Wild Bunch, The (1969)

The Wild Bunch (1969), directed by Sam Peckinpah.

First review

A sad brutal epic, it could not be improved.

You seldom see such a concentration of acting talent. Many fine performances. In particular, I will see anything with Robert Ryan, one of the great film noir actors.

When I first saw this, famous for its new level of violence, I thought of it as an anti-western, or as someone put it, the gravestone of westerns. Now I see the old mythic power is still there: honor among thieves (although it is a bit of a struggle). Separating the Men from the "gutter trash". Mexico as a land of suffering and savagery, always waiting for its deliverer. The great heroic gesture, ending in death.

On Blu-ray.

Second review

It's amazing how much the film has changed for me. Originally it was a controversial Tough Guy genre action film, a sort of tombstone for the Western. Tremendous cast, of course, many of them doing their finest work.

Now I see how masterfully crafted it is, and also how deeply felt and humane. That's right: with all the blood splatter and innocents massacred, they are at least real people, not film fantasy background targets without life or individuality. Peckinpah never flinches; he shows us things we maybe didn't want to see, but every action picture since has been a lesser, more juvenile work.

We reach a rarefied level in those moments just before the big final shootout. Pike gets laid one last time and the woman seems so young, a child herself (and yet she already has a baby). Being a man means despoiling innocence -- like the bird on a string with a broken wing in the next room -- and Pike hates himself for it. Time to turn about, go back and do the right thing, end it.

He enters Valhalla, weapon still in his hand. In the credits we see all the gang again, all laughing, reentering Angel's home village, their paradise.

Miscellaneous notes:

Score by Jerry Fielding, photographed by Lucien Ballard, both essential Peckinpah collaborators.

Available on Blu-ray. The commentary track is Nick Redman with the usual three Peckinpah scholars ecstatic over this Homeric epic.

They emphasize the film's editing innovation and skill and efficiency in production, which the director learned from hard knocks in previous projects.

His career was in bad shape; this was the picture he need to prove himself.

Everyone on the track agrees he had the best director's credit in history. Pike: "If they move, kill 'em!". Freeze, switch to black and white, and: "Directed by Sam Peckinpah".