movies from the time period and all focus on anti-hero protagonists. A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Taxi Driver (1976) followed not too far afterwards, though the late '60s deserve the attention for such a trend, especially because the long-lived Production Code (1934-1968) was just coming to an end. 

The violence in The Wild Bunch shocked audiences of the time, almost earning the film an X-rating from the newly formed MPAA before its release. To imagine the effect the film had on audiences, people more familiar with '90s film should think about the controversy of Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) or Natural Born Killers (1994), to which he only wrote the story. The Wild Bunch is blatantly and intentionally violent throughout, showing violence not as a war-time activity or a habit of only outlaws, but rather as part of human nature itself. 

Early scenes in the movie with the Wild Bunch riding into town to rob the bank show children delighting at the sight of scorpions trapped in the middle of a swarm of red fire ants. The scene is also excellent foreshadowing to the massacre that is soon to occur when bounty hunters ambush the Wild Bunch. Peckinpah also uses an interesting technique during the opening scenes of freezing frames numerous times to display the cast and the credits for the movie. When frozen, the frames appear as black and white sketches of the color film frames, then the movie continues normally. It is a memorable introduction accompanied by excellent music. The film's score, by Jerry Fielding, is great throughout the movie and earned the composer an Academy Award nomination. 

The Wild Bunch won no Academy Awards, but had one additional nomination aside from the recognition of Fielding's score. The screenplay by Walon Green and Peckinpah, based on a story by Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner, also received a nomination and is full of great dialogue. When Dutch tells Pike, speaking of the United States army, which they intend to rob, "They'll be waitin' for us," Pike responds, "I wouldn't have it any other way." Angel objects to robbing the munitions train because he does not want to supply Mapache with guns to kill his people. He says to Pike, "Would you give guns to someone to kill your father or your mother or your brother?" Pike responds, "Ten thousand cuts an awful lot of family ties." 

The group of outlaws has their own moral code, even though they have no problems stealing from others and killing them. Pike says to them, "We're not gonna get rid of anybody. We're gonna stick together, just like it used to be. When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can't do that, you're like some animal - you're finished! We're finished! All of us!" Nonetheless, in the past, Pike has repeatedly abandoned members of his group, so the final act of the film, which has him losing his life for Angel, is really his redemption and his atonement for a lack of loyalty in the past. 

Before its 1969 release, Phil Feldman cut twenty minutes from the movie without Peckinpah's permission or supervision. The scenes cut, actually, are not violent whatsoever. Rather, they delve into the backstory of the characters in greater depth, as explained in the DVD Notes section of the review. With its 3,643 shot-to-shot edits by one count, at least, The Wild Bunch established a new record for the most edits of any Technicolor film. The film also uses a lot of slow motion shots in its violent shootouts. Peckinpah used Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) as an inspiration and a model for his movie, although his group of characters is not idealized like the samurai. Peckinpah forever established himself as an important and brilliant director with The Wild Bunch, which remains the pinnacle of his career. 

The Wild Bunch is #80 on the AFI's Top 100 Greatest Movies List. 

DVD Notes: The Wild Bunch is curiously split over two sides of its DVD, even though the film is only about 140 minutes in length. Side A contains 28 chapters while Side B has the remaining 13 chapters. The division of the film is distracting and poorly arranged. If Titanic (1997) can fit onto a single side of a DVD, so can The Wild Bunch, which is much shorter. The extra features mostly make up for the poor division of the film, though. The DVD has a cast section with more information on William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernandez, Strother Martin, L. Q. Jones, and Director Sam Peckinpah. 

A production notes section has three sub-sections, which include "Violence and Death," "The Restoration," and "About the Production." The "Violence and Death" section mentions how The Wild Bunch brought a "new veracity to America's view of its criminal past and a new way of seeing violence and death," along with such other films as Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Although some audiences did not appreciate the violence, critics saw the need for a realistic portrayal of Western outlaws. 

"The Restoration" section explains the ten minutes of added footage in the Director's Cut of the film. For instance, the first part added back is 2:02 in length and is a flashback of Ryan being shot in the shoulder and captured as Holden escapes. The next scene, 1:32, takes place in the desert and has O'Brien telling Holden that the kid (Bo Hopkins) they left in town during the opening robbery was his grandson. A 1:04 minute scene shows scenes from the Mexican village with Borgnine dancing with a woman. A 1:26 scene shows how Holden was shot in the leg and his wife killed. A 3:10 shows an attack by rebel leader Pancho Villa's forces on Mapache's army. A very short, sixth re-added scene (just seventeen seconds) shows Mapache attending to his wounded men. 

