17 February 1999 | mokman
"Dutch, there are just some people who can't stand to admit they're wrong"
This is simply one of the best westerns, maybe overall best films ever made. Peckinpah's best by far. It is one of those films that grabs you by the thoat and doesn't let you go until it is over. Brilliant casting. I would be hard pressed to find someone who could have played Pike's part better than William Holden. But the rest of the cast for the main characters: Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates Ben Johnson, Jaimie Sanchez and Edmund O'Brien are equally effective in their respective roles. Even the secondary actors, namely Strother Martin and LQ Jones are also great as the "gutter trash" bounty hunters Robert Ryan has to lead in chasing down Pike and his band.
This movie deals with aging gunfighters who had outlived their era, and see their "code of conduct" now passe' in the early 20th Century on the eve of World War I. Technology
in the way of cars, planes, and machine guns has rendered living and dying more impersonal than in Pike's et. al day. In some ways, with the end of the millennium at hand and all the vast technological changes, and changes in values, habits, and lifestyles that have taken place, even in the last couple of decades, many of us viewing the picture can sense just a bit of empathy with the main characters... Although this movie is an action film, there is a sort of foreboding throughout the film that the end is near for them. Yet when it occurs it will happen on their terms. One of my favorite scenes is when Pike and Dutch are sitting in their bedrolls by the fire at Angel's village. Pike talks about the railroad man Harrigan and how "some people just can't stand to admit they're wrong... or learn by it!" And then Dutch asks Pike if he believes they had learned anything today, referring to the bloodbath in the opening scene in Starbuck, to which Pike replies "I sure hope to God we did." The movie when released in 1969 received a lot of criticism for the violence, which was indeed unparralelled at that time. But it is relatively tame by today's standards. Moreover, the violence is not gratuitious as we see in so many films today. You see consquences to the violence hence the "death ballet." the two children holding each other during the shootout in the opening scene, and Robert Ryan's agonizing chagrin at carnage in the street and noticing the young children emulating the gunfighters in the street, the dead bodies not yet removed.. A suprising number of people who have seen this film have not seen the Director's Cut which was re-released in 1994. It puts back in many key scenes, which develops Pike and Deke Thorton's past, which is crucial to tying the movie together and making it a brilliant film. Without these scenes, then it makes little or no sense.. Unfortunately, many television stations when showing this film show the "butchered" version........
A 30th Anniversary addition has recently come out that includes a half-hour documentary "The Wild Bunch: A Portait in Montage, " which, made in 1996 received much acclaim, including an Oscar Nomination.. It makes the viewer even more appreciate Peckinpah's brilliant improvisational skill as well as the technical feats, such as the unforgettable Rio Grade river bridge scene.