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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Wild Bunch (1969)



Reviews and Comments

Sam Peckinpah's controversial The Wild Bunch caused quite a stir when it was released. It was denounced heavily from all corners, yet, as with Bonnie and Clyde two years earlier, survived the outcry and is hailed as one of the first great modern American films. It is brutal and violent, to be sure, and the flying bodies and spraying blood (if John Woo ever saw it, the first and final scenes must have been an inspiration to him) must have given sixties' audiences quite a shock. What so often happens with controversial classics is that the intellectual content beneath the madness (missing in the imitations, made by those who can't see beyond the madness itself) isn't discovered and accepted for some time afterward.

The Wild Bunch, for starters, is an absorbing character study. In a broader sense, it's an account of the passing of an old, and in some twisted way honorable, code. The wild bunch is a gang of big time thieves. They steal from banks and trains and so forth, but they only use violence when it's necessary, and they'd prefer not to kill civilians. The new generation doesn't understand these values -- for them, violence and pain is fun. Perhaps the generation before the wild bunch also had a code, one older and more honorable than the bunch's. Then what code, if any, would follow that of the young generation in this film?

The acting is terrific. The movie stars William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, and others. See the widescreen version if at all possible, for Peckinpah makes efficient use of his frame, and try to see the director's cut, too, which contains flashback sequences important to understanding the characters. (Initially they were removed to shorten the running time so theaters could fit in more screenings per day.)