The "About the Production" section explains how director Peckinpah's work usually focused on the idea of honor in a dishonest world. Even in The Wild Bunch, each of the shady characters has his own unusual code of honor. Of particular interest to film buffs, the section mentions that The Wild Bunch is the first feature film ever to use varying speeds of slow-motion images intercut with regular-speed footage. Future editors and filmmakers drew from the style that The Wild Bunch employed. The production notes are well written and informative. 

Side B of the DVD has an original theatrical trailer and even a documentary. The documentary is rather dated looking, but informative and shows many behind-the-scenes looks at the film's making. It is apparently a British documentary, judging by the odd pronunciation of the word "scheduled." Anyhow, the film was budgeted at just $3.5 million and scheduled for 70 days of shooting. The Wild Bunch was Peckinpah's first film in three years, but it changed cinema with its revolutionary editing and violent, realistic portrayal of Old West outlaws. The final shootout in the film had virtually no description in the script, but Peckinpah's improvisation created the masterful final sequence. He labored almost every waking hour of very long days to create the film. 

Creating a story where a group of guys rob, steal, and murder, yet still return to save a man and give guns to the peasants was a great challenge. Who would really believe such a story? Why would such men die for a comrade, even though they seem, at times, dishonorable and selfish? They called the final battle "The Battle of Bloody Porch" and it took twelve days to film. The filmmakers saw the final battle as a sort of ballet, which is perhaps much like Hong Kong action director John Woo manages to make his gun fights beautiful in a chaotic and violent way. 

Peckinpah expected great professionalism from his actors. When they arrived for rehearsals and many of them could not recite their lines, he told them he expected them to know their lines and if they did not, he would find other actors. He gave them twenty minutes to memorize the lines, which they did. The explosion that occurs on the bridge after the train robbery was the last scene Peckinpah filmed. The crew built parts of the bridge out of balsa wood so that it would blow up very easily. 

The footage of the bridge explosion is impressive, as is most all of the documentary footage included, even though it is in black and white, unlike the beautiful color of the film. The crew exploded the bridge at 1:55 p.m. on Sunday, June 30. Peckinpah had shot for 81 days, 330,000 feet of film, with 1,288 camera setups. The movie had more than 3,600 shot-to-shot edits, which was more than any other color film up to the time and perhaps ever. Peckinpah said, "The end of a picture is always the end of a life." The documentary is remarkably high quality and lasts just more than 33 minutes. 



      In an early scene of "The Wild Bunch," the bunch rides into town past a 
      crowd of children who are gathered with excitement around their game. They 
      have trapped a scorpion and are watching it being tortured by ants. The 
      eyes of Pike (William Holden), leader of the bunch, briefly meet the eyes 
      of one of the children. Later in the film, a member of the bunch named 
      Angel is captured by Mexican rebels and dragged around the town square 
      behind one of the first automobiles anyone there has seen. Children run 
      after the car, laughing. Near the end of the film, Pike is shot by a 
      little boy who gets his hands on a gun. 

      The message here is not subtle, but then Sam Peckinpah was not a subtle 
      director, preferring sweeping gestures to small points. It is that the 
      mantle of violence is passing from the old professionals like Pike and his 
      bunch, who operate according to a code, into the hands of a new generation 
      that learns to kill more impersonally, as a game, or with machines. 

      The movie takes place in 1914, on the eve of World War I. "We gotta start 
      thinking beyond our guns," one of the bunch observes. "Those days are 
      closing fast." And another, looking at the newfangled auto, says, "They're 
      gonna use them in the war, they say." It is not a war that would have 
      meaning within his intensely individual frame of reference; he knows 
      loyalty to his bunch, and senses it is the end of his era. 

