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The Wild Bunch Movie Review

mapache pike angel film

1969 – Sam Peckinpah –

When this film appeared, it was notorious for its use of slow-motion violence that emphasized the grace and beauty of something audiences had been conditioned to regard as ugly. Since its release, however, this shock has receded as the mainstream of films has largely adopted Sam Peckinpah's use of slow-motion. The Wild Bunch today seems noteworthy for what might have been its most important trait all along—the sense of tarnished honor and heroism the bunch adheres to in a world becoming hopelessly corrupted.

The film is set in 1913 Texas and Mexico, when people sense the end of the age of frontier expansion and the old west. In one scene the bunch marvels over seeing a car, and they speculate on the stories they have heard about airplanes. These bandits are being hunted down by Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a former friend of Pike (William Holden), the leader of the bunch. Thornton's interests are self-serving: he has been promised that he will not be returned to jail if he brings in the wild bunch alive or dead. After a failed attempt to rob a bank in the opening scene, the bunch travels to Mexico where they accept an offer from the warlord Mapache (Emilio Fernandez) to steal arms from a U.S. army supply train.

Pike's character serves as the center of the film. He defends the oldest gang member, Sykes (Edmond O'Brien), for no other reason than loyalty when Tector (Ben Johnson) turns on him. Late in the film, when Mapache has captured another member, Angel (Jaime Sanchez), for stealing a crate of weapons for his village, Pike is repulsed by the punishments Mapache inflicts on Angel. Though he has been paid by Mapache for delivering the weapons, Pike and three other gang members go back to Mapache and offer to barter their money for the return of Angel. The final bloodbath starts as a last stand and instinctive response to Mapache's returning Angel with his throat slit.

The film repeatedly contrasts the rugged honor of the bunch with the inhuman greed of the bounty hunters. After the bloody shootout in the opening bank robbery, two bounty hunters, Coffer and T.C. (Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones), pick their way among the corpses littering the street and argue over who shot whom. The mercenary nature of these human vultures even sickens Thornton, who hates that the circumstances of his parole make him associate with the likes of them. Peckinpah continually humanizes Pike and the bunch, as in the scene when they ride out of Angel's village. This town has recently been attacked by Mapache, but they now welcome the bunch as their friends, and when they leave, the villagers line the road to wish them well. Peckinpah cuts the scene together to emphasize Pike's concern for the town. We see closeups of him, followed by shots of the smiling villagers, followed by his kind reactions. He embodies the rogue individualism and independent spirit quickly dying out as the modern age replaces the Old West.

Cast: William Holden (Pike Bishop), Ernest Borgnine (Dutch Engstrom), Robert Ryan (Deke Thornton), Edmond O'Brien (Sykes), Warren Oates (Lyle Gorch), Jaime Sanchez (Angel), Ben Johnson (Tector Gorch), Emilio Fernandez (Mapache), Strother Martin (Coffer), L.Q. Jones (T.C.), Albert Dekker (Pat Harrigan), Bo Hopkins (Crazy Lee), Dub Taylor (Mayor Wainscoat), Paul Harper (Ross), Jorge Russek (Lieutenant Zamorra) Screenwriter: Walon Green, Sam Peckinpah Cinematographer: Lucien Ballard Composer: Jerry Fielding Producer: Phil Feldman for Seven Arts; released by Warner Bros. MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 145 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD Awards: Academy Awards, 1969: Nominations: Screenplay, Score; National Society of Film Critics Awards, 1969: Cinematography. Budget: $6M.

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