Film / The Wild Bunch

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"If they move, kill 'em!"
Pike Bishop

Suddenly, a new West has emerged. Suddenly, it was sundown for nine men. Suddenly, their day was over. Suddenly, the sky was bathed in blood.

The Wild Bunch is a classic 1969 western directed by Sam Peckinpah. It was quite controversial because of its violence.

Pike Bishop (William Holden) is the leader of a gang of aging outlaws in the twilight of the Wild West. At the beginning of the film, they rob a bank (the page quote is uttered here) and escape to Mexico, from there on, things get violent.

Shockingly violent, gorgeously photographed, brutally cynical, it is perhaps the ultimate deconstruction of The Western, and a true classic of 20th Century filmmaking.

The Wild Bunch contains examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Several, most notably the campfire conversation between Pike and Dutch early in the film.
  • Adrenaline Time: This film pioneered its use.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Dutch, in a long-standing and well-supported Alternate Character Interpretation. Coffer and TC too, but in their case it was explicitly decided on set to make this the case.
  • Anti-Hero: None of the Bunch are what you would call heroes, but we root for them because Mapache is worse in every conceivable fashion.
  • Anti-Villain: Similarly, Thornton is more overtly sympathetic than the Bunch, despite being the nominal antagonist.
  • Asshole Victim: When things start going badly for Angel, remember that he murdered his ex-girlfriend because she left him for Mapache.
  • The Atoner: Deke Thornton is trying to make up for his days as a bandit by hunting Pike, his former friend. He does so reluctantly but relentlessly. Pike, Dutch and to a lesser extent the Gorch brothers try to atone for decades of brutality and callousness with their attempted rescue of Angel.
  • Ax-Crazy: Sykes's grandson doesn't make the best impression for the few minutes that he's alive.
  • Bandito: On the villain side, we have Mapache, the primary villain and his army of bandits. On the (anti-)heroic side, we have Angel, one of the Bunch.
  • Bank Robbery: The film opens with one that goes disastrously wrong.
  • Bash Brothers
  • Big Bad: General Mapache.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mapache murders Angel when the Bunch come to rescue him, and the Bunch avenge him but are eventually overwhelmed in the massive shootout that follows. Deke is free of his debt to the railroad, but overcome with grief for the death of Pike. He finds a measure of redemption and salvation in joining Villa's men alongside Sykes. As the old man himself puts it, "It ain't like it used to be, but... It'll do." It might also qualify as a Downer Ending.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The early 20th century is filled with ruthless bandits, vengeance-crazed railroad officers who would happily let a town be massacred and bloodthirsty warlords. Thornton, one of the better characters ethically, leads a gang of psychotic bounty hunters who don't particularly care who they kill so long as they kill someone.
  • Blast Out: The ending.
  • Bookends: The film starts and ends with shoot outs, and Deke Thornton watches both from above.
  • Bounty Hunter: The gang is pursued by bounty hunters led by Deke Thornton, one of their former members.
  • Butt Monkey: Angel. The poor guy is put through so much hell and never gets to exact his revenge on General Mapache.
  • Catch Phrase: "Let's go."
  • Central Theme: The Power of Friendship, Teeth-Clenched Teamwork and Undying Loyalty.
  • Children Are Innocent: Averted. Children are shown to be among the most violent characters in the film, and in a Peckinpah film that's impressive. A child smiles as he watches the Mexican Army (which his father is the general of) get massacred by rebels, and later lands the killing shot on Pike, still smiling. In the first 25 minutes, a group of children are shown torturing scorpions (who only LOOK scary) by trapping them and coating them with fire ants, and later setting the cage ON FIRE, and, after the massacre in town, run around pretending to shoot the corpses, yelling "Bang! Bang!" in a way that will make anyone feel chills.
  • Cigar-Fuse Lighting: Pike uses his cigar to light the fuse on a stick of dynamite when threatening the general.
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: The remaining bandits fail to save Angel from Mapache and are now getting ready to leave with their money. However, they realize that their conscience won't allow them to let the warlord get away with murdering their friend like this and their go back for a final Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Cool Old Guy: Freddie Sykes, and perhaps even the Wild Bunch themselves, although they aren't exactly what you might call "old" ("aging" is a better term to use).
  • Deconstruction: The Western.
  • Dry Crusader: The ill-fated temperance rally at the film's beginning.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: If the Wild Bunch is gonna go out, they're gonna go out fighting. And by God, they do.
  • End of an Age: This movie is set in the twilight of the Wild West era.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: Dramatic version. First Sykes and Deke laugh then a montage is shown of the now dead gang laughing.
  • Everyone Has Standards: A major theme of the movie: the Bunch thinks their self-professed (though often violated) honor code separates them from the bounty hunters and Mapache's troops. When Pike laughingly compares Mapache to the Bunch, Dutch violently objects: "We ain't nothing like him. We don't hang nobody."
  • Evil Versus Evil
  • Foreshadowing: Lots and lots of it, if you know where to look
  • Gatling Good: A Browning machine gun is used by the gang in the final battle.