      This new version of "The Wild Bunch," carefully restored to its original 
      running time of 144 minutes, includes several scenes not widely seen since 
      the movie had its world premiere in 1969. Most of them fill in details 
      from the earlier life of Pike, including his guilt over betraying Thornton 
      (Robert Ryan), who was once a member of the bunch but is now leading the 
      posse of bounty hunters on their trail. Without these scenes, the movie 
      seems more empty and existential, as if Pike and his men seek death after 
      reaching the end of the trail. With them, Pike's actions are more 
      motivated: He feels unsure of himself and the role he plays. 

      I saw the original version at the world premiere in 1969, as part of a 
      week-long boondoggle during which Warner Bros. screened five of its new 
      films in the Bahamas for 450 critics and reporters. It was party time, not 
      the right venue for what became one of the most controversial films of its 
      time - praised and condemned with equal vehemence, like "Pulp Fiction." At 
      a press conference the following morning, Holden and Peckinpah hid behind 
      dark glasses and deep scowls. After a reporter from Reader's Digest got up 
      to attack them for making the film, I stood up in defense; I felt, then 
      and now, that "The Wild Bunch" is one of the great defining moments of 
      modern movies. 

      But no one saw the 144-minute version for many years. It was cut. Not 
      because of violence (only quiet scenes were removed), but because it was 
      too long to be shown three times in an evening. It was successful, but it 
      was read as a celebration of compulsive, mindless violence; see the uncut 
      version, and you get a better idea of what Peckinpah was driving at. 

      The movie is, first of all, about old and worn men. Holden and his fellow 
      actors (Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Edmund O'Brien, Ben Johnson and the 
      wonderful Robert Ryan) look lined and bone-tired. They have been making a 
      living by crime for many years, and although Ryan is now hired by the law, 
      it is only under threat that he will return to jail if he doesn't capture 
      the bunch. The men provided to him by a railroad mogul are shifty and 
      unreliable; they don't understand the code of the bunch. 

      And what is that code? It's not very pleasant. It says that you stand by 
      your friends and against the world, that you wrest a criminal living from 
      the banks, the railroads and the other places where the money is, and that 
      while you don't shoot at civilians unnecessarily, it is best if they don't 
      get in the way. 

      The two great violent set-pieces in the movie involve a lot of civilians. 
      One comes through a botched bank robbery at the beginning of the film, and 
      the other comes at the end, where Pike looks at Angel's body being dragged 
      through the square, and says "God, I hate to see that," and then later 
      walks into a bordello and says, "Let's go," and everybody knows what he 
      means, and they walk out and begin the suicidal showdown with the heavily 
      armed rebels. Lots of bystanders are killed in both sequences (one of the 
      bunch picks a scrap from a woman's dress off of his boot), but there is 
      also cheap sentimentality, as when Pike gives gold to a prostitute with a 
      child, before walking out to die. 

      In between the action sequences (which also include the famous scene where 
      a bridge is bombed out from beneath mounted soldiers), there is a lot of 
      time for the male bonding that Peckinpah celebrated in most of his films. 
      His men shoot, screw, drink, and ride horses. The quiet moments, with the 
      firelight and the sad songs on the guitar and the sweet tender 
      prostitutes, are like daydreams, with no standing in the bunch's real 
      world. This is not the kind of film that would likely be made today, but 
      it represents its set of sad, empty values with real poetry. 

      The undercurrent of the action in "The Wild Bunch" is the sheer 
      meaninglessness of it all. The first bank robbery nets only a bag of iron 
      washers - "a dollar's worth of steel holes." The train robbery is 
      well-planned, but the bunch cannot hold onto their takings. And at the 
      end, after the bloodshed, when the Robert Ryan character sits for hours 
      outside the gate of the compound, just thinking, there is the payoff: A 
      new gang is getting together, to see what jobs might be left to do. With a 
      wry smile he gets up to join them. There is nothing else to do, not for a 
      man with his background. 

      The movie was photographed by Lucien Ballard, in dusty reds and golds and 
      browns and shadows. The editing, by Lou Lombardo, uses slow motion to draw 
      the violent scenes out into meditations on themselves. Every actor was 
      perfectly cast to play exactly what he could play; even the small roles 
      need no explanation. Peckinpah possibly identified with the wild bunch. 
      Like them, he was an obsolete, violent, hard-drinking misfit with his own 
      code, and did not fit easily into the new world of automobiles, and 
      Hollywood studios. 

