The myths and legends of classic cinema, the Western, is a genre all its own. A genre with grit in its teeth, outlaws running through the land of their steeds like knights of the Middle Ages, and the ultimate struggle between what is moral and what is immoral. Sometimes, there is the struggle of coming to terms that, well, you might be just too goddamn old for being a rebel. Yes, everyone’s favorite bunch of aging cowboys are ready to kick ass in Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 classic The Wild Bunch.
This violent tale of men trying to find their place in modern 1913 is a illustrious and blood-ridden tale that pulls no stops to show true grit (I will go kick my own ass for that pun later).
The proclaimed The Wild Bunch is lead by Pike Bishop, played by the excellent William Holden, as they attempt a bank robbery. Once there, an ambushed by Bishop’s former partner Deke Thornton, played by Robert Ryan. With their Western attitude still in mind, they engage in a bloody shootout during the middle of a funeral procession, putting both the ‘fun’ in funeral and adding more bodies to be taken to the local cemetery. As they leave the town, they open the bags to see their loot, but wind up empty as it seem to be nothing but silver washers.
Dutch, played by the late Ernest Borgnine, sees this as a sign that they are getting a bit beyond their years with Brother Lyle, played by Warren Oates, and Tector, played by Ben Johnson seem to agree. Their Mexican outlaw ally Angel, played by Jaime Hernandez, laughs at their misfortune and tell the bunch if they truly want to end on a high note, they can head down to Mexico. Upon arriving in Mexico, they end up in the town of Agua Verde ruled by the ruthless Malpache, played with ease by Emilo Fernandez. One can probably guess what comes next.
The Wild Bunch is a textbook western and plays its hand straight on the mark. Peckinpah’s direction on the genre is damn near perfect. During the shootouts and rampage, Peckinpah never takes his eyes off what is going on and never strays away from the action as in scenes such as the final shootout. Be warned: It is spoilerific.
The true meat of the film, though, is not from the action set pieces and the chaos going on, but the characters themselves. The film is a magnificent character piece on the mindset of the outlaws and their reluctance to change with the modern society, despite having to come to terms with the fact that the world around them is changing and they have yet to accept it. Holden’s performance as Bishop is performed greatly with this idea in mind as Bishop knows this is the end and must step out of the Old West attitude and into the modern attitude. Even seeing an automobile catches him off guard a bit, but causally accepts it. The dialogue and rhythms between the bunch is riveting and keeps the story going with their backgrounds and history coming to help them hit the final resolve. Peckinpah’s direction during these scenes give realism and perspective and never bores the viewer. With that said, The Wild Bunch is a great Western and a nice sendoff to the days of the old West and the genre that sparked from it.
Next week, Film A Week steps away from the old West and into the new West of South Central Los Angeles into the ‘hood’ classic, John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood. Prepare for Ice Cube’s debut, Cuba Gooding, Jr. getting streetwise and look at the influence Singleton had not only in black culture, but in cinema itself.
Film A Week 32: Boyz N the Hood (1991)
Friday, August 16th