Tag Archives: Sam Peckinpah

The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah), the director’s cut

The Wild Bunch opens with a methodically executed heist slash shootout sequence. Director Peckinpah quickly introduces cast members, partially due to the dramatic plotting, mostly due to Lou Lombardo’s fantastic editing. All juxtaposed with some kids watching ants kill scorpions. The Wild Bunch opens with one heck of a declarative statement. Peckinpah wants to look at violence and how people treat violence as entertainment.

Unfortunately, he also wants to do a Western about men getting old and being men and bonding even though they don’t like each other because they’re men after all and men stick together. Just look at “villain” Robert Ryan, who is pursuing his old gang–led by William Holden and Ernest Borgnine–and is now stuck with a bunch of low-life bounty hunters. Real men aren’t low-life bounty hunters with bad teeth. Edmond O’Brien, the eldest of the “Wild Bunch,” has bad teeth but he’s not a low-life bounty hunter. He goofs off in the steam bath just like Holden and Borgnine.

After the opening, which is simultaneously exhilarating and horrific, The Wild Bunch does a more traditional first act. There’s setup with Ryan hunting down the gang, there’s setup with the backstory between Ryan and Holden, there’s a full introduction of the supporting cast. Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are brothers and dissenting voices in the gang. Jaime Sánchez is the other guy, who’s apparently been there longer than Johnson and Oates, but not as long as Borgnine. It doesn’t really matter because the characters aren’t deep. They’ll occasionally get deep characterizations from the actors, but the script’s pretty thin. In the script they’re just old, mopey, angry, drunk, tired, horny, or some combination thereof.

For Johnson and Oates, it doesn’t matter. They’re around to be flashy so Holden can dwell on all his mistakes. For Holden and Borgnine, it does matter. Borgnine has almost nothing whatsoever to do except back up Holden, so it’d be nice for there to be a reason more than Borgnine admires Holden. And if not a reason, at least something melodramatic. Something melodramatic would show Peckinpah and co-writer Walon Green carried a little.

Instead, no. It’s undeveloped. Just like almost everything else in The Wild Bunch, except Sánchez’s backstory. Out of nowhere, the film goes from being Ryan hunting Holden and company to Holden and company hanging out in Sánchez’s home village in Mexico and becomes darn likable. Oates goes from ominous and dangerous to affable in about three minutes once they get to the village. Cute even. But Peckinpah doesn’t want the audience to like the characters for too long–at least not without reservations or comprise–so they’re always doing something awful.

There’s some good acting in The Wild Bunch. Holden’s a strong lead and he has a handful of phenomenal little moments. They don’t add up to anything, but they’re real good. And Peckinpah’s on for them too, which is nice. Borgnine’s fine. He really is just support for Holden. Sánchez is fine too; Peckinpah was apparently intentional about making him frequently pout. Oates is wild and crazy and it’s okay. It’s an enjoyable performance, but the character is still exceptionally unlikable. Johnson does a lot with a thin part.

Edmond O’Brien is amazing. He chews scenery, drools or spits it out with his chaw, but always with restraint. Whoever thought of dubbing his laughter over shots should’ve had a different thought, however. After some a lot of imaginative stylization in the first third, the film cools down until the grand finale. And that grand finale just shows the same techniques applied to different content; Peckinpah foreshadows pretty much everything in the spectacular open.

As far as the bad guys, Ryan’s okay. Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones are initially amusing as his most vocal moronic sidekicks. They soon get tiring, once it’s clear there’s no more material for them. Ryan gets it worst in that department, however. He’ll be going along fine and then get some trite, waxing nostalgic monologue. It makes for a long movie.

Jerry Fielding’s music is on the low side of mediocre. It’s kind of all right at times, but Peckinpah and Fielding go for a traditional Western score and it doesn’t bring anything to the film. And then there are the times Fielding does action thrill music, which do not work at all. In fact, they’re unpleasant. You’re sitting around waiting for something to happen and then there’s some action and Fielding kneecaps it.

I know Wild Bunch is a sparse, moody look at the male psyche, violence, and the myth of the Old West, but it should better at doing that thing. Peckinpah neglects his actors; not an insignificant problem since there’s only three or four intricate action sequences. There are a couple more elaborate ones, which have spectacle but not much else. But Peckinpah’s ignoring them when there’s nothing else going on except the characters walking, talking, riding.

Despite some dynamic filmmaking from Peckinpah, ably edited by Lombardo, Wild Bunch just doesn’t add up. There’s not enough for the actors, neither in the script nor in Peckinpah’s directorial attention.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by Walon Green and Peckinpah, based on a story by Green and Roy N. Sickner; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Jerry Fielding; produced by Phil Feldman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Holden (Pike Bishop), Ernest Borgnine (Dutch Engstrom), Edmond O’Brien (Freddie Sykes), Jaime Sánchez (Angel), Ben Johnson (Tector Gorch), Warren Oates (Lyle Gorch), Emilio Fernández (Mapache), Strother Martin (Coffer), L.Q. Jones (T.C), and Robert Ryan (Deke Thornton).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE 2ND ANNUAL GOLDEN BOY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA.


RELATED

Ride the High Country (1962, Sam Peckinpah)

Ride the High Country is a fine attempt. It’s not a successful attempt, but it’s a fine one. Director Peckinpah seems to know what he wants to do, but he’s too trapped in Western genre tradition. Having icons Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott as his leads (they’re both great), George Bassman’s intrusive score and Lucien Ballard’s strangely flat photography might all be forgivable if N.B. Stone Jr.’s script were all right but it’s not.

