47 FILMS: 6. THE WILD BUNCH

More 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams. This episode we tackle the testosterone soaked western epic, The Wild Bunch.

Whenever I meet a movie critic my first question is always, have you seen The Wild Bunch? If they say yes I’ll buy them a drink and they’re a friend of mine for life. If they say no I punch them in the face and tell them to come back to me when they know their f*cking job.

You can’t make a movie like the Wild Bunch any more. Not because the industry isn’t full of talented directors and cinematographers, there’s plenty, but what the industry sorely lacks is hard-living, hard-drinking, leathery men. They’re all too pretty these days, too in touch with their feelings. Warren Oates didn’t have any feelings he lost them in a midnight poker game to a one-armed bear hunter who could breathe cigar smoke through his eyes. Imagine Sam Peckinpah being forced to cast James Franco, he’d have beat the living shit out of him with his own boot and had him dragged by a fast horse all the way back to Hollywood.

For years you could only get hold of a cut version because some guy in a tie on the classification board actually shit themselves when they first saw it. I sympathize, it’s a violent film. Peckinpah intended it to be an allegory for the Vietnam war which was raging at the time. He wanted people to be disgusted by the violence but unfortunately for him and fortunately for us, it is so wonderfully shot that he transmuted the bloody savagery into poetic beauty.

As for the characters, they’re all bad men, you shouldn’t root for any of them but I defy anyone not to feel the urge to applaud when Holden, Johnson, Oates and Borgnine walk like giants towards certain doom.

It’s a movie you can endlessly dissect and plenty has been written about how it explodes the mythology of the old west and how the rise of automated weapons destroyed any semblance of the noble war. It’s the stuff of dissertations but all that aside, it’s a damn good movie that can be enjoyed without turning your brain on.

Is it the best Western ever made? My head says yes, my heart says Once Upon A Time in the West but if you’ve haven’t seen the Wild Bunch, not only are you in for a treat you’ll spare yourself the indignity of being punched in the face by me.

Update: When I posted this out I was informed by a trustworthy source that David O. Russell is preparing to do a remake. Ye Gods.

For more of our 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams CLICK HERE.

THE MAKING OF THE WILD BUNCH

HOLLYWOOD  – In the latest of our ‘Making of…’ series, we look at Sam Peckinpah’s unusual move into romantic comedy: The Wild Bunch.

The Idea

Sam Peckinpah had wanted to make a realistic Western for years, but following disputes on Major Dundee and his firing from The Cincinnati Kid the controversial director found himself relegated to television. Here however he plotted his return and when he was handed a screenplay for a Romantic Comedy entitled A Bunch of Wild Roses which already had William Holden and Elizabeth Taylor attached, Peckinpah seized the opportunity. Shifting the caper to Mexico, Peckinpah guaranteed he was away from the supervision of the studios and began with the aid of screenwriter Walon Green. Green notes:

Every day we would shave Elizabeth’s part. Just a line here and there then a scene. She had a house with Richard Burton in Mexico at the time so she was really looking forward to the film, but it soon became clear that her part was getting much too small. When she pulled out, we had what we wanted and we changed the title to The Wild Bunch of Roses, though we fully intended to leave off the last two words of the final cut. The aristocrat who falls in love with his son’s governess became Deke Bishop. And the film became the Western that Sam had always meant to make.

Production

Sam Peckinpah wrote to his mother to describe the difficulties:

Hi Mom,

Still in Mexico trying to get this God Damned film made. Excuse my French. This assholes (sorry) just don’t know violence. They only know violence from crappy John Wayne Westerns where someone is shot and a trickle appears from between their fingers if at all. I want them to blow holes in each other. Blood should gout out and there should be the real image of what projectiles can do to flesh and bone.

Dear Samuel,

That sounds nice. How is Elizabeth Taylor. Is she as pretty as she is in the glossies?

Hi Mom,

Yeah, she’s a swell gal, but she’s not in the film no more. The problem is no one understands what I want. I need to treat time differently. When something violent happens to you, your whole perception of time changes. I keep trying to get the actors to act slowly, so that they look like the whole thing is happening at a different speed. It works quite well, but when one of them falls over of course they can’t help falling at a normal speed. Damn it! How am I supposed to solve everything? Sorry, ma I have to go and get surgically drunk.

Dear Samuel,

Why don’t you just film them at normal speed and then slow the film down. Wouldn’t that work best? You’ll need to film it at a different speed so the quality of the image remains sharp. I’d say  a multiple camera set up with cameras working at 24 frames per second, 30 frames per second, 60 frames per second, 90 frames per second and 120 frames per second.

Hi Mom,

I wish you’d not interfere with the technical side of film making that you clearly don’t understand. We have all the actors on wires now so that when they fall we can lower them slowly. Problem solved. You women!

Reception

The critical reception of The Wild Bunch was generally positive, though the film’s scenes of graphic violence dominated early reviews. Vincent Canby wrote:

There’s this bit right, where Ernest Borgnine gets the Gattling gun and he goes ‘RATATATATATATATATATAT!’ and like the Mexicans are going ‘Arrrgh’ and then this kid shoots P’Kew! and Borginine’s like ‘Urhhh’ and someone else shoots and goes P’Kew! But Borgnine still has the Gattling gun and it goes ‘RATATATA!’ ‘RATATATATATATTATATAT!’

The Wild Bunch was released in 1969.

For more of The Making of CLICK HERE.

ERNEST BORGNINE ALIVE AGAIN

HOLLYWOOD – Ernest Borgnine, the much loved Oscar winning actor who passed away last year at the age of 95, is apparently alive once more and back at work.

The Wild Bunch and Ice Station Zebra actor Ernest Borgnine spent just over a year dead, but has now returned because of a little known contractual obligation that was triggered when Airwolf: the Movie was finally green lit last week.
In his first post resurrection interview, Borgnine told the Studio Exec exclusively:

I’m glad to be back. Of course, when you get to 95 every extra year is a bonus, so I’m happy to be back and doing what I love. I’m very proud of my work on Airwolf and will be pleased to return to the character of Dominic and tell his story.

Jan-Michael Vincent has already confirmed his participation along with Shia LaBeouf, who will play his son. Given the unique opportunity to tell us something about the hereafter, we asked Ernest what he could tell us about the afterlife:

I’m sorry, no can do. They made me sign a very strict confidentiality agreement.

Airwolf: the Movie will begin next month.