The Wild Bunch: Violence Sam Peckinpah Hoped Would Repulse Us

By | June 27, 2019

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Left: Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, William Holden, and Ernest Borgnine in The Wild Bunch, 1969. Right: William Holden. Sources: (Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images, IMDB)

In 1968, director Sam Peckinpah set out for Mexico with a cast and crew to film The Wild Bunch. At the time, his back was against the wall. His most recent films had failed to connect with audiences, and his reputation as a difficult director was growing -- he had been fired from The Cincinnati Kid after a few days of production. The Wild Bunch wasn’t just Peckinpah’s attempt to make a hit, he wanted to make a point about America’s comfortability with violence.

In the late ‘60s, footage from the Vietnam War was streaming into homes on the nightly news. Meanwhile, westerns like the John Wayne movie The War Wagon were offering bloodless shootouts. Peckinpah saw both of these things as symptoms of the desensitization of the American public. With The Wild Bunch, he hoped to shock moviegoers and cure them of their need for violence -- cure by overdose. He failed at this goal, but along the way, he made one of the most important films of the 20th century. 

Peckinpah Escaped To Mexico To Make The Last Western

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Source: (Warner Bros.)

Inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai, Peckinpah escaped from the prying eyes of the Hollywood studio system and absconded to Mexico with his cast and crew to make a film about aging outlaws searching for one last score in the final days of the old west. Peckinpah sought to stick the audience directly inside the violence of lawless vigilantism. 

People are sweaty, they cough, and everyone needs a shave. You can practically smell the old west while watching the film. The Wild Bunch is a love letter to early westerns and a farewell to them at the same time. Gone are the battles without implications and the outlaws who ride off into the sunset. While making the film Peckinpah wanted to make it clear that the outlaw way of life had its costs.