This is among the classic westerns, one which must be seen only in the 145-minute director's cut version to be fully appreciated. Yes, it is an exceptionally violent film but none of the graphic violence seems to me gratuitous, unlike in some of director Sam Peckinpah's other films. Pike Bishop (William Holden) heads a gang which robs banks and trains. Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) is a former member whom railroad owner Harrigan (Albert Dekker) arranges to be released from prison on the single condition that Thornton lead efforts to kill or capture Bishop and his gang. If he fails, he will be returned to prison. The quality of all performances is outstanding, as are Peckinpah's direction and the cinematography provided by Lucien Ballard.
The primary plot involves Thornton's efforts to complete his assignment but there are several interesting sub plots, notably one involving Coffer (Strother Martin) and his fellow scavengers. (Martin once observed that he and Dub Taylor specialized in portraying "prairie scum.") The opening scene shows a scorpion being consumed by fire ants. Coffer and his motley crew hope to have a similar opportunity to feast on what remains of the Bishop gang. I was also fascinated by the interaction between the Bishop gang and the Mexican federales (headed by General Mapache played by Emilio Fernandez) who also pursue them. Time eventually runs out. Bishop and his associates must decide: Either quietly depart with their tails between their legs or take a stand and probably be killed.
In my opinion, the final sequence justifies all of the violence which precedes it. Many of those who have seen this film are offended by its especially graphic portrayal of bloodshed. They have a point unless they take into full account the frontier culture in 1913 in which Bishop and his associates challenge all manner of conventions (as does Peckinpah) while fulfilling their destiny as robbers and killers. They are what they are. They have no self-delusions. None. Thornton is the only sympathetic character, Bishop's reluctant and weary adversary. In the last scene, his body language is especially eloquent. He and we feel spent. Enough. No more. It's over.
Question: Given the recent advances in technologies of various kinds, why does the visual and/or audio quality of DVDs often vary so much? Why can't "they" get it right every time?
on 13 April 2010
Released in America in June 1969 but not released in the U.K. until January 1970 nothing could quite prepare British audiences for the visual onslaught that this film is from the opening bank robbery scene with all and sundry being gunned down like nine pins.
The American director Sam Peckinpah long with the Italian director Sergio Leone who both re-invented the western from the Black and white hats of 40's and 50's to a more realistic form of storytelling where the lines between good and evil get blurred and the villains are all sweaty, dirty and despicable where they fight over a dead man's boots.
For the re-release of this film on DVD (which was a two-sided disc) in 1997 the running time went from 134 minutes to 145 minutes, this is the version that has been put out on Blu-ray in 2008 which is in 1080p resolution and has had its original six track sound track up-graded to Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound along with French stereo, Spanish mono and German mono, and Italian Mono there are plenty subtitles to choose from English, Castilian Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese & Swedish.
The restoration and transfer to Blu-ray has made the colours and sound of this cinematic masterpiece look as fresh as it did on its original 1969 U.S. release if you like westerns this is a must have in your Blu-ray collection
on 27 February 2006
For me this rather than The Searchers or Red River is the greatest western ever.
I love it not for the violence but for the mournful tone that is omnipresent. unlike say Leone (whose work I love), Peckinpah makes films about the West rather than about other Westerns. The violence DOES remain shocking & exhilarating, despite the fact that he's been plagirised by directors in subsequent years. This is the DVD that finally does justice to a highpoint in American cinema, with a fine,loving but unsparing documentary. The film itself looks spectacular in this transfer and it comes highly recommended.
on 15 January 2012
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Cross of Iron, The Wild Bunch...all decades old, all very different - and all imprinted with Sam Peckinpah's peerless ability to depict the visceral shock of violence in a stunning cinematic way - in that he pretty much stands alone. It's the end of the road for the Wild Bunch, as they look for that last big robbery that will release them from their life of crime - but you know that's never going to happen. The legendary bank job opens the film, as the gang go about their business in an unsettlingly calm and professional way - and the town's population gets blown all to hell. After that it's cat and mouse as Deke Thornton (a quietly impressive Robert Ryan), having sold his soul, tries to track down his old buddies. William Holden as gang leader Pike Bishop is in imperious form, marked by his world weariness, his recognition that it's the end of the road, and his utter loyalty to his crew. The last walk of the four remaining members of the Bunch to reclaim fallen colleague Angel is a nerve tingling lead up to the thrilling finale. Whilst you know what's coming, that thunderously bloody climax is still one of cinema's all time classics. The noise, confusion, blood & gore, balletic slowmo death throes, rough and ready editing (so appropriate here) - in my view this is the most dramatic and gripping shoot out of them all (and that includes the epic ending of Saving Private Ryan). It's Peckinpah's greatest - and that's saying something...
Pekinpah's Wild Bunch has aged well. It's withstood the test of time and stills feels relevant today. Even the Blu Ray transfer is excellent being crisp and clear, so not even poor picture quality gives it away.
The sets, scenery and costumes are timeless because they're all of an era. The cast of actors remain as convincing as ever, and the extras just as ugly.
