When Sam Peckinpah made The Wild Bunch in 1969, the western form was reborn. Suddenly—in large part due to the crumbling of the Production Code and instatement of the less restrictive rating system still in place—the streets could be filthy and strewn with refuse, whores and madams could step out from behind their euphemisms, moral arcs could be traced backwards or ignored altogether, and most tellingly, violence had material consequences.
For all his macho excess and drunken bluster, from Ride the High Country to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Peckinpah resolutely set the tone for the revisionist western that would come to reflect a hard-nosed re-appraisal of the simplistic heroism projected by Golden Age directors as the heart of the American project. His greatest movie as well as his defining reel of de-romanticization, employing innovations like slow-motion sequences and quick cuts, is The Wild Bunch.
For many, the quintessential Sam Peckinpah movie. Terse dialogue amidst laconic pacing, a portrait of hardened masculinity at once gritty and elegiac, and, of course, violence depicted with such exacting detail as to seem (pace Roger Ebert) “a meditation on itself”: Everything we associate with the art of Bloody Sam is flown from the rafters here.
This came out 1 year before Easy Rider and it’s not a stretch to say that it's the only movie bridging the old studio system with New Hollywood. It has the scope of a big production while carrying the heart of independent cinema on its sleeve. From the ruthless violence, to the deliciously campy dialogue and expressionistic cinematography, it’s not hard to understand why Tarantino loves this.
If you wish Ford were more like Leone—and vice versa—here is the film for you. Like Leone, its mythos is rough-n-mean. Like the best Ford, it's willing to make sure its mythos is examined: here, a west where violence is a shocking fact of life, but where bandits, lawmen, and soldiers might wake up enough to wonder what they're putting it towards. The climax's only reason is "why not?", and somehow it's enough.
Very well orchestrated and delivered, but my enjoyment level didn't reach many heights. Case in point, the film ends with a montage of different characters laughing, but every scene in which the characters laughed in the film was anything but funny. An ugly tale of ugly men. 3.5 stars
I thought this film was oddly poetic, the direction, editing and overall mood combined to make an almost 'beautiful' film (?) . The way the bodies fell, the way the glass smashed in slow motion was just, poetic.
THE WILD BUNCH belongs to the list of crepuscular movies, like Clint Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN or Tonino Valerii's MY NAME IS NOBODY, that buried the western genre. I think that the most sinister idea of the film is to get rid of the last two members of the legendary Pike's gang through a woman and a boy's intermediary hand. Hope is definitively dead in the imaginary world of the gravedigger Sam Peckinpah. Masterpiece.
With the moral censors abolishment in 1968 their was a sudden onslaught of extreme-content films released. 1969’s The Wild Bunch is the elegy to old Hollywood, being a violent and amoral Western which was the most popular genre for many years. Perhaps due to glee, Peckinpah doesn’t dramatize here as usual, hindering The Wild Bunch when he isn’t staging spectacular bloody shootouts. At least they are very memorable.
"If they move, kill 'em." That quote sums up the movie and is the fitting title of an outstanding bio on Peckinpah. The first time I watched this one I didn't think much of it, but it is has since great on me incredibly and I now see it as the great film it is. Only Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid ranks ahead of it in Peckinpah's catalog in my estimation.