Starring: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Ben Johnson
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Set in the final days of the Wild West, a group of aging outlaws try one last job to seal their fortunes, but their plan may just seal their fates. Finding themselves in a Mexican town run by a corrupt General, a violent and bloody shoot out may be their last stand.
Coming after the popular Spagetti Westerns, this film planted the genre firmly back on American soil, and tried to usher in a new phase of the genre. It’s a film with an ensemble cast that delivers on the blood and violence that it felt that film goers now wanted, and got itself an R rating in the process. It also made Peckinpah famous as a director who loved blood and violence.
As a Western, it breaks the classic mold a bit. It’s set not in the Wild West’s hey day, but in 1913, a time when a new era was here. One where the car would replace the horse and buggy and the steam engine replaced the wagon trains. The Wild Bunch no longer belong and can’t adapt. These men are also not heroes or particularly heroic, like the characters John Wayne used to play, for example. They’re likable and often quite funny, but they’re not the good guys. In this film there are no good guys.
One thing that is often noted about this film is that children playing is juxtaposed against the action. Children set fire to an ants nest for example, which is much like the Wild Bunch coming into the Mexican town and setting it ablaze with gunfire.
Perhaps the key point about this film is that the men can’t adapt, they can’t change, and so they must go out in a blaze of gunfire. It says something about the way we look back in our stories about our history and idolise it, when in truth, it’s often brutal, ugly and essentially glorifies people who were not heroes in reality. And yet, it doesn’t feel like a message or preaching film. It’s one that’s full of action and violence, and is very quotable. It’s on many people’s lists of top Westerns.
See It If: you like your Westerns a little more dark and cynical. Fine performances from an excellent ensemble cast and plenty of action.