on July 15, 2004
The Wild Bunch-Restored Director's Cut is one of the best westerns ever made and also one of the best movies ever. In 1913 during the Mexican Revolution, times are changing as the Old West disappears into oblivion. After a botched robbery in the town of Starbuck, the Wild Bunch, a gang of aging outlaws must decide what their next move is. The remaining members of the gang decide to head south into Mexico where their services may be needed. The bunch robs a gun shipment for a Mexican general, hoping this will be their last job. At the same time, a posse is hunting them down with a former gang member at the posse's head. While this movie is most well known for its violence, it is ultimately a story about honor among men in a changing time. Knowing that the world they knew is changing, the bunch has to try and survive as their end closes in. Nonetheless, director Sam Peckinpah knows how to construct an action sequence. The Battle of Bloody Porch is a balletic, slow-motion, masterpiece of blood and guts as the Wild Bunch meets their end. Just as good is their final march through the streets knowing what awaits them. One of the best westerns, if not the best, ever made and highly recommended.
What makes this movie special, along with the groundbreaking filmmaking of Sam Peckinpah, is the cast. The whole cast gives excellent performances. William Holden stars as Pike Bishop, the leader of the Wild Bunch who knows time is running out for the bunch. His right hand man, Dutch Engstrom, is played by Ernest Borgnine in a perfect part for him. Robert Ryan plays Deke Thornton, a former member of the Wild Bunch and the unwilling leader of the posses following the gang. The rest of the gang includes Edmond O'Brien as Freddie Sykes, Warren Oates and Ben Johnson as brothers Lyle and Tector Gorch, and Jaime Sanchez as Angel. Emilio Fernandez plays Mapache, the Mexican general who pays the bunch to steal a shipment of guns. Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones are great as Coffer and TC, members of the posse. What is surprising about these characters is that as despicable as they are, they are still likable. The Restored Director's Cut DVD includes about ten minutes cut from the original version, a theatrical trailer, production notes, an excellent making of documentary, "The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage", and a great-looking widescreen presentation. For a great western with incredible gunfights, a terrific cast, and a great story, check out the truly classic western, The Wild Bunch!
on February 15, 2014
This is for the Blu Ray. Received the Blu Ray version for Christmas. I cannot believe how wonderful the movie looks. I've watched this movie at least a hundred times on VHS and DVD but watching it on Blu Ray is like watching it for the very first time!
on July 5, 2004
"The Wild Bunch" is not the typical western that tells the story of a bunch of good ol' cowboys versus the mean ol' Indians, this movie goes beyond the cliches of the earlier westerns, so in some way "The Wild Bunch" resembles more to a Spaghetti Western than a John Wayne-versus-the-indians western.
Sam Peckinpah took two steps forward the use of violence in the movies, he show the world how to use violence in a movie to produce visual art. Of course, some might complain about the cruel scenes in "The Wild Bunch", but open minded people know that the violence in the movies is not even close to the cruelty of the real world violence, plus, the violence in a movie can produce visual art if it's used in the right way, like Sam Peckinpah or Sergio Leone did in their movies.
"The Wild Bunch" has an excellent cast: the always efficient William Holden and Ernest Borgnine plus a great supporting cast that includes names like Robert Ryan, Warren Oates and Emilio Fernández. Also, the director Sam Peckinpah gave importance to each character, and that contributed to form a solid story. The cinematography is spectacular, "The Wild Bunch" has a lot of impressive camera angles that show the cruelty of the bullets and explosions, and the movie has some of the most impressive scenes ever put to film.
"The Wild Bunch" is in a very selected group of westerns. That list includes movies like "High Noon". "The Searchers", "Stagecoach", "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" and "Once Upon A Time In The West", among few others. That list includes the best westerns, and "The Wild Bunch" belongs in the list.
on March 24, 2004
It's 1913, a bunch of outlaws, led by Pike Bishop, have been riding along the U.S.- Mexican border. Their world is changing rapidly around them - progress is changing the land, in one scene they see a motor car and talk about a flying motor car they had heard of. "The Wild Bunch" realize that their place in time is nearly at an end, and they decide to call it quits and retire after one final haul.
Holden is Pike Bishop, the no-nonsense leader of the Bunch; Borgnine is Dutch, his dogged, faithful second-in-command; Jaime Sanchez is a Mexican named Angel; Warren Oates and Ben Johnson are the Gorch brothers, Lyle and Tector; Bo Hopkins is Crazy Lee. Pike's nemeses are his ex-partner, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a haunted man who has been hired out of Yuma Prison to hunt Pike down; the ruthless railroad security chief Harrigan (Albert Dekker); and a scurvy band of "gutter trash" (including Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones) out for bounty.
