Movie Project #6: The Wild Bunch [1969]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Wild Bunch [1969]

The Wild Bunch [1969]
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Genre: Western
Starring: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan
Runtime: 145 minutes

The Wild Bunch starts with a bang and ends with a bang. Easily one of the most violent Westerns I have seen, the movie focuses on a group of aging outlaws during the final years of the Wild West. The leader of the bunch is Pike Bishop (Holden), a grizzled veteran that has established a code of honor within his unit. They aren’t exactly model citizens, but they maintain a level of camraderie even when disagreeing about certain issues.

The opening “bang” shows the group robbing a railroad office that is purported to contain a significant amount of silver. The robbery attempt goes wrong, however, when Deke Thornton (Ryan), a former partner of Pike, and his posse of bounty hunters show up. A massive gunfight ensues with dozens of innocent casualties. This massacre is something to behold, as gunfire is coming from every direction, and innocent bystanders are running for their lives. The action is given a frantic sense of urgence thanks to the quick editing and multiple camera angles used by director Sam Peckinpah. According to IMDB, the film in total contains 2,721 edits (roughly three seconds per shot). That’s impressive.

The Wild Bunch [1969]

Not everyone survives this battle, but Pike and the remaining members of the bunch (played by Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, and Jaime Sanchez) are able to escape the mayhem. They meet up with an old buddy, Freddie Sykes (Edmond O’Brien), and hit the road to Mexico. It is here that they get caught up in the ongoing Mexican Revolution and take a job to intercept a weapons shipment from the U.S. Army.

During all of this, we learn a bit about Pike’s backstory, the betrayal by Thornton, and we see the sense of camraderie formed by this group of men who are struggling to adapt to the changes around them. As such, there are moments of quietness that some could find tedious, but I felt they were helpful in terms of character development. Even though these guys were not ideal human beings, I empathized with them, even with their flawed “code.”

The Wild Bunch [1969]

The second “bang” is most impressive. The movie culminates with a violent bloodbath of a battle, one that even uses a huge machine gun (as pictured above). The carnage is appalling, as once again innocent men and women are caught in the middle of the violence, but it is impressive in terms of its visual impact. This is the stuff of legends, and it caps off the movie with a fitting and fiery end.

The Wild Bunch is the first Peckinpah movie I have seen, but it certainly won’t be the last. This is unlike any other Western I have come across so far, and its long runtime never feels like a burden. Quite frankly, this is another great Western in a decade that’s full of ’em.


21 thoughts on “Movie Project #6: The Wild Bunch [1969]

      • Eric says:

        Haha yep, this is definitely not one for the little ones! It’s pretty surprising how violent this movie is, especially when compared to the other Westerns of that era. That machine gun pic in my review is a pretty good indication of that, haha.

        Hope you’re able to check it out, Scott, and thanks for stopping by, Joel!

  1. VictorsMovieReviews says:

    The film also shows how violence runs deep in us. The first short, or one of the first–it’s been a while–is of little kids torturing a scorpion for fun.

    Another great western is “Once Upon a Time in the West” by Sergio Leone.

    • Eric says:

      I hear ya, Fogs. It was great to see William Holden in this type of role, too. I know he had been in some Westerns before, but I doubt they were anywhere near this extreme.

  2. John says:

    I was shocked by all of the violence and nudity for 1969. You’ve got good times coming if you’re going to start doing Peckinpah films. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and Straw Dogs are personal faves.

  3. 3guys1movie says:

    Sweet review Eric, one of my all-time favorite films. Never get tired of watching The Wild Bunch. Peckinpah is a goddamn genius you should check out some more of his work, Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and The Getaway are both top notch, The original The Getaway not that terrible Alec Baldwin remake.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks! I definitely plan on seeing more Peckinpah. That’s the third recommendation for Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia in these comments, so I will be bumping that up in the queue ASAP.

  4. Marc says:

    Have not seen this but aside from this being a classic, any movie that features a gun like the one in the screenshot (Hauitzer?) deserves a viewing.

    • Eric says:

      Definitely worth a viewing, Marc. According to the Internet Movie Firearms Database (that’s a new one to me), the machine gun is a Browning M1917. Pretty badass.

  5. rtm says:

    Not surprised this is one of the most violent westerns considering it’s a Peckinpah film. I have yet to understand his appeal as The Getaway bored me to tears and it was actually comical (not in a good way). This one does have a great cast though.

    • Eric says:

      Peckinpah does seem like an acquired taste, at least based on this movie and everything else I have heard about his work. Have you seen any of his other movies?

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