We’ve had a Netflix subscription for several years and use it mostly to compress a season of “Mad Men” or “Friday Night Lights” into a week rather than several months. But once in a while a movie will come to my attention and I’ll stick it in the queue. Eventually it arrives in the mail. And so it was with “The Wild Bunch”, Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 western that starred William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson and many others. I had only seen bits and pieces of the film on TV but I always remember a teacher talking about the movie back in the early 1970s in an almost mystical way.
Here’s what movie critic Leonard Maltin wrote about “The Wild Bunch” in his 2008 Movie Guide:
Peckinpah’s best film, won instant notoriety for its “beautiful” bloodletting, but seems almost restrained alongside today’s films. Aging outlaws with their own code of ethics find themselves passe in 1913 and decide to retire after one final haul. Acting, dialogue, direction, score, photography and especially editing are world class; an authentic American classic.
Like “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) the gun battles in “The Wild Bunch” were filmed close-up, sometimes in slow motion, and always with ample blood flying. In the late 1960s, such scenes were novel and shocking but as Maltin points out, they actually seem somewhat tame compared to what we’ve grown used to more recently. Because the violence of these films is not as startling today as when they were first released, it’s a good time to go back and see them again. “The Wild Bunch” shows America at a transitional moment as new technology in the form of the automobile, the machine gun, and other new inventions were bringing change at a faster pace than society might have been prepared for.