Saturday, February 7, 2009


[*From the STMcC Archive; 2005, February*]


~ Jesus Christ

THE WILD BUNCH: A Cinematic Masterpiece

To refer to “THE WILD BUNCH” as one of the greatest Western movies ever made is to do it a great injustice; no qualifying allowed. It is one of the finest films ever created in ANY genre!

Evaluating THE WILD BUNCH objectively in terms of narrative force, characterization, direction, scope, suspense, and pure excitement, it is unsurpassed in the pantheon of Western films – the “Citizen Kane” of Westerns.

Directed by SAM PECKINPAH in 1969, the story takes place primarily in Mexico during the revolution of 1913.

Unbeknownst to most Americans, 1913 also saw a revolution occurring in the United States. In December of that year, the Federal Reserve Act passed and was signed into law. This gave control of the U.S. economy to private bankers. The Federal Reserve Act began the Socialization of America in earnest. (Read “The Creature From Jekyll Island” by G. Edward Griffin.) I can't help smiling when I hear the movie's principal character, PIKE BISHOP (William Holden), tell the German military advisor, "We share very few sentiments with our government."

'Changing Times' is the great overarching theme in THE WILD BUNCH, which follows an aging outlaw gang, fast becoming an anachronism. But The Wild Bunch is a rich tapestry of interwoven themes and motivations. I've been watching it at least once a year since 1989 and yet I never fail to find new textures in it.

The primary theme is even portrayed in the film's color scheme. While it was shot in color, nearly everything appears to be one or another shade of brown. The viewer is left with the distinct impression that he has just seen an old-time sepia-tone movie. The only other color that manages to occasionally make its presence felt is green. Green, the color of Spring - a new season being born after the dead of Winter. A slowly evolving new era; green life seeping into the lifeless brown.

Independently, the members of The Bunch hope to make one good haul and assimilate into this new epoch. But from the very first images on the screen the viewer is clued in that this is not feasible. The film opens with children (representing this new generation) tormenting a few scorpions by stirring up a swarm of red ants against them. The dangerous scorpions are simpy overwhelmed. This imagery will be reprised at the end of the picture in the form of the few remaining dangerous outlaws, the swarming Mexican revolutionaries, and a small child with a rifle.

Encountering their first automobile, The Bunch express an interest in trading their extra horses for it; encountering his first machine gun, PIKE BISHOP, the gang's leader says, "What I don't know about, I sure as hell am going to learn." These moments hint that The Wild Bunch does not desire to remain outside of the burgeoning new world.

The Wild Bunch consists of murderers and thieves, and excepting ANGEL (Jaime Sanchez) - the young, idealistic member of the outlaw band who is devoted to the people of his Mexican village - this Bunch suffers no allegiance to anything but their own self-interests. "We're not associated with anybody," DUTCH ENGSTROM (Ernest Borgnine) proclaims. The gang's internal squabbles are constant and when Pike chastises them, "When you side with a man you stay with him, and if you can't do that you're like some animal! You're finished. We're finished. All of us!" it remains to be seen whether or not this actually holds any meaning for any of them.

And yet, at times we see a glimmer of true humanity in these desperados:

They assist an old lady in crossing the street on their way to a robbery.

When we first see FREDDIE SYKES (Edmond O'Brien) he's showing appreciation for a Mexican infant.

ANGEL, singing and strumming a guitar, exhibits the ability to convey the sensitivities of a tender ballad.

TECTOR GORCH (Ben Johnson) belies his curmudgeonly exterior when at the sight of starving canines, he scolds, "Hey, Angel, why in the hell don't you tell your folks to feed them dogs?!"

"We're after MEN, and I wish to God I was with them," bemoans DEKE THORNTON (Robert Ryan), former comrade to Pike Bishop and now the leader of the ragtag posse chasing The Wild Bunch. And this is indeed a man's movie, portraying a lost time when men were men and women were ladies - a true rarity in our current era of artificial gender-bending.

Due to a severe case of "male-member envy" amongst women, America currently exists in a monogender culture. The Woman found that She was no longer content to HAVE a man; now She wanted to BE a man! So they utilized steroids and/or hGH, pumped iron, tattooed their bodies, took up sports, acquired pickup trucks, and (after physical standards were lowered to accommodate them) joined the Fire Department, the Police Force, and the Military.

[*2009 NOTE: Have you noticed that about half of all pickup trucks on the road today are driven by women? Have you ever asked yourself why this is so? Do women appreciate the great gas mileage they get with trucks? Have they fallen in love with the sleek lines and sporty look of trucks? Is it because women are forever hauling stuff and require the bed of a pickup truck? Or do they drive trucks because men do? Ah-ha! Why has The Modern Female chosen to be a fourth-rate man rather than a first-rate woman? If you answered, “Mass conditioning by Socialistic social engineers” then give yourself a pat on the back and an “Atta boy, Girl!”]

Some men met the women halfway by coloring their hair and wearing earrings. Hardly a movie, television program, or video game has been produced in the last 15 years that doesn't include at least one occurrence of a woman unrealistically knocking the stuffing out of some man. We managed to save the buffalo, the eagle, the whale, and the seal. But the "lady" seems to be extinct! THE WILD BUNCH harks back to a more natural and realistic era. It is a film about male dinosaurs, made by male dinosaurs, for male dinosaurs.

