Friday, December 02, 2005


From the Vault: The Wild Bunch

NOTE: Ranked No. 29 on my all-time top 100 of 2012

In its time, the violence in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch created quite a stir. Though not nearly as shocking today, Peckinpah's poetic blood-soaked ballet still packs a punch. Re-released to mark the 1969's film's 25th anniversary, Peckinpah's elegy to the Old West has been restored for the first time to the director's original vision and justifiably reaffirms its claim as one of the classics of the Western genre.

The 10 minutes of new material doesn't add violence, but subtext and flashbacks explaining the relationship between the Bunch and their chief pursuer. The late, great William Holden stars as Pike Bishop, the Bunch's leader. The actor, his voice raspier and his face craggier than in his youth, brings the necessary grizzled authority to his role as an outlaw who knows its time to start "thinking beyond our guns" but whose personal code of honor requires that he go out shooting.

Supporting Holden are the equally good Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O'Brien as well as Warren Oates and Ben Johnson as the Gorch brothers, true worshipers of booze and bordellos.

Revisiting The Wild Bunch, the performer who really stands out is Robert Ryan as Deke Thornton, a former member of the outlaw gang who has been given a deal by a railroad baron — take care of Pike and his gang in 30 days or return to prison in Yuma. Thornton's heart isn't quite in his hunt, especially since he's burdened with a posse of scavengers who "represent the law" at the same time they fleece the dead of guns and clothes, even if the dead include innocent bystanders.

Peckinpah's pacing whisks the action along through its three main set pieces — the opening robbery, a train heist and the shockingly violent climax. Aided by editors Louis Lombardo and Robert L. Wolfe, Peckinpah choreographs each of the sequences memorably, using different film speeds to create a unique visual rhythm to the carnage. For fans of Westerns, great filmmaking, Peckinpah, the actors or any combination of the above, the chance to see The Wild Bunch in its widescreen glory should not be missed.

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