The Wild Bunch
1962, R, 144 min. Directed by Sam Peckinpah. Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernandez, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones.
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., March 31, 1995
“Let's Go.” “Why Not? Then, accompanied by Jerry Fielding's brilliant score, William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates walk down the street in an attempt to save their friend's life. The story of how these American bank robbers ended up about to confront a small army of Mexican rebels has been lyrically and violently revealed over the last two hours. They walk off calmly, not only to meet their destiny but to welcome it, in a world where the nature of freedom is changing, we can still choose to die on our own honorable terms. This almost all male, violence-defined and defining world, where honor is the center and loyalty the moral rule, makes for a controversial masterpiece. The grounds for objection to Peckinpah's third film are long and reasonable. It is my favorite film. Has been since 1969 when, home from college, I caught it during the first week's run in Times Square in New York City. Leaving the theatre after seeing the movie, I'll always remember just how quiet the city seemed. One week after The Wild Bunch opened, the film was cut by nine minutes. Gone, amazingly enough, were two crucial flashbacks involving Pike Bishop (Holden). During much of the movie, the “bunch,” after pulling an ill-fated bank robbery, are pursued by hired Pinkerton thugs led by ex-bunch member Deke Thornton (Ryan), hoping to win his parole from prison by finding his former partners. One of the excised flashbacks relates how it was Bishop's carelessness that caused Thornton to be sent to prison. The other gives details of Pike's past. Peckinpah's brutal poetry is unusually layered, actions reverberate against actions, issues of loyalty are raised and examined. Each of the cuts, including one of Mapache's army being driven off by Pancho Villa's army and another of a conversation between Pike and old man Sykes (O'Brien), add to the meanings and relationships in the film. This current theatrical version, with a full 10 minutes restored, is definitely worth seeing, not for some collector's thrill of seeing every frame ever shot, but because it is a richer movie restored. “Director's cut,” still, is a misleading title for this version. It closely resembles the original release print, and evidently matches the original 144-minute European release print. According to some sources, Peckinpah's ideal version was trimmed by at least 20 minutes before the film was released. Beautifully shot by Lucien Ballard, driven by some extraordinary performances, and brilliantly crafted by Peckinpah, The Wild Bunch, in any version, is worth seeing. Peckinpah's grasp, for once, matches his reach and in this Western story he achieves a mythological tone for his moral fable. This version, in addition to the extra 10 minutes, has been color-corrected and restored and features a remixed soundtrack.