The finale is just as bloody and brutal and the story just as gripping. There is little that makes this film feel old or out of place today, and that makes it still one to watch.
on 14 January 2012
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Cross of Iron, The Wild Bunch...all decades old, all very different - and all imprinted with Sam Peckinpah's peerless ability to depict the visceral shock of violence in a stunning cinematic way - in that he pretty much stands alone. It's the end of the road for the Wild Bunch, as they look for that last big robbery that will release them from their life of crime - but you know that's never going to happen. The legendary bank job opens the film, as the gang go about their business in an unsettlingly calm and professional way - and the town's population gets blown all to hell. After that it's cat and mouse as Deke Thornton (a quietly impressive Robert Ryan), having sold his soul, tries to track down his old buddies. William Holden as gang leader Pike Bishop is in imperious form, marked by his world weariness, his recognition that it's the end of the road, and his utter loyalty to his crew. The last walk of the four remaining members of the Bunch to reclaim fallen colleague Angel is a nerve tingling lead up to the thrilling finale. Whilst you know what's coming, that thunderously bloody climax is still one of cinema's all time classics. The noise, confusion, blood & gore, balletic slowmo death throes, rough and ready editing (so appropriate here) - in my view this is the most dramatic and gripping shoot out of them all (and that includes the epic climax of Saving Private Ryan). It's Peckinpah's greatest - and that's saying something...
on 1 April 2010
Early 20th century.A group of Outlaws led by Pike(William Holden)who are finding that times are passing them by narrowly escape an ambush whilst robbing a Wells Fargo.A "posse"led by ex gang member Deke Thornton(Robert Ryan)who engineered the ambush pursue them into Mexico where the bunch attempt to set up one last haul by selling stolen guns to a mexican despot.
Sam Peckinpah's best film -with due respect to Pat Garrett and Ride THe High Country- is the greatest western ever made.Dialogue,cinematography,music,direction and editing are without peer in the genre.This the longest version at 145 minutes is splendid in blu ray with only the end sequence being somewhat grainy.
However what really sets The Wild Bunch apart in delivering Peckinpah's interpretation of a dying west is the acting.Here more so than in Pat Garrett,he assembled through luck,judgement whatever a group of actors that could just not be replicated today.Sure there are many fine actors around today but when one of the better ones of today Billy Bob Thornton says on the main doc that he was in awe of Warren Oates,you just know the Bunch would not work today.Career best turns from Holden and Borgnine are augmented by Ben Johnson, Oates, a wonderful Edmund O'Brien as Sykes and of course Robert Ryan whose ability to invest flawed characters with a vivid sense of honour was well in force here.The casting lower down is impeccable too with the superb L Q Jones and Strother Martin as two feral members of the posse being standouts.
The opening gun battle with Peckinpah juxtaposing the brutality and almost carnality of the combatants against the innocent children witnessing carnage that will haunt their childhoods forever is brillianty judged.Here on blu ray this sequence really comes alive with the muted colours,the street dust and the faces of the men being pin sharp.
The extras are the same as the standard def Two Disc Director's cut but for this film ,Blu ray is an essential purchase.
The Wild Bunch is a brutal masterpiece of a western. It depicts the end of the western era (the film is set in 1913) through a group of ageing outlaws who just want to pull off one more big job. In fact the west has already ended but they dont realise it yet.
From the opening bank raid to the bloodbath ending the film is brilliantly realised by Peckinpah. The casting is perfection. William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oats and Robert Ryan all give memorable performances. Although the film is actually quite depressing, it is strangely compelling viewing and the reason for this is that the characters do gain our sympathy. Curiously watching it again recently it occured to me that this film is the dark side of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Except in The Wild Bunch the cameras don't freeze at the end...
Ultimately the main credit goes to Sam Peckinpah who made a number of classic films. This is one of his best - a great movie.
on 30 November 2013
Like many of the great westerns, there's a lot of length in TWB, and no end of sequences that you tend to forget when you're thinking about it. There are many, many parallels with that other wondrous western of the same year, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and I think this was driven hard to hit the cinema first because of those similarities. Both tease you along between brilliant set pieces in an almost gentle, lazy way. Josey Wales does the same. I often wonder whether TWB and BCATSK are really about the same characters, and had they been made at different times, Pike would have been introduced to us as Butch and Dutch as Sundance. The real Cassidy's gang was of course, the Wild Bunch Gang, though the connection isn't always strongly made, even when similarities are mentioned. I guess the parallels are easy to draw, like ley lines, and may have as little foundation. Both are brilliant movies, not just amongst the best westerns, but amongst the best of movies. One grim, one humorous, like 28 Days Later and Sean of the Dead.
Each movie is a hymn to the end of a time in the West, and both engender empathy with the protagonists in their different ways. Both do leave you with real sadness. Well me, anyway.
TWB, in its set pieces, from the opening shoot-out, the train robbery, to the final shoot-out, is thrilling to watch. So many sadly-missed actors cast giant shadows in this, I won't bother to list them; Robert Ryan's Deke Thornton is sometimes as dogged as the perfect Pinkerton man, at others he's a tad reluctant, possibly marking his out the THE performance of the movie, but amongst this crowd of great he-men, well, it's just full of great stuff.
The comradeship element amongst really hard men is well done and gives that touch of humanity to the characters, so much deeper than most of the shallow stuff of today.
Whatever, this is a really, really, great movie, essential viewing for the Western lover, and who knows, that 18 rating on the box might be, what, a 12 today?