      Seeing this restored version is like understanding the film at last. It is 
      all there: Why Pike limps, what passed between Pike and Thornton in the 
      old days, why Pike seems tortured by his thoughts and memories. Now, when 
      we watch Ryan, as Thornton, sitting outside the gate and thinking, we know 
      what he is remembering. It makes all the difference in the world. 

    Date of publication: 03/17/1995  

   Pike   William Holden
   Dutch  Ernest Borgnine
   Thornton  Robert Ryan
   The restored version of a film directed by Sam Peckinpah. Running
  time: 144 minutes. Rated R (for extensive and graphic violence).

The Wild Bunch laser disc review

                  THE WILD BUNCH 
                  Laser disc Box Set of Sam Peckinpah’s 
                  Masterpiece * Restored Director’s Cut * Definitive Widescreen 
                  Picture Transfer * 3-Disc CAV Version * Color * 145 minutes * 
                  Includes Oscar-Nominated Documentary * Includes Theatrical 
                  Trailers for 7 Peckinpah films * Includes Exclusive 76-page 
                  Peckinpah Tribute Booklet * Includes Exclusive Soundtrack CD 
                  of Jerry Fielding's Classic Score 
                  This complete package is not on DVD and is now Out-of-Print in 
                  All Formats
                  Directed by Sam Peckinpah * Screenplay by Walon Green and Sam 
                  Peckinpah * Starring William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest 
                  Borgnine, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Ben 
                  Johnson, Emilio Fernandez, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Albert 
                  Dekker * Warner Brothers, Released 1969, Restored 1995

                  "It’s a traumatic poem of violence, with imagery as ambivalent 
                  as Goya’s. By a supreme burst of filmmaking energy Sam 
                  Peckinpah is able to convert chaotic romanticism into 
                  exaltation; the film is perched right on the edge of 
                  incoherence, yet it’s comparable in scale and sheer poetic 
                  force to Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. There are images of 
                  great subtlety and emotional sophistication: a blown-up 
                  bridge, with horses and riders falling to the water in an 
                  instant extended (by slow motion) to eternity; a vulture sits 
                  on a dead man’s chest and turns his squalid, naked head to 
                  stare at the camera. The movie is set in the Texas and Mexico 
                  of 1914, and, in Peckinpah’s words, ‘I was trying to tell a 
                  simple story about bad men in changing times. The Wild Bunch 
                  is simply what happens when killers go to Mexico. The strange 
                  thing is that you feeml a great sense of loss when these 
                  killers reach the end of the line.’ That’s accurate, as far as 
                  it goes. But Peckinpah has very intricate, contradictory 
                  feelings, and he got so wound up in the aesthetics of violence 
                  that what had begun as a realistic treatment – a 
                  deglamourization of warfare that would show how horribly 
                  gruesome killing really is – became instead an almost abstract 
                  fantasy about violence. The bloody deaths are voluptuous, 
                  frightening, beautiful.  Pouring new wine into the bottle of 
                  the Western, Peckinpah explodes the bottle; his story is too 
                  simple for this imagist epic. And it’s no accident that you 
                  feel a sense of loss for each killer of the Bunch; Peckinpah 
                  makes them seem heroically, mythically alive on the screen. 
                  With William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Ben 
                  Johnson, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Bo Hopkins, L.Q.Jones, 
                  Strother Martin, Jaime Sanchez, Emilio Fernandez, Albert 
                  Dekker, and Dub Taylor. With cinematography by Lucien Ballard, 
                  editing by Lou Lombardo, and music by Jerry Fielding. The 
                  script is by Walon Green and Peckinpah, based on story 
                  material by Green and Roy N. Sickner; the film was possibly 
                  influenced by Clouzot’s 1953 The Wages of Fear.” 
                  -- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

                  “His editing style – much imitated but never equaled – was the 
                  most revolutionary since Sergei Eisenstein’s use of montage in 
                  The Battleship Potemkin. ‘No one, even today, has mastered the 
                  art of multicamera, multispeed editing like Peckinpah has,’ 
                  says Paul Schrader. ‘He would have five or six cameras going, 
                  all at different speeds and in his mind he had figured out 
                  which camera had to be at which speed – which one is running 
                  at 32 frames [per second] and 24, and 96, and 48, and how 
                  they’re going to cut together.’ The Wild Bunch changed forever 
                  the way movies would be made and left its mark on an entire 
                  generation of film directors: Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver 
                  Stone, Michael Cimino, Walter Hill, Alex Cox, and John Milius, 
                  to name only a few. ‘There is no doubt when seeing his films 
                  that you are looking at one of the great masters of American 
                  cinema,’ says Martin Scorsese.’” 
                  -- David Weddle, If They Move…Kill ‘Em: The Life and Times of 
                  Sam Peckinpah