The plotting is awkward. Retired lawman McCrea hires old partner Scott to help him transport gold, not knowing Scott is planning on taking said gold with the help of his new, youthful partner, played by Ron Starr. Along the way, they meet farm girl Mariette Hartley, who Starr gets involved with, much to the chagrin of the older men. Country runs just over ninety minutes and most of the important scenes involve Hartley and her poor choice to marry James Drury. McCrea and Scott spend their time talking about their glory days, which is cute the first couple times, but tiring when it’s clear Stone doesn’t have any other ideas for them and Peckinpah doesn’t seem to care.

Peckinpah doesn’t seem particularly interested in the film until the shootouts at the end; he does spend some time on the scenery, which should be prettier (that drab photography).

Both McCrea and Scott get pretty decent iconic moments at one point or another in the film, they just don’t get actual characters to play. It’s too bad.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; written by N.B. Stone Jr.; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Frank Santillo; music by George Bassman; produced by Richard E. Lyons; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Randolph Scott (Gil Westrum), Joel McCrea (Steve Judd), Mariette Hartley (Elsa Knudsen), Ron Starr (Heck Longtree), Edgar Buchanan (Judge Tolliver), R.G. Armstrong (Joshua Knudsen), Jenie Jackson (Kate), James Drury (Billy Hammond), L.Q. Jones (Sylvus Hammond), John Anderson (Elder Hammond), John Davis Chandler (Jimmy Hammond) and Warren Oates (Henry Hammond).


cinescope-blogathon_rebel

THIS POST IS PART OF THE CINEMASCOPE BLOGATHON HOSTED BY BECKY OF CLASSICBECKY’S BRAIN FOOD and RICH OF WIDE SCREEN WORLD


RELATED

Straw Dogs (1971, Sam Peckinpah)

Little known fact: the British Tourist Authority actually funded for Straw Dogs. They were sick of Americans moving over.

Obviously not true, but it would explain a lot. Not many films have such singularly evil human beings as those portrayed in Straw Dogs, but then few feature such textured evil human beings either. The film’s perfectly comfortable with assigning features by crap shoot and the complexity of the result is some of the film’s point.

But it’s hard to say if Straw Dogs really ends up having a point. It’s an amazing piece of American cinema, not just for its influential status in film history (the list of films inspired by the conclusion goes on and on), but because it’s so constantly unexpected. Jerry Fielding’s score changes drastically from the beginning to end–it starts out ominous, but ends in a rousing, glorious spirit (Straw Dogs, with the empty English skies and Fielding’s score, often reminds of Jaws). The editing–from Paul Davies, Tony Lawson and Roger Spottiswoode–is always competent, but it slowly becomes astounding. The first hints–sound from one scene playing over another–are discrete, to the point the first full scene of that type seems like a syncing error. But nothing can forecast the end, with its constant fast cuts from angle to angle. John Coquillon’s photography is similarly essential.

Peckinpah’s direction is masterful. Every single shot in the film–and given the rapid cutting at the end, there must be a lot–is perfect. Every move Peckinpah makes here is more than perfect, they’re unequaled.

The majority of the film isn’t calm discomfort–I think the end sequence runs longer than it seems and the initial conflicts kick off early–but the beginning’s scenes introducing Dustin Hoffman and Susan George are nice, concise storytelling. During their first scene at home together, I wondered why the film didn’t open with Hoffman and George boarding a plane for England. It soon becomes apparent the two don’t know each other very well or at least aren’t prepared to spend every waking hour together. As the story progresses, even after all she endures, it becomes hard to empathize with her, if only because Peckinpah treats her so hostilely. Following a scene all her own, which clearly illustrates her suffering, George still manages to perplex. She and Hoffman, though married and in almost all their scenes together (with the one monumental exception), are on completely different paths.

As for Hoffman–who didn’t like the film and only did it for the money, which accounts for my earlier statement about the film successfully having a point, as the lead working disingenuously seems to effect such things–he’s fantastic. Straw Dogs is frequently cited as being a “pushed too hard” story–the poster even advertises it as such–but the film never necessarily pushes Hoffman over any edge. In fact, it seems more like Hoffman would have responded in the first five minutes as he did in the last thirty. It makes the film even more confounding (and rewarding).

I haven’t seen Straw Dogs for a while, but I’m sure I had the same reaction at the end I did this time–it’s better than I remembered.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by David Zelag Goodman and Peckinpah, based on a novel by Gordon Williams; director of photography, John Coquillon; edited by Paul Davies, Tony Lawson and Roger Spottiswoode; music by Jerry Fielding; production designer, Ray Simm; produced by Daniel Melnick; released by Cinerama Releasing Corporation.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (David Sumner), Susan George (Amy Sumner), Peter Vaughan (Tom Hedden), T.P. McKenna (Major John Scott), Del Henney (Charlie Venner), Jim Norton (Chris Cawsey), Donald Webster (Riddaway), Ken Hutchison (Norman Scutt), Len Jones (Bobby Hedden), Sally Thomsett (Janice Hedden), Robert Keegan (Harry Ware), Peter Arne (John Niles), Cherina Schaer (Louise Hood), Colin Welland (Reverend Barney Hood) and David Warner (Henry Niles).


RELATED