Now released in a restored version, Sam Peckinpah’s modern classic The Wild Bunch was a watershed film in the history of the Western. In telling of the exploits of a bunch of outlaws committed to finding self-affirmation through
violence, Peckinpah apotheosised the death-wish and the death throes of a whole cultural form and destroyed the currency of its language. Significantly, the film is set in 1913, just before the World War that is to pull America for the first time into an awesome sense of its global role and twenty years after the closing of Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier.
From the extraordinary opening onwards, launched by a classic piece of parallel montage where some children (the future) watch a scorpion (the Wild Bunch) being devoured by hordes of ants (the modern world), The Wild Bunch represents a convulsive drive towards death. Following the carnage of a botched bank robbery, the gang retire to Mexico, which for Peckinpah’s protagonists always represents a temporary Eden before being revealed as another dead end. In the bloody spectacle that is the film’s climax, Peckinpah presents the gang’s anachronistic code of loyalty as a positive value in a world ruled by corruption and savagery.
With: William Holden, Robert Ryan.