After accomplishing their goals, discontentment settles upon The Wild Bunch. If they are truly "MEN", why do they now feel like animals?

THE WILD BUNCH is masterful in every respect. Notice:

* The brilliant direction.

* The creative photography and juxtaposition of images.

* The world-class editing which yanks the viewer into the chaos of the action sequences. (According to ‘Wild Bunch’ editor Lou Lombardo, the original release print contains 3,643 editorial cuts, more than any other Technicolor film ever processed.)

* The clipped, conversational style of dialogue indicative of familiarity.

* How much the characters say throughout the film without utilizing any VERBAL dialogue whatsoever! (For Example: Notice how the decision to face off against Mapache and his troops is made particularly poignant because it is expressed in only 4 words: PIKE: "Let's go." / LYLE: "Why not?" Dutch just sees the look in Pike's eyes and he laughs with understanding: This is the showdown we need.)

* The excellent acting: career defining performances from Holden, Borgnine, O'Brien, Warren Oates, Strother Martin, and Emilio Fernandez - who is magnificent as the drunken General Mapache.

When THE WILD BUNCH was first released in 1969, it was highly controversial because of its excessive degree of violence. The graphic, slow motion shots of blood spurting from bodies was unknown in cinema at that time. The violence in THE WILD BUNCH, however, is pretty tame by today's standards. Practically every War and Horror movie released in the last 20 years exceeds this film in terms of gore. While the violence in THE WILD BUNCH is a significant component of the narrative, this is actually a character-driven story. Despite the blood and bullets, it’s really a Western for thinkers.

There are many more nuances in this fine film which I could discuss, but I hesitate to rob others of the chance to explore this masterpiece for themselves.

Not unlike the original "ROCKY" (1976), THE WILD BUNCH tells the story of losers who somehow stumble upon one last opportunity to redeem themselves and justify their existence; to dedicate what little remains of their lives to seeking one moment of honor. But whereas for Rocky Balboa success means avoiding being sent to the canvas for a count of ten, success for THE WILD BUNCH means being sent to the grave forever.


It has suddenly occurred to me that although I wrote, "I hesitate to rob others of the chance to explore this masterpiece for themselves," some readers might not actually know HOW to discover subtext and nuance in a film.

The cast and crew in a film company make Big Bucks - "Time is money!" And it can take an hour (or more) to set up for a single shot that might represent 5 seconds (or less) of action on the screen. If you see it, then know that it's there for a reason because it cost a good amount of money to put it there. So, there is one all-important rule to discovering underlying meaning in a film: ANALYZE EVERYTHING YOU SEE!

Ask yourself, "How might this relate to the theme or themes established in this movie? What additional information does this provide about the character/s?" There is no throwaway action.

The difference between a very good director and a poor one is that the master filmmaker has things to say and knows how to skillfully and creatively convey them - usually in a subtle fashion.

For Example [Warning: one very minor ‘spoiler’ included here]:
THE WILD BUNCH opens with a robbery during which Pike's horse inadvertently tramples a woman in the street. In making his getaway, Pike finds part of the woman's white shawl clinging to one of his spurs and he tosses it to the ground in disgust. THIS IS A DIRECTORIAL STATEMENT! And it gets restated at the end when a woman shoots Pike in the back, after which he wheels around and shotguns her to death. Why do you think Peckinpah spent the time (i.e., money) to show these things? He was using action to say something about the "civilizing" and "socializing" of ruggedly masculine individualists.

Remember: Think about EVERYTHING that appears on the screen. If you're seeing it, you're seeing it for some REASON!

Now enjoy the movie and the bloodied popcorn.
Uhm… I meant “buttered.”

~ Stephen ( T. rex ) McCarthy


  1. Not a single comment on this? What a shame. This blog post is a masterpiece. I admit I've seen the movie and didn't like it much, but that's because you are exactly correct. It's a man's movie about men, and me? "Well, I'm still trying to be a lady in a world that doesn't much appreciate that, among men who don't seem to value it either.

    All that said your citing of the various nuances in film making and in particular this movie, make this essay something that should be required reading in any film school, IMO.

    1. Wow! Thanks a godzillion, FAE!

      Yeah, when I went to get a link for this blog bit to include in my 'LISTING BLOGHOP' post, I was surprised to find no comments. I hadn't visited here since... well, probably since I posted it, and didn't remember it hadn't been commented upon.

      Very nice compliment, my friend!

      For many years, Film was very important to me, as you know, and I thought long and hard about it. Read about it, and learned a lot having spent all those hours on movie and TV sets for 7 or 8 years.

      ~ D-FensDogG
      'Loyal American Underground'

    2. Too many people are stuck on "super hero" movies. I hate "super hero cinema. I'm a reality person.

    3. I have an aversion to Super Hero movies. I dislike it. Reality is better.

  2. I agree with you 100% about Superhero movies. If a person is 12 years old, OK, I get it. But anyone older than 17 who is still watching that garbage ought to be ashamed. It's time to move up to adult entertainment. (No, I don't mean porn. Nor Dilligas Saloon. HA!)

    And I feel the same way about zombie, vampire, Star Bores and Battlestar Ga-crap-tica kind of movies. Sheesh! It's the same old nonsense over and over. Just the names are changed to protect the maroons.

    ~ D-FensDogG
    Check out my new blog @
    [Link:) Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...


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