“If they move”, hisses stern-eyed William Holden, “kill ’em”. So begins The Wild Bunch (1969), Sam Peckinpah’s bloody, high-body-count eulogy to the mythologized Old West. “Pouring new wine into the bottle of the Western, Peckinpah explodes the bottle”, observed critic Pauline Kael. That exploding bottle also christened the director with the nickname that would forever define his films and reputation: “Bloody Sam”.
David Samuel Peckinpah was born and grew up in Fresno, California, when it was still a sleepy town. Young Sam was a loner. The child’s greatest influence was grandfather Denver Church Peckinpah, a judge, congressman and one of the best shots in the Sierra Nevadas. Sam served in the Marine Corps during World War II but – to his disappointment – did not see combat. He married Marie Selland in Las Vegas in 1947 and enrolled as a theater graduate student at the University of Southern California the next year.
After drifting through several jobs—including a stint… read more
Peckinpah's folly is a fascinating failure. His attempt to direct a western LAWRENCE OF ARABIA became a logistical nightmare, marred by on-set clashes, shortened shooting schedules, meddling producers, and a severe studio cut that severely devalued the integrity of the film. Re-released in 2005 with 15 minutes of restored footage, MAJOR DUNDEE remains a tarnished work, but a grand spectacle nonetheless.
I've never been much of a fan of Heston but he is very good in this. Richard Harris is even better as his one timed friend, turned prisoner, turn lieutenant in an unofficial mission. A solid film that points toward the masterpieces that Peckinpah would create in the genre in the years to come.
It's hard to tell what might have been without the reportedly significant studio editing and tampering with Peckinpah's movie. It would probably have been better. I doubt it would have been great. Some good scenes and good performances but overall the movie just drags along and then peters out at the end. It may be a fine commentary on the futility of war but it makes for a less than satisfying entertainment.