                  “[In March 1995 Warner Brothers released fully restored 70mm 
                  prints of Peckinpah’s original cut of The Wild Bunch to 
                  American theaters.]  Warners went through a nightmare retiming 
                  the print for its 1995 restoration...Whatever the problems of 
                  the release prints, Warner Home Video has accomplished a minor 
                  miracle in the transfer to laserdisc. Using the 1969 prints as 
                  a guide and the all-new digital technology available for 
                  visual restoration, Warners’ video technicians, headed by Ned 
                  Price, with Gregg Garvin doing the telecine, have come up with 
                  a transfer that for overall color balance and timing is far 
                  more faithful to the film as it looked in 1969 than in any of 
                  the 1995 prints. The stereo soundtrack of the laserdisc is in 
                  both surround and the new, all-discrete AC-3 format. Warners 
                  refurbished the original stereophonic dub for the 1995 
                  restoration, and that has been managed to perfection. Steven 
                  C. Brown, an archivist and film editor, spent weeks 
                  scrupulously gathering together and preparing the disparate 
                  sound elements for the chief mixer, Robert Litt, and his 
                  colleague, Elliot Tyson. It is thanks to their meticulousness 
                  (especially Litt’s as a dialogue mixer) that the film has 
                  never sounded better, with dialogue, background lines, 
                  atmosphere, and effects emerging with unprecedented clarity. 
                  This is one of the great dubs in the history of film, and at 
                  last the magnitude of the achievement is fully evident.”
                  -- Paul Seydor on the laserdisc restoration of The Wild Bunch, 
                  from Peckinpah – The Western Films: A Reconsideration 

                  "Fans of Sam Peckinpah are going to want to go to the well one 
                  more time, because Warner Home Video has released a wonderful 
                  new gift-sized Special Edition of The Wild Bunch 'Director's 
                  Cut' (WB 14035).  The color transfer is excellent and the 
                  stereo soundtrack, though an older and less elaborate mix, is 
                  fine, accompanied by a Dolby Digital track that is even a 
                  little livelier in places. On side six, however, Warner has 
                  included Paul Seydor's Oscar-nominated 33 minute retrospective 
                  documentary, The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage, which 
                  utilized uncovered black-and-white footage of Peckinpah at 
                  work directing the film as a back drop for oral reminiscences 
                  about the movie and about Peckinpah. The documentary was 
                  included on Warner's DVD release (Jun 97), but this is its 
                  first appearance on disc, and it gives you a genuine feel for 
                  what working on the location shoot was like. Both the film and 
                  the documentary are adequately closed captioned. Rounding out 
                  the side are seven theatrical trailers of the Peckinpah films 
                  under Warner or MGM/UA Home Video control. The disc comes in a 
                  large box jacket that also contains a new 76 minute CD, 
                  presenting a remixed and remastered recording of Jerry 
                  Fielding's musical score, along with a large 'commemorative 
                  tribute book' with terrific pictures and superbly written 
                  essays about the film and about Peckinpah. The fifteen 
                  articles in the 76 page book, by a variety of authors, are 
                  more elaborate than any disc still frame text supplement could 
                  hope to be, and include an elaborate look at the musical 
                  score, the final word on the film's 'restoration', and 
                  in-depth interviews with Peckinpah." 
                  -- Douglas Pratt, The Laser Disc Newsletter on the Deluxe 
                  Edition laserdisc of The Wild Bunch

