The Wild Bunch - Special Edition (18)
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Peckinpah biographers and documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle; Peckinpah Trailer Gallery; Never Before Seen The Wild Bunch Outtakes; Sam Peckinpah’s West Legacy Of A Hollywood Renegade; 1966 Oscar Nominee The Wild Bunch An Album In Montage; A Simple Adventure Story Sam Peckinpah Mexico And The Wild Bunch.
SAM Peckinpah’s violent western, The Wild Bunch, remains an enduring classic for many reasons. It is renowned because of its slow-motion blood-letting, while often being credited as self-consciously heralding the end of a particular genre.
Yet it continues to inspire maverick movie directors such as Quentin Tarantino, who frequently hail Peckinpah’s work as geinus, and works as a fascinating character study that is driven by some fantastic performances from a top-notch ensemble cast.
The film follows the fortunes of an aging group of outlaws (including William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Warren Oates) as they look for one last big score while the “traditional” American West begins to disappear around them.
Once they decide on a train, the band must plot the robbery while remaining careful to keep one step ahead of the bounty hunters on their trail, led by a former member (Robert Ryan), as well as the Mexican army.
Proceedings conclude with a legendary bloodbath as the gang in question makes a final stand against insurmountable odds.
The Wild Bunch is often cited as an interesting counterpoint to the more heroic likes of The Magnificent Seven because of the way in which it depicts its characters as desperate men who are frequently prone to breaking the very laws of honour that bind them.
It also blurred the lines between right and wrong to such an extent that it was often difficult to tell who were the heroes – the villains themselves, or the equally desperate men pursuing them. As such, it marked the beginning of a new era of film-making that would become known for its flawed heroes.
Needless to say, it left critics divided when it was released in 1969 among those who saw it as the masterpiece it has undoubtedly become, and those who derided the highly stylized violence and horrific body count.
The violence is what remains the biggest talking point, especially since it set new standards in terms of choreography, graphicness and brutality (the film opens with a lingering shot of a scorpion being placed into a pit of stinging red ants and battling for survival – an image that serves the rest of the film well).
Trivia reveals that during filming more blank rounds were discharged during the production than live rounds were fired during the Mexican Revolution of 1914, around which the film is loosely based. In total 90,000 rounds were fired, all blanks. While the massacre at the end took a mighty 12 days to film and, upon completion, had used about 10,000 squibs (simulated bullet hits).
Needless to say, Peckinpah had some trouble attracting actors to what was, from the outset, a controversial piece of work. Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, James Stewart, Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum all reportedly turned down the William Holden role, while Brian Keith turned down the Robert Ryan role (which had originally been intended for Richard Harris).
Yet in spite of the violence, the film remains a passionate piece about loyalty and old-school values in a time of sweeping change. The camaraderie that exists between the Wild Bunch, for instance, is beautifully realised and really well played. A scene between Borgnine and Holden around a campfire, in which the characters vow they wouldn’t have things any other way, was so well-played that Peckinpah was reportedly unable to yell ‘cut’ while filming because he had been reduced to tears.
This two-disc special edition capably does justice to the film and the stories surrounding it and is a must-own for anyone who has yet to add it to their collection. It changed the landscape of cinema and deserves to be seen by any fan of bravura film-making.
DVD extras worth checking out include the all-new Wild Bunch out-takes and the informative commentaries from Biographers And Documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle.