The Wild Bunch

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1913 Texas, Pike Bishop (William Holden), the leader of a gang of aging outlaws, is seeking retirement with one final score, namely the robbery of a railroad office containing a cache of silver. They are ambushed by Pike’s former partner, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), and a posse of bounty hunters hired and deputized by the railroad. Thornton has been released from a Yuma prison to help track down his former comrades in return for a full pardon. A bloody shootout kills several of the gang. The town’s citizens were not warned, and when Pike decides that they will use the Temperance Union parade to shield their getaway, many of the townspeople are killed in the crossfire.

Pike rides off with Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), brothers Lyle (Warren Oates) and Tector Gorch (Ben Johnson), and Angel (Jaime Sánchez), the only survivors. They are disappointed when the loot from the robbery turns out to be a decoy instead of silver. The men reunite with old-timer Freddie Sykes (Edmond O’Brien) and head for Mexico.

Pike’s men cross the Rio Grande and take refuge that night in a village where Angel was born, and where the Mexican Revolution has taken its toll. The townsfolk are ruled by a self-styled bandito warlord named Mapache (Emilio Fernández), a general in the Mexican Federal Army, who has been stealing to feed his troops.

In the town of Agua Verde (Spanish for “green water”), a den of debauchery, Pike’s gang makes contact with the general. A jealous Angel spots a former lover in Mapache’s arms and shoots her dead, angering Mapache. Pike defuses the situation and offers to work for Mapache. Their task is to steal a weapons shipment from a U.S. Army train so that Mapache can resupply his troops – and appease Mohr (Fernando Wagner), his German military adviser, who wishes to obtain samples of America’s armament. Their reward will be a cache of gold coins.

Angel gives up his share of the gold to Pike in return for sending one crate of the stolen rifles and ammunition to a band of rebels opposed to Mapache. Other than Dutch Engstrom having to be saved by Angel when he nearly falls under the train’s wheels, the holdup goes as planned until Deke’s posse turns up on the very train the gang has robbed. The posse chases them to the Mexican border, only to be foiled again by an explosive booby trap which blows up a trestle and sends the entire posse into the Rio Grande. They temporarily regroup at a riverside camp and then quickly take off again after the Bunch.

Pike and his men, knowing they risk being double-crossed by Mapache, devise a way of bringing him the stolen weapons – including a Browning M1917 machine gun – without him double-crossing them. However, Mapache learns from the mother of the former lover Angel killed that Angel embezzled a crate of guns and ammo, and reveals this as Angel and Engstrom deliver the last of the weapons. Surrounded by Mapache’s army, Angel desperately tries to escape, only to be captured, betrayed by Engstrom (who ironically calls him a “thief”), and tortured after Engstrom rides back to rejoin Pike’s gang.

Sykes, while securing the gang’s spare horses, is wounded and forced into hiding after another encounter with Deke’s posse. The rest of Pike’s gang returns to Agua Verde for shelter, where a bacchanal celebrating the weapons purchase has commenced; to their disgust, they see Angel is being dragged on the ground by a rope tied behind the General’s car. After a brief assignation and a period of reflection, Pike and the gang try to persuade Mapache to release Angel, barely alive after the torture. The general appears to comply; however, as they watch, the general cuts his throat instead. Pike and the gang angrily gun Mapache down in front of hundreds of his men. For a moment, the Federales are so shocked that they fail to return fire, causing Engstrom to laugh in surprise. Pike calmly takes aim at the German officer and kills him, too. This results in a violent, bloody showdown in which Pike and his men, along with the majority of the Mexican troops present and their German advisors, are killed.

Deke finally catches up. He allows the remaining members of the posse to take the bullet-riddled bodies of the gang members back and collect the reward, while electing to stay behind, knowing what awaits the posse. After a period, Sykes arrives with a band of the previously seen Mexican rebels, who have killed off what’s left of the posse along the way. He asks Deke to come along and join the revolution. Deke smiles and rides off with them.

REVIEW:

It has been brought to my attention that I have been neglecting westerns. The last true, classic western I watched was The Train Robbers, and that was back in January! So, getting back to one of my favorite genres is a film that has been regarded as one of the greatest westerns of all time, The Wild Bunch.

What is this about?

Director Sam Peckinpah’s brilliant 1969 Western epic tells the story of a bunch of aging outlaws, led by Pike Bishop (William Holden), whose botched plans to pull off one last job forces them to collude with a crooked Mexican general (Emilio Fernández) — leading to ugly bloodshed.

What did I like?

Shots. Earlier tonight, I was talking to a friend about how westerns just aren’t the same without a shootout. Well, this one pretty much bookends with epic shootouts, and then throws one in around the halfway point for good measure. I’m a little disappointed that the shootouts weren’t bloodier, but I think I’m a little spoiled by all the Quentin Tarantino influenced pictures I’ve watched of late.

Characters. Most westerns I’ve watched, with the exception of the Eastwood “Man with No Name” trilogy, are pretty black and white when it comes to the characters. There are the good guys and the bad guys. The baddies even have redeemable qualities! With this film, that isn’t quite the case, as these guys are pretty much the scum of the earth, make no qualms about it. If anything, the audience cares less and less about what happens to them.

Hey Vern, it’s Ernest. Like most people. Ernest Borgnine is one of those actors that we know, but he’s been old for so long that we don’t even think that he was a younger actor. If I’ve learned anything from watching these older actors in their younger days, it is that there is a reason they are still around after all these years. Taking a peek into the past gives us some insight as to what aged actors were like in their heyday. Borgnine has always been the grumpy old grandfather and never the action film criminal, as he plays here. Which is better for him? I can’t tell you.

What didn’t I like?

Lost interest. It was hard for me to stay interested in this picture. I have no idea why since the plot is a good one and there is some real nice storytelling going on. Perhaps it was something to do with the mail being delivered late and it just threw off my mood, but I really should have been more into this than I ended up being.

Not so wild. I didn’t really get the sense that these outlaws were as wild as the title indicates. They just seemed like a bunch of guys trying to get a score. Maybe upon a second or third watching I will have a different view on them, but as it stands now, there are wilder bunches of bugs flying outside right now.

I must apologize for the abruptness of this review. As I stated earlier, the mail was late and that not only left me distracted, but a bit biased. That being said, The Wild Bunch is not known as one of the all time greatest westerns for no reason. With its great storytelling and a few awesome shootouts, this is the epitome of what one expects from a western. I highly recommend it!

4 1/4 out of 5 stars

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One Response to “The Wild Bunch”

  1. […] Bunch. For those western officiandos out there, yes, these are the same desperadoes from the movie The Wild Bunch. What is so special about this shootout? Part of it is the camera shots. Obviously, it would be the […]

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