                  Is this the greatest of all contemporary American films?  I 
                  can't think of a better one.  Psycho?  Nashville?  Bonnie and 
                  Clyde?  2001: A Space Odyssey?  Maybe.  MAYBE...
                  Here we have one of the crown jewels of the great 
                  movie-lover’s era – the deluxe box set edition of The Wild 
                  Bunch. I don’t remember any laserdisc release that was more 
                  hotly anticipated back in the mid-1990's. Following a wildly 
                  successful 1995 theatrical restoration of the troubled but 
                  irrefutably brilliant director Sam Peckinpah’s magnum opus 
                  (which several film critics have suggested is the most 
                  important American film since Citizen Kane), Warners put the 
                  film out on CLV laserdisc, promising that a deluxe edition of 
                  the film would soon follow.  
                  And then we waited...and waited..and waited.  The release date 
                  of the box set kept getting pushed back -- for almost two 
                  years, until this package finally came out in summer 1997, at 
                  the very tail end of the great movie-lover's laserdisc era. It 
                  was worth the wait. In addition to the 3 platters containing 
                  the movie (featuring a landmark picture transfer and sound 
                  mix, and presented in the unmatchably detailed CAV format, 
                  which looks considerably better than DVD in still frames), 
                  purchasers of the box set also got some wonderful extras: 
                  theatrical trailers for 7 of Peckinpah’s films; Paul Seydor’s 
                  impressionistic, Oscar-nominated documentary The Wild Bunch: 
                  An Album in Montage; a stunning 76-page tribute booklet 
                  stuffed with previously unseen stills, previously unpublished 
                  essays by noted Peckinpah critics and scholars, reminiscences 
                  from various cast and crew members, script excerpts, and 
                  interviews with Peckinpah (1969), composer Jerry Fielding 
                  (1978), and Warners head honcho Kenneth Hyman (who originally 
                  green-lit the production); and maybe best of all, an otherwise 
                  unavailable CD containing Jerry Fielding’s tremendous score, 
                  here restored and remastered for the first time. 
                  Warner Brothers had long had a reputation for not giving a 
                  damn about their considerable cinematic legacy and for 
                  ignoring their archives – this box set, a landmark laserdisc 
                  release, put that reputation to rest in a hurry. 
                  Unfortunately, 1997 marked the twilight of the great laserdisc 
                  era, and this box set ended up going out of print within a 
                  year. At this time the box set, which has become very 
                  difficult to find intact, remains the sole source for most of 
                  the bonus features -- most notably the booklet, several of the 
                  trailers, and the CD. 

                  "Peckinpah did it the only way he know how: from his soul 
                  and from his guts, as the obsessed, anguished, angry, 
                  passionate poet he was, descending into the maelstrom of his 
                  own darkness, the only control he was able finally to exert 
                  the artistic control of channeling all the rage and fury he 
                  found into this ferocious, apocalyptic poem, which is at once 
                  profoundly subversive and profoundly redemptive.” 
                  -- Peckinpah scholar (and award-winning film editor) Paul 
                  Seydor, excerpted from his essay on The Wild Bunch in the box 
                  set booklet 

The Wild Bunch: One of the best (and the DVD’s not bad either): By Roy (Madbandit) Phillips


            1914 was the year. The Temperance union was protesting against 
            alcohol and sexual promiscuity. Automobiles and airplanes were 
            popping up, and the desperado, that wild, swearing, wandering, 
            beer-sucking, whore-screwing, bank-robbing, six-gun shooting outlaw, 
            was going to be the bedfellow of the dinosaur. Proper civilization 
            and soulless corporations emerge and kicked barbarism and humanity 
            (most of it, really) out of the big picture. 

            But there were scrappy holdouts, the kind who would be cold before 
            they were tamed. They called them…The Wild Bunch. 

            After a bad fall with “Major Dundee” (a likable rough draft of 
            “Bunch” in my view), being fired from the Steve McQueen vehicle “The 
            Cincinnati Kid” (Norm Jewison took over as director) and 
            work-scrounging in TV, maverick filmmaker Sam Peckinpah came back 
            into theatrical film with a gun in one hand, a machete in the other, 
            a blowtorch behind his back and a sense of honor in his heart, in 
            the summer of 1969. Six men make up the gang: stern leader Pike 
            Bishop (William Holden), gentlemanly Dutch Engstrom (Ernest 
            Borgnine), raucous siblings Lyle (Warren Oates) and Tector Gorch 
            (Ben Johnston), tempestuous but gallant Angel (Jaime Sanchez) and 
            old, dirty, desert rat Freddie Sykes (Edmond O’Brien). A botched 
            robbery of a railroad company, earning “a dollar’s worth of steel 
            holes”, forces the men into Mexico, pursed by ex-pal Deke Thorton (a 
            world weary Robert Ryan), who freed from jail but manipulated by 
            money-minded railroad magnate Pat Harrigan (Albert Dekker of the 
            sci-fi cult film, “Dr. Cyclops”) into leading a band of ad hoc 
            bounty hunters, who used to be railroad hobos from the look of them 
            and are willing to kill for cash or junk. The wanted and unwanted 
            aren’t safe from them, and you’ll wonder who the good guys are 

