79 – The Wild Bunch (1969)

Deke Thornton:You think Pike and old Sykes haven’t been watchin’ us. They know what this is all about – and what do I have? Nothin’ but you egg-suckin’, chicken stealing gutter trash with not even sixty rounds between you. We’re after men – and I wish to God I was with them. The next time you make a mistake, I’m going to ride off and let you die.

 

Seen before?

F: Nope.

R: Me neither.

 

Thoughts?

F: Before we start, I just want to say I’ve always had a bit of a problem with Westerns. They were usually on tv in the afternoon and the plot was always the same! This however is definitely a Western that wouldn’t be shown on tv in the afternoon! It’s much more brutal than the others I’ve seen.

R: Likewise, I’ve never been a massive fan of Westerns, and have had fairly limited exposure to them. The lead character in a Western is almost always the strong silent type, which I think is tough to write well. It takes a lot of skill to develop a nuanced character through a collection of scowls! Does this film succeed?

F: To a point. I think the flashback sequences (which apparently weren’t included in the original theatrical release) help to give weight to Pike’s actions. Otherwise he’s just an old timer with a grudge against the new world – although there is an element of that too!

R: I’m not so sure. I didn’t find myself caring too much about either Pike or Thornton, although agree the flashbacks at least give them a little depth. I don’t think the uneven tone of film helps. I wasn’t sure at points if we were supposed to be enjoying the violence or horrified by it. Although perhaps that’s meant to mirror how the bandits see it? I love the line: “we all dream of being a child again, even the worst of us. Perhaps the worst most of all”.

F: I think we’re meant to be shocked that we’re enjoying it! Like in Pulp Fiction. I think the body count in this film will give any of the other films on this list a run for their money! I couldn’t really get on board with the fact there were no ‘good guys’ in this. The bad guys are being hunted by more bad guys whilst trying to steal guns for yet more bad guys. Who are we supposed to root for?

R: I’m normally quite happy to root for an antihero, but they have to be likeable on some level. The leads here have some funny lines and moments of wisdom, but ultimately lack the dark charisma of a Henry Hill (Goodfellas) or even a Louis Bloom (Nightcrawler). Would you agree that the thing this film is better at is giving you a strong sense of time and place?

F: Yes although the 1913 portrayed in this film is a million miles away from the images I have of Europe on the eve of World War I. But I do think you can feel things are changing. I very much enjoyed the scene where the gang steal the train. 

R: Oh yes, the train robbery is really nicely done. It’s the point at which a lot of the long – I’d say too slow – build up from the start of the film starts to pay off.

F: Do you have any other stand out moments?

R: The final showdown is a pretty glorious thing. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say it is a total blood bath, although it probably says a lot about how desensitised to violence we (as a 21st century audience) have become that I found it fun instead of appalling. Contributing to that of course is the fact that blood and gore effects have come on so much in the last fifty years that the violence feels a lot less real now than I’m sure it did in 1969. You’re more squeamish than I am, how did you find it?

F: Not too bad. I expected it to be worse for a Peckinpah film to be honest. And I think I knew the effects wouldn’t compete with today’s standards but that’s not the only thing that can make violence shocking. I was expecting to go on a rant about how awful the violence is but I can’t. 

R: You almost sound disappointed! One thing that might have got more shocking as the years have passed is the way the Mexicans are depicted. I’m no expert on the historical reality, but it certainly gives the impression that in 1913 every man south of the US border was a drunk, while every woman worked as a prostitute. I suspect that might not be entirely fair…

F: Its dipiction of women in general is pretty poor. This feels very much a man’s world. What did you think of the performances? 

R: They’re solid, and believable for the most part, although I did find myself wishing they wouldn’t mumble so much. I guess cowboys aren’t known for their diction! But we have a decent sound system at home and even with the movie turned up loud I was still often struggling to make out exactly what was being said. Maybe that’s more the fault of the Sound Editor, or a result of us watching a dodgy remaster?

F: I reckon it’s a dodgy remaster. Evident even more since our DVD had no subtitles for the Spanish parts of the film and we had to watch the whole movie with English subtitles. 

R: The picture also doesn’t fit the whole width of the screen, which is another indicator it wasn’t brought to DVD with the greatest of care. So even though I think we’d probably both say this film is at least worth a watch, the 2009 Warner Home Video DVD version is certainly not the best way to see it.

 

Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: It’s a no from me but out of all the films we’ve watched so far, this is the one that has stayed with me longest after watching it. So I’d like to give it another go soon and may change my mind.

R: This is fine but not the film that’s made me fall in love with Westerns. It’s a no from me.

Up next:
78 – Modern Times (1936)
Previously:
80 – The Apartment (1960)
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