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Here's how director Sam Peckinpah described his motivation behind The Wild Bunch at the time of the film's 1969 release: "I was trying to tell a simple story about bad men in changing times. The Wild Bunch is simply what happens when killers go to Mexico. The strange thing is you feel a great sense of loss when these killers reach the end of the line." All of these statements are true, but they don't begin to cover the impact that Peckinpah's film had on the evolution of American movies. Now the film is most widely recognized as a milestone event in the escalation of screen violence, but that's a label of limited perspective. Of course, Peckinpah's bloody climactic gunfight became a masterfully directed, photographed, and edited ballet of graphic violence that transcended the conventional Western and moved into a slow-motion realm of pure cinematic intensity. But the film--surely one of the greatest Westerns ever made--is also a richly thematic tale of, as Peckinpah said, "bad men in changing times." The year is 1913 and the fading band of thieves known as the Wild Bunch (led by William Holden as Pike) decide to pull one last job before retirement. But an ambush foils their plans, and Peckinpah's film becomes an epic yet intimate tale of betrayed loyalties, tenacious rivalry, and the bunch's dogged determination to maintain their fading code of honor among thieves. The 144-minute director's cut enhances the theme of male bonding that recurs in many of Peckinpah's films, restoring deleted scenes to deepen the viewer's understanding of the friendship turned rivalry between Pike and his former friend Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), who now leads a posse in pursuit of the bunch, a dimension that adds resonance to an already classic American film. The Wild Bunch is a masterpiece that should not be defined strictly in terms of its violence, but as a story of mythic proportion, brimming with rich characters and dialogue and the bittersweet irony of outlaw traditions on the wane. --Jeff ShannonAdditional Features:
Paul Seydor's excellent Oscar-nominated documentary short from 1996, The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage, is included on the 30th Anniversary video. Seydor--a noted film historian and editor, as well as the author of Peckinpah: The Western Films--A Reconsideration--used previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage as the basis for this expertly crafted short. The silent, black and white film is accompanied by reminiscences from principal members of Peckinpah's cast and crew, in addition to voice-over quotations from the late director himself (as read by actor Ed Harris). Filled with anecdotes about the production and Peckinpah's inspired use of improvisation (including the film's climactic scene known as "the long walk"), this 34-minute film offers a rare glimpse of Peckinpah's creative process, his driven personality, and the technical challenges of creating the most infamous shootout in the history of film. Imagine a shortage of costumes and an excess of fake blood and bullet holes, and you'll gain a greater appreciation of The Wild Bunch and the effort that went into its creation. --Jeff Shannon
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