            There’s more trouble: the vile, delusional, drunk-as-a-skunk Mexican 
            army general Mapache (Mexico-based filmmaker Emilio Fernandez) hires 
            the bunch to steal sixteen cases of guns and firepower from an 
            Army-guarded train to fight the Mexican Revolutionaries, led by the 
            iconic Pancho Villa. 

            In an interview for Playboy magazine, Western film star John Wayne 
            despised the film because it sinisterly twisted the genre. He wasn’t 
            alone. Critics and moviegoers deplored the film’s unflinching 
            violence, misogynism (women were either chaste white Christians or 
            voluptuous Mexican whores) and misanthropism, However, other than 
            the film’s financial jackpot, they couldn’t be any more wrong about 
            it. Sure, “Bunch” is book-ended by two beautiful, ballet-like gun 
            plays, encrusted in blood, sweat, steel and fire, but the middle 
            shows humanity, albeit flawed, in the killers. Pike holds loyalty to 
            his heart, but is a hypocrite because (Spoilers) he left Thorton to 
            get caught by the law in a bordello. Dutch (Borgnine, who’s out of 
            place yet fits because of his happy-go-lucky sitcom role of Lt. 
            Cmdr. Quinton McHale of “McHale’s Navy”), is a boy scout in terms of 
            women, but in the end, he does the unthinkable. The Gorch brothers 
            are “good old boys”, Tector being superior over Lyle due to age, but 
            both barely have the sense of a mule. Angel dreams of a free Mexico, 
            but gets over his head and Freddie, a profane parody of Western 
            character actor George “Gabby” Hayes, is a fun-loving, reminiscent 
            codger, but he forgets his age and stamina, and dooms either his 
            fellows or himself in heated situations. 

            This is why the film matters a lot: a group of men whose era has 
            passed them by, but they struggle to keep their individualism and 
            humanity intact, even if they have to kill to retain them. How 
            intriguingly, ironically and magnificently noble. 

            Oscar-nominated for best original screenplay (It lost to the more 
            friendly “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), the story’s 
            unconventional for a Western, breaking out of the genre, thanks to 
            Sam, Walon Green (he co-wrote “Robocop 2” with Peckinpah 
            student/comic book visionary Frank Miller, and is currently an exec 
            producer on “Law and Order”) and Roy N. Sickner (a stuntman who 
            worked on the film). The Oscar-nominated music score (lost to Butch 
            and Sundance, too) by Jerry Fielding (blacklisted for hiring 
            African-American musicians) ran around the emotional spectrum; the 
            photography of Lucien Ballard echoes John Ford’s work and the quick 
            cuts and slow-action shots of editor Lou Lombardo (produced by the 
            first Cheech and Chong film, “Up In Smoke”) perfectly note a 
            connection between film and comic books (Sam was slated to direct 
            the first Superman film, but his rep went south at the time). The 
            actors and their characters, big and small, are glorious, from the 
            bunch to Mapache’s two underlings, Zamora (Jorge Russek) and Herrera 
            (Alfonso Arau, who later directed the Oscar-winning foreign film 
            “Like Water For Chocolate”) and to Thorton’s sleazy companions, 
            particularly Coffer (Strother Martin) and T.C. (Peckinpah stock 
            actor L.Q. Jones, who directed the cult classic, “A Boy and His 
            Dog”). As for Sam, he’s subtle as a chainsaw with allegorical 
            imagery (ants devouring scorpions in the beginning, suggested by 
            Fernandez from a childhood memory and kids playing a mock gunplay 
            after a real one) and silent facial stares (Pike looking at the 
            Gorches firmly before the group‘s last stand). He would have been a 
            king in the silent movie area. 