  • Get It Over With: When the Bunch are riding away after a massively cocked-up holdup, and Buck (who was shot in the face) pleads with Pike to "Please...just ki—" (Pike shoots him before he even says it.) Which cues the following exchange:
    Pike: You boys want to move on or stay here and give him a... decent burial?
    Pike: He's dead! And he's got a lot of good men back there to keep him company!
    Lyle: Too damn many!
    Dutch: [removes his hat] I think the boys are right. I'd like to say a few words for the dear, dead departed. And maybe a few hymns'd be in order. Followed by a church supper. With a choir!
    Lyle: You crazy bastards! Both of ya!
  • Gorn: This was one of the most violent films at the time it was made, though it's rather tame by today's standards, roughly on the level of your average R-rated action film. There is frequent bloodshed in the film, and the violence itself is quite realistic. Sam Peckinpah once actually said that, when he made this movie, he wanted to show audiences "what it actually looks like when somebody gets shot."
  • Heel–Face Turn: Deke Thornton, an ex-member of the Wild Bunch, has made it his mission to track down and turn over his old friends for the reward so that he can avoid being sent back to Yuma.
  • A Hero to His Hometown: Mapache, surprisingly enough. During the raid on the train station he's shown to be heroic under fire, earning the admiration of a messenger boy. He even gets a Pet the Dog moment shortly thereafter, brooding over his wounded men. This stands in stark contrast to his scenes with the Bunch, where he acts like a debauched maniac. When the Bunch go on their climactic rampage, many civilians take up arms alongside Mapache's soldiers.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Pike and Dutch, although some critics have read their relationship as actual unrequited love on Dutch's part. The bounty hunters Coffer and T.C., on the other hand, have entirely deliberate sexual tension to their relationship, suggested by the actors and agreed to by Peckinpah.
  • Honor Among Thieves: The Bunch hardened criminals with few scruples but in the end decide that they are tired of being treated as if they have no honor and take bloody revenge for the murder of their friend though it gets them all killed.
  • I Gave My Word: Deconstructed; when the gang is attacked by Deke Thornton's men, Pike (William Holden) defends Thornton, saying that he gave his word (to the railroad company that hired him). One of the gang members, Dutch (Ernest Borgnine) angrily says that isn't what counts; what counts is who you give it to. William Holden's character has this memorable quote:
    "We're gonna stick together, just like it used to be. When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can't do that, you're like some animal! You're finished! We're finished! All of us!"
  • Ironic Echo / Meaningful Echo: "Get up, you lazy bastard!"
  • Kick the Dog: After handing over Angel to Mapache in a tearjerking scene, the next time the Wild Bunch visit Mapache's village, Mapache is using his car to drag the poor guy around in a despicable bit of Cold-Blooded Torture.
  • Karma Houdini: Mr. Harrigan, the Jerkass railroad baron who is indirectly responsible for the massacre at the beginning and yet shows no remorse for all the innocent people killed, more concerned with catching the Bunch. Amazingly, in a film with a body count in double digits, he's not amongst it.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The children at the beginning of the film laugh gaily as they watch a scorpion tormented by fire ants. Then they set the whole group of creatures on fire(!) and continue to appear to by highly entertained.
    • This is actually a recurring element in the movie; while Angel is being dragged by the car, some children point and laugh at him, gleefully enjoying the whole thing, and one of them even pretends to be riding him. And in the final shootout, Pike is shot by one. This is possibly symbolic of the film's Twilight of the Old West theme - the next generation is growing up to be just as ruthless as the bunch, but without any semblance of morals, and liking it all.
  • Kill 'em All: Only two named characters survive the events of the film - Deke Thornton and Freddie Sykes.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The bounty hunters that Deke is stuck with end up being killed by the rebels when they ride off to collect their money. This after they'd shown themselves to be extremely psychopathic and trigger happy, not caring who they shot as long as they killed someone (even US Army soldiers) and continually looting the dead.
  • The Last Dance: The Bunch are facing the end of their lifestyle. The old Wild West is ending and most of their gang were killed at the beginning of the movie. They are reduced to doing mercenary work for a corrupt and decadent Mexican general and a group of vicious bounty hunters is after them. Instead of running and hiding they decide to go back and rescue their friend who the general is about to execute for arming the local peasant. They know that by doing that, they will be facing the entire Mexican garrison and as such decide to go out fighting...
  • Last Stand: The film climaxes with the Bunch facing off against what seems to be the entire Mexican army.
  • Mercy Kill: After the failed bank robbery, one mortally wounded gang member asks Pike to kill him. Pike does so before he could even finish the sentence.
  • MOHS Scale Of Violence Hardness: It scores an 8.
  • More Dakka: Set in 1913 the characters have access to more than the 6 shooters and lever action Winchesters seen in most westerns. After robbing a Federal armory the Wild Bunch is equipped with Colt M1911 handguns, M1903 Springfield rifles and Winchester Model 1897 shotguns. At the end of the film an M1917 machine gun makes an extended appearance (though technically an anachronism for 1913), and is the largest contributor to the shootout's massive bodycount.