"The Wild Bunch" is considered one of the masterpieces of the Western film genre, a hard-edged landmark film, beautifully shot in wide-screen by cinematographer Lucien Ballard. With numerous, elaborate montage sequences, the film set a record for more edits than any other film up to its time.
Its unrelenting, bleak tale told of outlaws bound by a code of honour and friendship. The film is book-ended by two extraordinary sequences - the gang of desperadoes are first assaulted in the film's opening ambush following a bank robbery, and then brutally destroyed in the film's conclusion - in some of the bloodiest, most violent shoot-up scenes ever filmed.
Loyalty is certainly a main theme. For all the internal strife within the Bunch, the bonds that tie them together are far more powerful than those which seek to break them apart. Betrayal of any sort is unthinkable, which gives added resonance to the dynamics between Pike and Thornton. Once companions, now enemies, only death can free one from the other. Oaths are important because they cement loyalty. One line, spoken by Pike, summarizes the film's viewpoint: "When you side with a man, you stay with him."
on March 1, 2004
The Wild Bunch is, without a doubt, one of the greatest westerns that has ever been thought up, but it is also quite controversial. The romantic view of the Old West is shattered in this 1969 film; no sign of John Wayne anywhere, and most of the cliches found in a typical western are nonexistant(not that I dislike typical western movies, they're actually quite entertaining). Sam Peckinpah, a master of improvisation, creates an unforgettable movie that is not only responsible for redefining cinematic violence, but also carries with it an engrossing story of friendship, betrayal, and the dying west. I didn't feel a Director's cut was needed for this film though, because the original version moved at such a lightning-fast pace. The restored scenes may interest some viewers, but I just wasn't interested. That is probably why I don't own this version of the movie. I'd prefer that other Sam Peckinpah flicks be restored, preferrably Major Dundee. Besides that, the DVD still captures all the explosive action and catchy dialogue. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of the credits, and Jerry Fielding's music adds to the realistic atmosphere, and that's not a bad thing. If you're looking for a great action flick with a plot, The Wild Bunch is a winner for a weekend rental, but RENT this version before you buy it.
on January 20, 2004
The Wild Bunch was directed by a man whose ideas of manliness and honor were those of the Bronze Age. Nevertheless, this film is far above the level of a shoot 'em up. The viewer is constantly impressed by the acting, the photography, the editing and the sheer skill in telling an exciting story. Like David Lean, Sam Peckinpah was a master of both character and action. The two massacres (which gave the film its notoriety) may seem gratuitous and disgusting, but without them The Wild Bunch would be merely a superior Western. I am not sure what these beautiful ghastly ballets of death mean. I suppose they express the death wish, the devil of destruction in the human animal. There are a number of brilliantly directed scenes. My favorite is at the very beginning when the the outlaws ride into a Texas border town disguised as Army troops. Peckinpah immediately establishes the tone: legendary, suspenseful, doom-laden. The children torturing the scorpions is one of the unforgettable images in the history of the movies. The documentary about the making of the film is fascinating. It shows that Peckinpah was an inspired improvisor, a quality that probably accounts for much of the excellence of this film.
This is among the classic westerns, one which must be seen only in the 145-minute director's cut version to be fully appreciated. Yes, it is an exceptionally violent film but none of the graphic violence seems to me gratuitous, unlike in some of director Sam Peckinpah's other films. Pike Bishop (William Holden) heads a gang which robs banks and trains. Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) is a former member whom railroad owner Harrigan (Albert Dekker) arranges to be released from prison on the single condition that Thornton lead efforts to kill or capture Bishop and his gang. If he fails, he will be returned to prison. The quality of all performances is outstanding, as are Peckinpah's direction and the cinematography provided by Lucien Ballard.
The primary plot involves Thornton's efforts to complete his assignment but there are several interesting sub plots, notably one involving Coffer (Strother Martin) and his fellow scavengers. (Martin once observed that he and Dub Taylor specialized in portraying "prairie scum.") The opening scene shows a scorpion being consumed by fire ants. Coffer and his motley crew hope to have a similar opportunity to feast on what remains of the Bishop gang. I was also fascinated by the interaction between the Bishop gang and the Mexican federales (headed by General Mapache played by Emilio Fernandez) who also pursue them. Time eventually runs out. Bishop and his associates must decide: Either quietly depart with their tails between their legs or take a stand and probably be killed.
