The Shootout At High Noon Marathon kicks off with a classic from Sam Peckinpah!
Screenplay By: Walon Green & Sam Peckinpah
Directed By: Sam Peckinpah
A film can come with barriers to fully becoming enveloped in its world, or a viewer can create barriers as he or she traverses the world of the film. I had no preconceived notions coming into The Wild Bunch, but I quickly created some barriers of my own in response to some natural barriers already present in the film. I was able to enjoy the film making on display from Sam Peckinpah despite said barriers. But, I never could quite get past those barriers to become fully engrossed in the vision Mr. Peckinpah wanted to put forth. I kept trying to invade the space of the movie, but just as I felt like I was gaining proper footing I would always be pushed away again by a barrier of some sort.
One of the first barriers I came across was the decision to cast Ernest Borgnine as Dutch. I didn’t buy him as a hardened outlaw for a second. I kept thinking, “Hey, it’s Marty from Marty,” which was quickly followed by, “Wait, he’s also the doorman from The Single Guy!” It’s my fault, it’s not like Mr. Borgnine wanted to be forever associated with characters that have a genteel demeanor. But, I can only go with the associations that my brain decides to make, and in my brain Mr. Borgnine is a gentle guy, and not a rough outlaw. My inability to look past Mr. Borgnine’s affable nature popped up in the worst possible moment, the climax. I had forgotten he was even there, but then I heard his voice calling out “No Pike, no,” over and over again in very lame fashion and I was taken out of what had been an interesting ending bloodbath. I immediately thought to myself, “That guy would not be in this situation in a million years.” Try as I might, I could not buy into Ernest Borgnine as anything but a quiet, polite guy.
The next barrier I came across was the laughter that Sam Peckinpah was such a fan of. I don’t mind laughter, I’m not some sort of joy killing robot or something. However, Mr. Peckinpah loved to have his characters laugh vociferously, and he loved to zoom in for tight close-ups of their laughing faces. In a movie that otherwise excelled in a gritty rawness, the heightened laughter stood out as exceedingly manufactured. It may seem like a nit pick to some, but it irked me enough to make me squirm in my seat every time someone laughed for too long. Some directorial or story touches don’t work, doesn’t matter what purpose they may serve or how well executed they may be. If they don’t work, well, then they don’t work for someone, simple as that.
I do have the feeling that the area where The Wild Bunch stood out the most in my mind was read differently by most people. The theme in The Wild Bunch that I latched on to the most was that of loyalty. Most of the critics who I commonly read wrote that The Wild Bunch was a study in the value of loyalty in the West. I agree with their statements to a point. But, whereas they view The Wild Bunch as speaking to the power of loyalty these men show, I view it as taking their fractured idea of loyalty to show the cracks in the traditional Western movie idea of loyalty. Throughout the movie there are various terse comments given about staying with the man next to you, but repeatedly the men in Pike’s gang don’t stay with the man next to them. As a matter of fact, every time someone in the group speaks about loyalty it’s right after they have just done something that shows disloyalty towards another member of the group. It’s not ironic that Pike’s gang is tracked down the entire movie by Thornton, a man spurned by the groups lack of loyalty.
Loyalty wasn’t the only theme I found interesting in The Wild Bunch. Like most people I was fascinated by the way in which Mr. Peckinpah used his Western to deconstruct the classic Westerns from the likes of John Ford and Howard Hawks. At first I was left cold by this aspect of the film, it reminded me too much of what Sergio Leone did with his spaghetti Westerns. The more I watched the less I held true to my original thought. As much as Mr. Leone did something different with his brand of Western, he also crafted his films as love stories to the Westerns of old. I didn’t get that vibe from The Wild Bunch, Mr. Peckinpah wasn’t telling a tale full of love for the Westerns of yore. He was intent on creating a grittier Western that did away with the morality of the past. In that realm Mr. Peckinpah succeeded, and he captured my interest with that aspect of his vision.
I leave The Wild Bunch with mixed feelings on my experience. I enjoyed the craft behind the stylized blood letting (yes, it was stylized, I found the violence to be the least real part of the film.) On the one hand I was drawn in by the themes of loyalty and the taking apart of the morality of the classic Westerns. On the other hand I couldn’t get past the aforementioned barriers to truly enjoy those themes. I wish I had enjoyed The Wild Bunch more, it is the type of film that is usually right up my alley. Unfortunately this time the alley was blocked about halfway through and that left me with a less than fulfilling venture.
Go read what Edgar had to say at Between The Seats.