Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #186
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Starring: William Holden and Emilio Fernandez
Allow me to give a brief synopsis of my presently short (and therefore still torrid) love affair with the Western genre. In April of this year, I started reading previews for Red Dead Redemption. It sounded absolutely amazing, and screen shots revealed that it looked pretty much the same. Then, Willie Nelson's verse in the Highwaymen's "The Last Cowboy Song" ("Remington showed us how he looked on canvas/And Louis L'Amour has told us his tale") inspired me to do some research, and I started falling in love with the imagery of the Old West. Before long, I bought Red Dead Redemption and checked out Sergio Leone's Man With No Name trilogy, and became totally obsessed with the Western genre. My only experience with Westerns prior to April had been through Shane, which I disliked when I saw it in the 8th grade and have yet to give another chance to. Now, though, Westerns are my bread and butter, and I jump at the opportunity to see one I haven't seen yet.
That brings us to The Wild Bunch. Praised as an American answer to Leone's spaghetti westerns, Sam Peckinpah's 1969 epic is the tale of a rowdy group (nice synonym work, right?) of aging outlaws who get conned on what they hope is their last job and end up having to collude with an unscrupulous Mexican general. The gang is headlined by a fairly cool William Holden who clearly wants to one-up Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name performances with his own as Pike Bishop – and doesn't, by the way. The typically beautiful setting that is the trademark of any Western stands out as the protagonists hover around the Texas-Mexico border for most of the film's 180 minute duration.
A few things separate this movie from Leone's superior contemporary Westerns in a positive way, though: For whatever reason, American censors in 1969 must have been more tolerant of violence and sexuality than Italian censors. The impressive gunfights actually result in bloodshed unlike those in the Man With No Name flicks, and there's a wonderful abundance of – pardon my language – great Mexican tits, mostly those of prostitutes. These things might seem gratuitous, and I might sound adolescent for even mentioning them, but they do lend some realism to the film that was missing in contemporary Westerns.
Somehow, despite its merits and its faithful execution of the spaghetti western formula, nothing feels truly special about The Wild Bunch. It just feels like a good movie, one that you would never turn off if you stumbled upon it on TV, but still one that you would never buy on DVD. It's well-executed, but it's missing that certain special something that pushes Sergio Leone's and Clint Eastwood's contributions to the genre to the next level. There's nothing wrong with The Wild Bunch, per se, but there's nothing to make it stand out from the field of other movies that there's nothing wrong with, either. Still, it's several steps better than mediocre, and it's certainly worth a viewing, especially for someone with an interest in the genre.
The Good: The gunfights are all wonderfully choreographed and realistic, and they don't feel like something we've seen a thousand times before like so many gunfights tend to feel. Honorable mention to the fact that this is the crispest, nicest looking pre-1990s movie I've ever seen. Maybe I'm ignorant and the DVD was simply remastered, but the camera shots look amazing.
The Bad: There's quite a few scenes where Pike has flashbacks, and those are rather poorly executed. It's tough to even know what's going on until you've seen a few of them, and at that point, you're kind of rolling your eyes. I'm sorry for using lots of first and second person in this blog post, too. Really, I am. I'm very tired and LeBron James plays for the Miami Heat now.
The Skinny: Probably doesn't really deserve to be in the Top 250, especially considering the fact that The Outlaw Josey Wales and A Fistful of Dollars are not.