Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the iconic and groundbreaking movies of the ’60s, Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH.
This graphically violent and poetic film exploded the very concept of the traditional Western by focusing on a brutal group of outlaws trying to survive at the dawn of the 20th century. Featuring four Oscar-winning actors—William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, and Edmond O’Brien—along with a startling supporting cast, the film clearly established Peckinpah as one of the top directors of the era.
The director’s classic 1962 Western Ride the High Country had demonstrated his talent, but he ran into conflicts with producers on subsequent projects in the ’60s. The Wild Bunch marked his triumphant return to filmmaking. He wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay with Walon Green, from a story by Green and Roy N. Sickner.
It is set in 1913, on the eve of World War I and in the midst of the Mexican Revolution. A botched robbery in the opening sequence leads the outlaws to seek refuge in Mexico, where they continue to be pursued by a group of bounty hunters hired by the railroad company they have robbed. Robert Ryan, cast as a former friend of Holden’s character, leads the pursuers.
The supporting cast includes Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones, Jaime Sanchez, Bo Hopkins, Strother Martin, Albert Decker, Emilio Fernandez, and Alfonso Arau. Lucien Ballard provided the rich cinematography, and Jerry Fielding wrote the Oscar-nominated score.
But perhaps the most crucial creative collaborator was editor Lou Lombardo, who worked closely with the director to perfect an innovative editing style that incorporated quick, almost subliminal cuts masterfully interspersed with slow motion shots.
The film’s violence was shocking to many viewers at the time, and some critics denounced the film. Others, however, saw the violence as reflecting the disruptions in American society, along with the chaos of the Vietnam War. Life magazine’s Richard Schickel called the film “one of the most important records of the mood of our times and one of the most important American films of the era.” The New York Times’ Vincent Canby hailed the film as “very beautiful and the first truly interesting American-made Westerns in years.”
When cuts that had been made shortly after the film’s release were finally restored for a 1995 reissue, critics were even more ecstatic. Writing in The Baltimore Sun, Michael Sragow declared, “What Citizen Kane was to movie lovers in 1941, The Wild Bunch was to cineastes in 1969.” The film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1999.
At the screening on February 26 in Pasadena, W.K. Stratton, the author of a new book, The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film, will participate in a discussion after the screening. He will also sign copies of his book at the theater. Presented by our friends at Vroman’s Bookstore.
On March 2 in Beverly Hills, we will be joined by three of the creative participants in the film, in addition to author W.K. Stratton. Screenwriter Walon Green won an Academy Award in 1971 for directing the documentary, The Hellstrom Chronicle. He went on to write such films as Sorcerer and The Brinks Job for director William Friedkin and The Border for Tony Richardson. Later he became writer and producer on many popular television series, including Law and Order, ER, Hill Street Blues, and NYPD Blue.
Actor L.Q. Jones worked on several other Peckinpah movies, beginning with Ride the High Country, along with Major Dundee, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. He co-starred in Hang ‘Em High, Hell Is For Heroes, and Martin Scorsese’s Casino.
Bo Hopkins co-starred in Peckinpah’s The Getaway and The Killer Elite, and he also appeared in such films as The Day of the Locust, American Graffiti, Midnight Express, and The Newton Boys. Both actors also have extensive credits in television.
Click here for tickets to the screening on Tuesday, February 26, at 7:00 PM at the Playhouse.
Click here for tickets to the screening on Saturday, March 2, at 7:30 PM at the Ahrya Fine Arts.