    • And yet the Browning M1917 is only a stand-in - at the time, there was another Browning air-cooled belt-fed, the M1895. It's just a lot harder to come by...but a Browning machine gun in the hands of the Wild Bunch is believable. More Dakka indeed!
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: It would probably be easier to count the people who don't die this way on the final shootout, The Bunch included.
  • Never Going Back to Prison: The reason Deke Thornton is hunting his former gangmembers.
  • New Old West: The driving force of the plot. The film is set during World War I and the border unrest between the United States and Mexico that went on during that time.
  • One Last Job: The opening heist is supposed to be one. Since it's the first scene in the movie, you can guess how well that turns out. Pike also intends the train job to be this.
  • Pet the Dog: Pretty much Mapache's only sympathetic moment shows him visibly concerned by his soldiers wounded in the fighting with Villa. This implies he's a Father to His Men, at least some of the time.
  • Power Walk: Before the final battle.
  • Psycho Party Member: Crazy Lee is unhinged enough to lick the neck of the sole woman of the group and force them to march around the office they are being held in before unloading his shotgun unto them. The rest of the Bunch not only do not do Leave No Man Behind, but very much do not give a damn about him (and the fact that Thornton's posse killed him).
  • Railroad Baron: One hired Deke Thornton.
  • Rated M for Manly: The whole movie.
  • Re Cut: The Director's Cut was released in 1995 running at 145 minutes. New additions to the film:
    • The flashback showing how Thornton was captured.
    • The flashback showing how Pike's lover, Aurora, was killed and he himself wounded.
    • The scene in the desert that establishes Crazy Lee is Sykes's grandson and that Pike deliberately abandoned him in the opening robbery.
    • The raid by Villa on Mapache as he awaits the telegram.
    • The aftermath of Villa's raid in Agua Verde.
    • About a minute's worth of the festivities at night in Angel's village.
  • Retired Badass Round Up: The film focuses on a group of aging outlaws coming together for one last job during the Twilight of the Old West.
  • Robbing the Dead: Coffer, T.C. and the rest of the bounty hunters just love to do this.
  • Run for the Border: The gang escapes to Mexico after the bank robbery.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The opening shot involves a bunch of kids tormenting a bunch of scorpions that are being eaten by ants, signifying the deaths of the much more dangerous bunch eventually being killed by a Zerg Rush of Mapache's followers.
  • Screaming Warrior: Warren Oates's last stand on the gatling gun.
  • Shout-Out: Several to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, especially the character of Sykes and the raucuous laughter at the film's end; the opening scene provides some dark references to My Darling Clementine (where Pike helps an old lady across the street, and the temperance union singing "Shall We Gather at the River?"); also, where Mapache's army surrounds the Bunch after the train robbery, resembling a scene from Robert Aldrich's Vera Cruz.
  • Shouting Shooter: Tector and Lyle Gorch let the bullets and the war-cries rip at the climax.
  • Slashed Throat: Angel's death.
  • Slow Motion: The final gunfight. Sam Peckinpah loved this trope.
  • Sociopathic Hero: The whole cast.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Deke Thornton is not happy with the bounty hunters he's been given to assist in tracking the Bunch, calling them "egg-sucking, chicken stealing gutter trash". He gets so annoyed with their incompetence that he threatens to abandon them if they make one more screw up.
  • Take That: To one of the film's own actors! Robert Ryan's incessant complaints about not receiving top billing so annoyed Peckinpah that he decided to "punish" Ryan. In the opening credits, after freezing the screen on closeups of William Holden's and Ernest Borgnine's faces while listing them, Peckinpah froze the scene on several horses' rear ends as Ryan was listed.
  • Those Two Guys: The Gorch Brothers, and bounty hunters T.C. and Coffer.
  • Total Party Kill: The film almost begins with one as most of the bandits are killed when they try to rob a bank and instead ride right into a trap. The survivors flee to Mexico where they end up taking on entire army garrison fully aware that they will probably not make it out alive. They don't. The bounty hunters chasing them are so thrilled to grab the bodies for the bounties that they ride right into a rebel ambush and are wiped out.
  • Train Job: German agents and Mexican banditos want Pike's gang to hijack a shipment of rifles being sent to the United States.
  • Twilight of the Old West: As stated in the movie's tag line at the top of the page, the Wild West is all but over and the titular characters have outlived their time.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Pike Bishop and Deke Thornton used to ride together before the latter was captured and became a bounty hunter to avoid going back to prison. Notably, during the opening shoot-out, both men have a chance to kill each other but deliberately avoid doing so. It's clear that Deke laments his position and still holds Pike in great regard. He's clearly saddened by his death.
  • What a Drag: Angel's torture scene.
  • Wilhelm Scream: In the opening scene, when one of the Bunch takes a shotgun blast to the face.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Angel guns down an ex-girlfriend on their first meeting with Mapache, and during the final battle, Pike is shot in the back by a Mexican prostitute. He shouts "Bitch!" and shoots her in the chest.
  • Wretched Hive: Agua Verde.

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