That’s How They Became The Wild Bunch
Oof, man. There is a lot going on in this movie! Well, let’s see if I can give you the briefest of summaries while tickling your ass with a feather.
Texas, 1913. Pike Bishop (William Holden), is an aging outlaw who is out for one final score before retirement. With his longtime partner in crime Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), they head up a heist with several other men to rob a railroad office. But the group is ambushed instead by Pike’s former partner, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) who set up the office as a decoy.
After a bloody shootout, the two gather the remaining members of their group and head to Mexico to plot another attempt at one final score. They end up making a greasy deal with a General of the Mexican Federales to rob a train loaded with weapons belonging to the US Army. But, it eventually goes tits up when the General discovers their side deal to deliver some of the weapons to Mexican rebels.
Bishop now needs to decide to either stand up to the General, turn and face Deke, or continue to run. Whichever direction he goes, you know the results will be bloody!
The Wild Bunch is hands down my favorite western despite it not being a perfect film. The transitions for the flashback scenes are outdated and the film tends to repeat itself, making it a little overlong. But the good BY FAR outweighs the bad in my book.
I mentioned the opening being bloody, but it is not even close to the final action sequence. It is one of the bloodiest shoot outs in cinematic history, which took over 500 edits to accomplish! This is in the day of film edits people! Imagine what that the floor of that editing room looked like.
There is some great stuff in the middle too, like the train robbery, which is beautifully executed with no music score, but only the slow chug of the locomotive’s steam engine to move the action along instead. I have seen it a dozen or so times and it still gets me every time.
The Wild Bunch also spun the convictions of past westerns on their heads. Hollywood was slowly growing out of decades of making only “G” rated films where bad guys would always come see their comeuppance. The protagonists in The Wild Bunch are scum at the beginning, middle, and end. This ain’t your Dad’s John Wayne film.