Saturday, September 20, 2014

Beginnings and Endings: Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969)

After the disaster that was Major Dundee it would appear that Peckinpah was pretty much finished. Instead of giving in he made some television movie called Noon Wine. The thing got good reviews but I couldn’t track it down. Fuck it, I didn’t look very hard. I’m sticking with his genuine theatrical releases. So, this Noon Wine must have been solid because it gave Peckinpah the chance to direct The Wild mother-fucking Bunch. I could go into the state of Peckinpah at this time but I’m going to start sounding like a broken record. Clearly, he’s a big drinker. Clearly, he liked bringing along a cast that he could count on as drinking buddies. Clearly, he’s still got a thing against women and mirrors. Yada mother-fucking yada. That’s who he was. That’s who he’d be until the day he dies. A poet of hard drinking, occasional coke sniffing, and offensive behavior is still a god damned poet.

What can I say about The Wild Bunch that hasn’t already been said countless times? Nothing. It’s arguably the greatest Western ever made. I can’t argue that point since I haven’t seen every Western. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Period. It’s a pretty simple story told with depth of feeling. We got an iconic opening scene, and incredible train robbery, and an even more iconic than the beginning closing scene. Along the way, we got lots of little moments where men are men, women are whores, children are soulless, etc.

The Wild Bunch is nearly impossible to write about since so much has already been written (and, more than likely, read by me). I could talk about the music, especially at the beginning until William Holden utters the now famous line “If they move, kill ‘em.” I could talk about the performances (almost all note-perfect), the editing of the action scenes (quick cuts between significant moments, slow motion, sweat, blood, tears, etc). I could go on and on regurgitating the plot for a while. That’s usually the kind of shit I pull when I don’t know what else to talk about. I could talk about the Peckinpah themes, particularly the one of aging men stuck in changing times. In this case, we’re at the dawn of WWI and Holden and his men need to “start thinking beyond guns.”

I’ll just assume there are a couple pussies out there that haven’t seen the picture. Maybe you want, at least, a brief description of the plot to see if it’s something you might be interested in. Okay. See, we got this bunch of outlaws that call themselves The Wild Bunch. Or maybe the press called them that. I don’t know if it’s ever made clear. Anyway, they’re a pretty wild bunch of guys, murdering and whoring around, robbing banks and trains, etc. Except, they’re not too wild where they don’t have a code. See, these guys might shoot a man (or a woman, hell, maybe even a kid) at the drop of a hat, but they stick by their own. It’s all about loyalty. Anyway, the bunch rides into an ambush at the beginning of the picture and only six of them make it out; Pike (William Holden), Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), Lyle and Tector Gorch (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson), and Angel (Jaime Sanchez). The ambush was led by former Wild Bunch member Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) who was given the choice of apprehending and killing the bunch or returning to Yuma.

The surviving bunch eventually meet up with old man Sykes (Edmund O’Brien) who used to ride with Pike, but is now mostly just the butt of old man jokes. Also, much to their disappointment, it turns out the loot they made off with was just a bag full of steel washers. They need a job and money, fast. They do what any man needing a job would do. They cross the Rio Grande and head to Mexico. While south of the border, they encounter the revolutionary General Mapache, some whores, a train full of artillery, a couple shootouts, some whores, evil children, more whores, an automobile, lots of booze, a mirror, some campfire chatter, a throat slashing, saunas, a dying Mexican being dragged behind a car, etc. Also, a couple of whores I believe. And Deke Thornton and his bounty hunters always a step or two behind.

Shit, I don’t know. What else can I say? Well, I haven’t said much. I want to keep this short. I’ll just take a glance at my notes, maybe latch onto a point and go from there. Ok, I jotted down “wounded, blinded man – finish it.” I guess this was the scene when the bunch were leaving the town from the opening, botched robbery. The blinded man was one of their own. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see too good or even stay on his horse as they crossed some sand dunes. It’s an interesting scene. At first, the guy is acting all tough. He can continue, it’s just a little scratch, it’s not that big of a deal that his face is covered in blood and he can’t see shit. Almost immediately, the poor bastard realizes he’s cooked, can’t go on, will only slow them down. Rather than wait for the bounty hunters, law, etc to show up he just says simply “finish it”. Pike wastes no time in obliging him. Lyle and Tector would like some words said for their friend, maybe a proper burial. Dutch’s response is “maybe a few hymns and a church supper?” He’s joking. They all loved the guy but dead is dead and if they stick around to bury their friend’s corpse, sing some hymns, eat church dinner they’ll be next. Loyalty doesn’t carry on beyond this life.

I’m not sure what the following note says but it goes something like this: “Lyle, etc just interested in whoring , boobies (I drew a picture of breasts here)”. I can only assume I was talking about Lyle (Oates) and his brother Tector (Ben Johnson) who are constantly talking about tag teaming whores. Finally, once they reach Mapache’s lecherous compound we finally see them in action. Tector gets two fat ones. Lyle gets one semi-ok one. I read somewhere that Peckinpah used actual prostitutes from Mexico just so he could say he paid prostitutes to be in his picture. The scene with the three hookers frolicking around with Lyle and Tector is more mirthful than Peckinpah usually allows a scene with women to be. They dance around, the brothers shoot out wine barrels, they bathe in the stuff, breasts are shown, whores (non-offensive term for hooker) are treated as objects. It’s a good scene. It’s the only scene where women are allowed to enjoy life, not be vicious, cruel, evil, or used for target practice.

Other women in this picture do not get painted as well as those three whores. We get the innocent lady at the beginning caught in the crossfire and trampled to death by a horse. We got Angel’s former lover who has hooked up with General Mapache and is gunned down by Angel in a jealous rage. Is Angel punished for his crime? Well, he gets knocked around a bit but is eventually allowed to continue on his way with the bunch. They need him for their mission, after all. The heist of several crates of artillery from a military train. In exchange for those crates, Mapache will provide them with gold. Politics have no place amongst this bunch. Interestingly, it isn’t until Angel steals a crate to give to his people (those being abused, tortured, murdered by Mapache) that he is taken prisoner, beaten, dragged behind a car, has his (spoiler) throat cut, etc. The message being, women are a dime a dozen, I can throw a rock and bang one. Guns are much more valuable. Way more valuable than that filthy whore I was banging the other night is what I’m sure Mapache was probably thinking after Angel gunned down his woman.

Also, the woman that Angel gunned down, his former lover, was not a very nice woman. I’m not saying she deserved to be shot dead but she was clearly trying to make Angel jealous by licking the inside of Mapache’s ear while casting glances Angel’s way. I don’t think she deserved to be shot or even slapped around. Maybe a good talking to would have been in order. Possibly, she should have been sent to time out. Other women proved blood thirsty and just as capable of shooting somebody as the men. Of course, when Pike (spoiler) gets shot in the back (of course) by a woman near the end she misses everything vital and gets called a “bitch” before Pike turns around and puts her out of her womanly misery (is what Peckinpah was probably thinking when he shot that scene). Peckinpah has issues with women. I’m not going to harp on this.

I started this review years ago and never finished it apparently.  It's The Wild Bunch.  No real review necessary.  Anyway, sorry for the rampant use of the word "whore" not put in quotes.  This was the movie's view, not mine.  I should have used quotes.  I was an immature young mid 30 something at the time.

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