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:
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.
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.
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.
Gatling Good: A Browning machine gun is used by the gang in the final battle.
Gorn: Sweet shit. This was one of the most violent films at the time it was made, and it's still shockingly violent today. 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.
Hey, It's That Guy!: Character actors Emilio Fernandez, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, and Dub Taylor appear in supporting roles.
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!"
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.
Kill 'em All: Only two named characters survive the events of the film - Deke Thornton and Freddie Sykes.
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.
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!
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.