            The two-disc DVD set is a more than appreciated apology for the 
            pathetic “flip” disc which cut the masterpiece in half. It’s Sam’s 
            cut all right, in both DVD versions, after Warner Bros. Pictures 
            restored the film to its’ initial running time (145 minutes) for 
            its’ 25th anniversary re-release. However, I first saw the film on 
            broadcast TV, when I was fifteen, with the cut scenes intact. Though 
            topless nudity and mild profanity were exoricised from that print 
            (thanks FCC, you rum bums), I fell in love with both Sam and the 
            film, which is polished, visually and soundly, on Disc One. The 
            audio commentary by biographers/fans/experts, Nick Redman, Paul 
            Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle (I dub them “The Bloody 
            Four”) is all over the place, but it’s fun to listen to. A trailer 
            gallery, including “Bunch” and other Peckinpah plays, “The Getaway” 
            (Sam’s make-up tryst with McQueen, along with "Junior Bonner"), “The 
            Ballad Of Cable Hogue”, “Ride The High Country” and “Pat Garrett and 
            Billy The Kid” (the last two were part of Ted Turner’s cinematic 
            booty from MGM). These other films are on DVD. I’ll get them all!!! 

            Disc Two is a treat with three documentaries. “The Wild Bunch: An 
            Album In Montage” is an Oscar nominee, composed by Redman (who 
            narrated it) and Seydor. It’s loaded with rare, black-and-white, 
            behind the scenes footage of the film and audio quotes from the cast 
            and crew, some read by actors, like Ed Harris who does Sam, who left 
            the world in 1984. It’ll make a strong man cry. 

            The second is a sweet one from Starz’s Western Channel. “Sam 
            Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade” has interviews of 
            those who worked with Sam (Kris Kristofferson of “Garrett“, who 
            narrated this featurette, Jones, and Stella Stevens of “Hogue”, 
            among others), those related (kid sister Fern Lee, son Matthew, who 
            had bits parts in “Bunch” and “Hogue”, and daughter Lupita, whose 
            mother, Begonia Palacios, played a nurse in “Dundee”), those who 
            worked with his behind the scenes and those who admired his work 
            (some of “The Bloody Four”, film critics Elvis Mitchell and Roger 
            Ebert and actors Michael Madsen, Benicio Del Toro and Billy Bob 
            Thornton). Interesting that Madsen and Del Toro co-starred in the 
            avant-garde love letter addressed to Sam, “Frank Miller’s Sin City”, 
            based on Miller’s graphic crime novels and co-directed by the man 
            himself and fellow Peckinpah students, Robert Rodriquez (the El 
            Mariachi and Spy Kids films) and Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”, 
            the “Kill Bill” films). Also interesting is Thornton's resemblance to 
            Sam. A bio film in the creative stew, perhaps? 

            Though short, a clip from “A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, 
            Mexico and The Wild Bunch”, a film by Redman, has him, his fellow 
            Peckinpah pals, Lupita and an old writer friend of Sam’s visit the 
            locales of where “Bunch” was filmed in Mexico. It’s like a National 
            Geographic special, but I wanted to see more. 

            When it was re-released, the Motion Picture Association of America 
            gave “Bunch” a NC-17. (Mitchell mistakenly refers it as its’ former 
            rating X in “West” ) Warner Bros rightfully appealed for a R and won 
            it, but the fact it could get a rating that’s usually given to 
            rarely made, sexually graphic film only proves “Bunch’s” impact on 
            the senses is still haunting to this day. Yet some of the pieces 
            have blood, gunplays and nothing else, Sam’s students made a mighty 
            homage of films to him. My favorite “teacher’s pets” are Miller, 
            Rodriquez, Tarantino, the Brothers Wachowski, Brian Helgeland, John 
            McTiernan, Shinichiro Watanabe and Stephen J. Cannell. 

            If anything, “Bunch” is a ballistic but romantic tale of honorable 
            men in a dishonorable world, fighting to save alive spiritually. The 
            aforementioned “Sin City” (I’ll review the SE DVD soon) comes very 
            close to this Western that jumps out from being a Western like a 
            jackrabbit on heroin, and, to quote Mr. Bishop, “I wouldn’t have it 
            any other way.” Watch it while eating ketchup-drenched fried 
            chicken, will ya?