The Wild Bunch

Review No. 552

Damn straight, it’s “Wild”!



NOTE: This review regards the “Original Director’s Cut” of The Wild Bunch. Research says that while this cut is just as controversial as the American cut from back in 1969, it heightens Peckinpah’s cinematic intents.

Director — Sam Peckinpah
Producer — Sam Feldman
Screenplay — Mr. Peckinpah & Walon Green
Story — Mr. Green & Roy N. Sickner

William Holden — Pike Bishop
Ernest Borgnine — Dutch Engstrom
Robert Ryan — Deke Thornton
Edmond O’Brien — Freddie Sykes
Warren Oates — Lyle Gorch
Jaime Sánchez — Angel
Ben Johnson — Tector Gorch

Distributor — Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Release Date — March 3, 1995 (1969 cut: June 18, 1969)
Language — English
Country — USA
Running Time — 145 minutes (1969 cut: 135 minutes; 1969 premiere cut: 143 minutes)
MPAA Rating — R on appeal (1969 cut: R)


I’d like to propose the following theory:

A filmmaker may be accurately dubbed as “great,” if and only if he or she has made an oeuvre in which more than half the films are, or will eventually be, universally considered “classics” by critics and movie buffs alike.  The universal understanding of a film as a “classic” can be accurately predicted, if and only if the filmmaker is enamored with every shot of the film, as much as the ideal audience.

It’s been nearly 120 years since the five-second Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze became the first successful “movie,” and since then, films have become more and more defined by the egos of the men and women who make them happen. It’s true that where cinema most differs from real life is that when a fearless ego makes its domineering way to celluloid, it’s far more entertaining, not to mention artful, than watching movies made of a fearful/deficient/nonexistent ego.  If I fail to make sense, then let me put it this way: the most palatable movies feature style and substance as inseparable.  It’s a rule of thumb that made auteurs out of Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, and Woody Allen.  And, as I have more recently discovered, Sam Peckinpah.

The Wild Bunch was Peckinpah’s fifth movie; it’s preferable to look at this as the movie that transformed this writer-director into a sensation.  This man seems to give movies a signature correlation between controversy and lifespan.  Straw Dogs (1971), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) each remain as controversial as when they were issued to theaters, while regarded as classics as avidly as when they earned their respective “tenth anniversary re-evaluations.”  Yet The Wild Bunch earned a renewed controversy: In 1993, slightly prior to a 25th anniversary re-release, Warner Bros. handed the film over to the MPAA with ten minutes’ additional footage.  While not a second of this had any of the graphic, violent material that made the movie warrant a 1969 R rating (which still rings of a low R, more than four decades later) was added to the new cut, the rating system’s appeal board was needed to intervene to bump the movie from an NC-17 to the more commercial R.

While this didn’t help the movie’s second chance at commerce (the domestic box office receipts, when adjusted for inflation, total to less than $980 grand), the “controversy-to-class” correlation is still a shoe sized to perfection.  If I spent as much as a second wallowing in boredom, that second is gone from my memory as I write this review.  As far as cinematography, it has been reported that the average late-’60s movie contains 600 cuts.  The Wild Bunch boasts a whopping 3,600.  Without disregarding the accuracy in the Oscar nominations for music and original screenwriting: why the hell didn’t this earn any nominations, let alone Oscar runaways, for its visuals?  The story here is simple, but when this influential shootout and a half, both a western and a witty deconstruction of the western, is over, you can’t help but want to watch more of Sam Peckinpah.  The man’s got style.  He’s got substance, too, and I mention that because I could never distinguish between the two.  That’s a compliment of immeasurable praise.

POSTSCRIPT: I wasn’t sure where and/or how to put it in my review, but The Wild Bunch is by no means a movie deserving of an NC-17.  The MPAA barely considered an equivalent X rating for the original release.  Had they given it an X rating, A Clockwork Orange, two years later, would have been labeled “violent pornography” and earned the first official MPAA endorsement of the satirical “XXX” rating, no matter how much was cut out.


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2 thoughts on “The Wild Bunch

  1. Nice review. At the moment, “The Wild Bunch” is probably my favourite Sam Peckinpah film, along with “Cross of Iron” and “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.” 😉

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