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 
Director: Sam Peckinpah
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.
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 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.