April's edition of the rewind will feature another great western, one what many people consider the last of the great westerns, 1969's The Wild Bunch. Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, William Oates, and Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch is about a bunch of outlaws in the dying days of the old west. The world is turning modern and there is slowly becoming no place for men like them, bandits and thieves living off the land and riding as they please. The times are changing and the west is dying, and no one is safe, and The Wild Bunch look for one last score.
The film, directed by the great Sam Peckinpah, was his ode to the dying of the west. Even John Wayne commented that the movie killed the myth of the old west, and the westerns of the 50's and 60's gave way to the desperation westerns of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone, before dying out completely by the 80's. The Wild Bunch is all the Peckinpah is known for, quick edit cuts of the camera, rough fighting men, complex characters who are neither right nor wrong, and the over the top violence that was such a signature of his films.
The movie's plot is pretty simple, William Holden is Pike, and aging leader of a group of outlaws who agree to rob a train of Army weapons for a Mexican general after a failed bank robbery nets them nothing. In the end, it's their conscious and the need of a friend that gets them involved in one of the cinema's bloodiest shootouts in history. Supposedly more blank rounds are fired in this film than were fired in the Mexican revolution of 1914 that the story is loosely based around.
The most famous scene in the movie isn't even in the script. Just a shot of the Wild Bunch walking to help there friend, when everything looks hopeless and you find out what kind of stuff you are made of. In the end the film is a visceral and tough movie that so typified Peckinpah's movies. The Wild Bunch symbolized the dying the west, and its fitting that this is the film that also killed the west for Hollywood.
The Wild Bunch's influence can still be felt today, in directors like Quentin Tarentino and Frank Miller, who use the violence and over the top sensibility to exaggerate effect. I love the Wild Bunch for all these reasons, it one of the best westerns ever made.
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