The Wild Bunch (1969)

Unchanged men in a changing land

Aging outlaw, Pike Bishop prepares to retire after one final robbery. Joined by his gang, Dutch Engstrom and brothers Lyle and Tector Gorch, Bishop discovers the heist is a setup orchestrated in part by a former partner, Deke Thornton. As the remaining gang takes refuge in Mexican territory, Thornton trails them—resulting in fierce gunfights with plenty of casualties.

Brutal and elegiac masterpiece.
Outlaws led by Pike Bishop on the Mexican/U.S. frontier face not only the passing of time, but bounty hunters (led by former partner of Pike, Deke Thornton) and the Mexican army as well.
In 1969 Sam Peckinpah picked up the torch that Arthur Penn lit with 1967's "Bonnie & Clyde", and literally poured gasoline on it to impact on cinema to the point that the shock wave is still being felt today. The death of the "Motion Picture Production Code" in 1967 ushered in a new era for cinema goers, it was a time for brave and intelligent directors to step up to the plate to deliver stark and emotive thunder, and with "The Wild Bunch", director Sam Peckinpah achieved this by the shed load.
The Wild Bunch doesn't set out to be liked, it is a harsh eye opening perception of the Western genre, this is the other side of the coin to the millions of Westerns that whoop and holler as the hero gets the girl and rides off into the sunset. Peckinpah's piece is thematically harsh and sad for the protagonists, for these are men out of their time, this is a despicable group of men, driven by greed and cynicism, they think of nothing to selling arms to a vile amoral army across the border.
The film opens with a glorious credit sequence as we witness "The Bunch" riding into town, the picture freeze frames in black & white for each credit offering, from here on in we know that we are to witness something different, and yes, something very special. The film is book-ended by ferocious bloody carnage, and sandwiched in the middle is an equally brilliant train robbery and a slow-mo bridge destruction of high quality. Yet the impact of these sequences are only enhanced because the quality of the writing is so good (Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner alongside Peckinpah).
There's no pointless discussions or scene filling explanations of the obvious. Each passage, in each segment, is thought through to gain credibility for the shattering and bloody climax. There is of course one massive and intriguing question that hangs over the film - just how did Peckinpah make such low moral men appear as heroes, as the "four outlaws of the apocalypse" stroll into town, their fate to them already known?. Well I'm not here to tell you that because you need to witness the film in its entirety for yourself. But it's merely one cheeky point of note in a truly majestic piece of work. A film that even today stands up as one of the greatest American films ever made. 10/10

Warner Brothers-Seven Arts by Sam Peckinpah, Walon Green, Roy N. Sickner.
Stars: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien.

Genres: Action, Adventure, Western

Keywords: underdog robbery bounty hunter texas mexican revolution friendship honor gang shootout soldier steam locomotive righteous rage wild

06/19/1969

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