Film / The Wild Bunch

"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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Book Ends: 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."
  • Cigar-Fuse Lighting: Pike uses his cigar to light the fuse on a stick of dynamite when threatening the general.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Railroad Baron: One hired Deke Thornton.
  • Rated M for Manly: The whole movie.
  • Robbing the Dead
  • 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.
  • Slashed Throat: Angel's death.
  • Slow Motion: The final gunfight. Sam Peckinpah loved this trope.
  • Sociopathic Hero: The whole cast.
  • Those Two Guys: The Gorch Brothers, and bounty hunters T.C. and Coffer.
  • 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.
  • 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.