Film Buff Movie of the Month: The Wild Bunch (1969)

by HELEN GEIB

Short posts on my film club’s “movie of the month” series.

John Woo’s cinematic influences are so varied, and so excellent, that there were almost too many options for a pairing with The Killer. I finally decided on Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch because it meant a check mark on that list I keep (we all have one) of movies I must watch someday.

In influence terms, I’d read that The Wild Bunch was significant for Peckinpah’s direction of the action scenes; in particular, the use of slow motion in the gunfights and the intensity and groundbreaking overall bloodiness of the violence. The connection was especially apparent at the climax when the protagonists take turns behind the gatling gun, mowing down a seemingly endless stream of nameless, interchangeable foot soldiers. The use of slow motion in the equally bloody and far more shocking- thanks to the numerous hapless civilians caught in the crossfire- opening robbery is rightly famous.

Although I was vaguely familiar with the plot of The Wild Bunch, it hadn’t clicked that both films are “one last job” stories. Also new to me was the thematic connectedness; the films reveal a shared preoccupation with the outlaw-warrior’s code of honor and the ideal of comradely brotherhood. Underlying the brutality and the de-glamorization of the vanishing old west is that enduring mythos, the romanticization of the gunfighter.

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Indy Film Buffs Movie of the Month Series for 2011

January: The Big Lebowski (1998)
February: Footlight Parade (1933)
March: The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005)
April: Double Indemnity (1944)
May: The Killer (1989)
June: The Wild Bunch (1969)
July: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
August: Far From Heaven (2002)
September: All That Heaven Allows (1955)
October: Eastern Promises (2007)
November: The Roaring Twenties (1939)

3 responses to “Film Buff Movie of the Month: The Wild Bunch (1969)

  1. What I love about The Wild Bunch, besides everything, is especially that it takes place during the early 20th century, unlike most Westerns do. The bloody violence is awsome; the editing is masterful; the music is great; the tention in certain scenes (like the opening massacre) is terrific; the performances are top notch; and the protagonists being the bad guys is, still ’till today unique.

    For the longest time it was my: number 1 Best Western Film of All Time. But now it takes a place in a three-way tie with Shane and The Searchers.
    And closely behind are My Darling Clementine, The Professionals, Once Upon a Time In the West, and any Western from Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher.

    I love film noirs and Westerns above all other genres. :O)

    • I was especially struck by that introductory scene of the children on the outskirts of the western town, torturing the scorpion, and the way it sets- fundamentally alters even- the tone of everything that comes after.

      I didn’t know you were such a fan of the Western Nir. That’s an excellent shortlist! I’m partial to Ford’s films especially, but it’s such a rich genre; there are so many to admire. I have to think the Fifties was the overall best decade, there’s an amazing concentration of great and good Westerns from that period.

      • Absolutely. I mostly recommend the Anthony Mann’s (who originally was directing Spartacus!) Westerns not just because they usually feature Jimmy Stewart but because they are violent and deal with very dark characters. And in a Western, dark characters make great character studies. Stewart, also usually plays an anti-hero in Mann’s films.

        I recommend Wnchester ’73, The Man From Laramie, and a magnificent masterpiece, although not a Western El Cid.

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