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.
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.
Sam Peckinpah wrote to his mother to describe the difficulties:
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.
That sounds nice. How is Elizabeth Taylor. Is she as pretty as she is in the glossies?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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