In my opinion, the final sequence justifies all of the violence which precedes it. Many of those who have seen this film are offended by its especially graphic portrayal of bloodshed. They have a point unless they take into full account the frontier culture in 1913 in which Bishop and his associates challenge all manner of conventions (as does Peckinpah) while fulfilling their destiny as robbers and killers. They are what they are. They have no self-delusions. None. Thornton is the only sympathetic character, Bishop's reluctant and weary adversary. In the last scene, his body language is especially eloquent. He and we feel spent. Enough. No more. It's over.
on August 26, 2003
From the opening image of a scorpion being swarmed by ants, to the aftermath of The Battle of Bloody Porch, this film holds you captive in a way few films ever could. It has few (if any) of the traditional trappings of Western films. There are no good guys. At best, the protagonists are murderers and thieves with a code of ethics. There is no damsel in distress, no town to save from the clutches of a villain, no opportunity whatsoever for the terrible men of the film to redeem themselves in any meaningful sense. Even the climactic gunfight transcends the Western genre, and can only be described as one of the most beautiful and terrible orgies of violence ever put to film.
Ultimately, The Wild Bunch is more than the "last" Western. Though it is in a sense a eulogy to the genre (outside perhaps "Unforgiven", one would be hard pressed to think of any Western made since "The Wild Bunch" that is even remotely as powerful), it is also a eulogy to a lifestyle, and more importantly, an examination of the contradictory qualities of being human. Humans have great capacity for senseless violence. But perhaps even the worst of us have some lines we will not cross. Ultimately, it is not retribution for their sins that does in the Wild Bunch. It is their (likely distorted) since of honor for which they make their final stand. While this may not redeem the Wild Bunch as men, it does make the film challenging and compelling.
on June 14, 2003
The material may not be original, but Peckinpah's gory celebration of machismo may be the best of all theatrical Westerns. Starting with the border town robbery and ending with the slow-motion shootout, the movie contains at least five distinct set-pieces, all of which are superbly staged action scenes, including the Bunch's ennobling ride from the Mexican village. This slow, majestic procession reveals a poetic dimension amidst an otherwise chaotic world of casual cruelty. Like John Ford, Peckinpah is a poet at heart, but unlike Ford he does not prettify what he values. Rather, in this film as well as others, his sensitive side seems an embarassment to a code that allows aggressive action as the only compensation for moments of weakness. Without the poetic touch, however, Peckinpah would be just another action director; whereas, without the machismo, he could not express his compelling vision of a world among men. It's that struggle to articulate an acceptable version of an artist that drives much of this movie and Peckinpah's career.
One way of looking at the film's depth lies in an often overlooked but pivotal moment that occurs near film's end. Despite the odds, the Bunch has finished off the brutal Mapache and his henchman. Then comes a momentary lull as the four gringos exult in their unexpected victory, while Mapache's foot soldiers hesitate to continue the slaughter. From a plot standpoint the pause is unnecessary, since it adds nothing to the outcome. From a thematic standpoint, however, the pause is pivotal. At this point, the Bunch could walk away with the gold and their honor intact, all their dreams fulfilled. But they don't. Instead, Pike shoots the German officer, restarting the gunplay and sealing their doom. Why does Pike sacrifice their dream for a hopeless shoot-out. The screenplay gives no reason. In my view, here as elsewhere there surfaces in the action the outline of what might be called the Bunch's moral progression from the survivalist world of scorpions and ants to the limited but nonetheless transcendent values of comradeship and national identity. These are expressed in the four's shoulder to shoulder march in behalf of a fallen comrade and Pike's killing of the foreign officer. I'm sure Peckinpah would hate this kind of analysis, but I think this is what he makes us feel in a very powerful way.
In a movie filled with memorable moments, there's another one easily overlooked that is my favorite. During a brief battlle around the train station, a uniformed messenger no older than twelve brings Mapache a message to retreat. With soldiers falling all around, this scurrilous and venal man stands suddenly erect amidst the hail of bullets, proud and defiant, totally unaware of the bravery of his act. But the boy sees, and in a gesture that echoes across generations, stands with him. In the exchange of glances that follows, we know the one has finally risen to the rank of general, if only for a moment, while the other has found a hero for life, even if a dubious one. It's sublime touches such as these that belie those critics who see in the film nothing more than a pointless, amoral violence.
I guess my chief complaint is not about what's on the screen, although too many of the characters are on the cartoonish side. It's about the origin of the material and the fact that the film has borrowed heavily from Richard Brooks' 1966 production "The Professionals", not in just a general way such as the characters, setting, and plot, but down to the brief yet telling dialogue about the sanctity of keeping one's word. There's nothing wrong with seeking ideas from others. However, Peckinpah's production owes more than just inspiration to the Brooks film. Fortunately, this takes nothing away from audience enjoyment, for Peckinpah has raised the material to a sublime level, but it does raise questions about an artist's responsibility to the industry that spawns him. That being said, The Wild Bunch remains the director's masterpiece and a milestone in bringing greater realism to cinema violence. All in all, whatever his subsequent failings, on this one occasion, when confronted by the looming spectre of censorship, Peckinpah rose magnificently to meet the challenge. Just like the tarnished loners he so admired.
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.