Tag Archives: Warren Oates

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).


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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).


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


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Blue Thunder (1983, John Badham)

Blue Thunder is astoundingly dumb. It’s not exactly bad, as there are some fantastic effects and some of the script has shockingly sublime moments, but it’s astoundingly dumb.

It starts off strong, with a decent enough first act. Daniel Stern is new to the Astro division of the LAPD and, through him, the film introduces Roy Scheider’s on the edge cop. Thunder is just an on the edge cop movie, only with helicopters. Their first night out stuff is fine.

When Candy Clark shows up as Scheider’s comically unstable girlfriend, things get shaky. Then Malcolm McDowell shows up as the British villain (working for the U.S. Government, however) and Thunder bellyflops. It recovers somewhat for the last thirty minutes, with the helicopter in action over LA stuff, but not entirely.

It’s a fun finale, but accepting its stupidity is one of the requirements for enjoying it. Writers Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby have this conspiracy subplot and they mangle it. It, and McDowell’s terrible performance, go far in dragging Thunder down.

The occasional sublime moments–there’s a great scene of Clark looking for Scheider–are memorable enough to leave a better impression than Thunder deserves.

Scheider’s good, Stern’s mediocre (but still likable).

It’s technically masterful. Badham can’t make a good movie, but he can shoot Panavision action well. He’s got great help from cinematographer John A. Alonzo and editors Edward M. Abroms and Frank Morriss.

Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score is repetitive but catchy.

Blue Thunder‘s often entertaining, but entirely stupid.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Frank Morriss and Edward M. Abroms; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Sydney Z. Litwack; produced by Gordon Carroll; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (Officer Frank Murphy), Daniel Stern (Officer Richard Lymangood), Malcolm McDowell (Col. F.E. Cochrane), Warren Oates (Capt. Jack Braddock), Candy Clark (Kate), Paul Roebling (Icelan), David Sheiner (Fletcher), Joe Santos (Montoya), James Murtaugh (Alf Hewitt) and Jason Bernard as The Mayor.

In the Heat of the Night (1967, Norman Jewison)

Warren Oates can be affable. I had no idea.

In the Heat of the Night is a bit of a disappointment–not the acting, not the directing, just the script. The film plods as the script tries to come up with excuses to keep going. Stirling Silliphant’s dialogue is good, there’s no problem with it on that level–it’s just the plotting. The film’s a thriller masquerading as a social film. Every single thing in it turns out to be a red herring (I can’t even figure how the murderer had time to commit the crime, but it didn’t bother Sidney Poitier or Rod Steiger so I guess I shouldn’t worry).

Poitier and Steiger are both great–though Steiger’s got a better written role, which seems unfair since Poitier’s the lead and his story is potentially a lot more interesting–but the supporting cast is amazing too. Scott Wilson, Oates, Lee Grant, William Schallert… there are some fantastic performances here.

And then there’s Jewison.

Jewison was forty-one when Night came out, so he wasn’t a young Turk, but it feels like it. His composition is just amazing (especially with Haskell Wexler shooting it). Maybe Jewison’s career just went on too long. When I hear his name, I think of awful, trite eighties movies, but he once was an outstanding filmmaker. In the Heat of the Night really showcases it.

It’s a very good film; but it would have been amazing one if it were about two men working together.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, based on the novel by John Ball; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Hal Ashby; music by Quincy Jones; produced by Walter Mirisch; released by United Artists.

Starring Sidney Poitier (Virgil Tibbs), Rod Steiger (Gillespie), Warren Oates (Sam Wood), Lee Grant (Mrs. Colbert), Larry Gates (Endicott), James Patterson (Mr. Purdy), William Schallert (Mayor Schubert), Beah Richards (Mama Caleba), Peter Whitney (Courtney), Kermit Murdock (Henderson), Larry D. Mann (Watkins), Matt Clark (Packy), Arthur Malet (Ulam), Fred Stewart (Dr. Stuart), Quentin Dean (Delores) and Scott Wilson (Harvey Oberst).