Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Wild Bunch

Yesterday was an odd mix of films. "The Wild Bunch" in the morning and then two Monty Python movies in the afternoon... "Holy Grail" and "Life of Brian." I watched the first mostly to offset the impending comedy.

"Wild Bunch" has been on my famous-movies-I've-never-seen list, though that's not entirely true. I've seen bits of it and the whole bloody shoot-out ending, but never the complete movie. I didn't really have any opinions one way or the other based on what I'd seen in the past, if anything, they were rather negative, so it rather surprised me that I liked this movie a lot.

Okay, okay. That's because I really liked the cast. Ernest Borgnine was awesome, as was Robert Ryan, who reminds me a lot of his "Professionals" character here. Strother Martin and LQ Jones crack me up, though I wanted to shoot both of them. Edmond O'Brien was also typically understatedly cool, even though I actually didn't recognize him under that beard and sixteen layers of dirt. But in particular, I loved William Holden.

Not that that's a big surprise. But this role suits him so well. My favorite WH roles are rather like my favorite Jimmy Stewart roles... I like 'em both when they're playing the authoritative, but more cynical, world-weary types, usually when they're older (but not always in WH's case, as he's that way in Sunset Blvd. and Stalag 17, to name a couple earlier films). Even in "The Horse Soldiers," WH has that healthy chunk of cynicism and bitterness coloring what he does. His character in Wild Bunch is everything I heart in a fictional character. From being forced to shoot his own man, to being able to laugh at his own failures, from still being able to swing into the saddle without stirrups, to doffing his hat to Robert Ryan when the bridge blows, to holding the group together until the very end, and to the bestest, most wonderful "He gave his word!" speech. Ahhh, nothing will win me over faster than characters who hold true to their beliefs with that intense honor/loyalty thing going on.

And Robert Ryan gets the second best scene award, for his simple knowing smile at the end of the film for some offscreen and most satisfying gunfire. Dig it to pieces.


  1. Hmm. I saw this once, a few years back, and decided I'm not a big Sam Peckinpah fan. Although I liked his Villa Rides pretty well, actually. But something about this turned me off -- maybe it was TOO cynical for my taste? Not sure.

  2. When I'd watched the end and bits years ago, my impression was also negative. Even now, it's very... dissolute? And that bothers me a bit. There's a couple of scenes I had to turn away from. But there's also such an unexpected noble and rather elegant integrity to William Holden's character that, this time, I could see how the rest of the film worked with that to get to the end, and I really really liked that. It's that character identification. I see myself as him so strongly.

    Plus, the older I get, I think the more movies like this -- about lost and last chances, fading worlds you don't belong in anymore, and dying for what's right -- appeal to me. Those kinds of things didn't speak to me when I was young, but they sure do resonate now. I think that's also why "Kiss me Deadly" has grabbed me so hard, well, film noir in general, that movie in particular.

  3. Even now, it's very... dissolute?

    The movie that is, not my impression. LOL!