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The Wild Bunch (1969)


“Lets Go”


“The Wild Bunch” starts in a hot and dusty Texas border town in the dying days of the American West. The story  is about a gang of losers led by the aging Pike (William Holden,) who is desperately trying to have his gang make one last robbery before retiring. However Pike and his men make no moves to leave the life of bandits. They are hunted by one of their own (Robert Ryan) who is trying to stop his old comrades to avoid going back to prison. The gang moves south and becomes embroiled in the Mexican Revolution leading to a violent conclusion which thrilled and amazed me. The film is cast brilliantly with solid character actors Ernest Borgnine, Edmond Obrien, Warren Oates, and Jaime Sanchez.
​The film is part of the New Hollywood trend that hit movies during the late 1960’s. It was the era of rebel film makers and rebel unconventional movies. The era of John Ford and John Wayne was ending. Some of the greats to come out of this wave was Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now and The Godfather. Sam Peckinpah was one of the directors who made these wild, more violent and intense cinema to the public. The film is grimy there is no smooth Technicolor, the whole film feels gritty and the characters look really dirty. The cinematography feels like if the whole world is winding down and all that is great has left the world behind. The music is filled with the sadness of a time near the end.
​The Wild Bunch is very exciting. It is essentially the tale of outlaw near the end of his life. Deke, the bounty hunter declares to his incompetent colleagues: “We are after men- I wish to God I was with them.” There is an irresistible sense of brotherhood among these grimy outlaws. The film celebrates and subverts violence. It’s about the death of the west,  and that brings another film to mind.  John Wayne ended his venerable film career with “The Shootist,” a melancholy tale of a dying gunfighter deciding to end his life on his own terms. In “The Shootist,” the West dies quietly. The Wild Bunch takes the opposite approach. There is a brilliant sequence where the gang gets its guns and takes a long walk to their doom. There the West ends in a hail of gunfire, blood and glory. This film is the story of what happened to Robin Hood, his Merry Men and all the outlaws. Times change but men seem unable or unwilling to change to suit the times. They live past their times. Maybe the way they go out is the most honest way the West ended. Not with triumph but a hail of gunfire. See it.

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Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins, The Classic Movie Series.

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  1. I just watched this for the first time — I was really struck by how many children are in the film. From the beginning sequence of the kids torturing the scorpion, to the baby suckling at its mother’s breast, to the kid who kills Holden – there are children everywhere, though none are actually characters. So many establishing shots feature children and women.

    I think maybe the point of this is that these “wild men” aren’t conquered by other violent men – either the bounty hunters chasing them or the mad general they end up in a shootout with – but by domesticity itself. The West has become a (mostly) safe place for women and children, and there’s less and less room for violent men.

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