Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Wild Bunch (5 Stars)

30 films to watch before you die, #3

This is the third film in my official 30 films to watch before you die list. It was made in 1969, and it's the only western in my list. In general I don't like westerns. I lost my taste for them when I was growing up. I lived in a household with only one television set. If a western was being shown my father insisted on watching it, so I had no chance of watching whatever I might have been interested in. I'll never forget all the hours he inflicted upon me of John Wayne and the many nameless men with horses, guns and funny hats. My Dad was an avid western fan. He regularly bought western novels in thin booklets, pulp fiction. Please don't ask me what they were, I never read a single one of them myself.

It wasn't until 20 years after my father died that I discovered the first westerns that I liked, Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. Then there were the Bud Spencer and Terence Hill westerns. They opened my eyes to the fact that not all westerns are bad. Most, but not all. Or maybe I'm being unfair. I'm sure that even the John Wayne westerns were good in themselves, they just weren't my type of film.

"The Wild Bunch" is something special. It has the feeling of spaghetti westerns, despite being an American production. It's set right at the end of the western era, in 1915. (The Wikipedia page claims it takes place in 1913, but it's mentioned in conversation that America is preparing for war, so it has to be between 1914 and 1917). The old ways are dying. The gunslingers of the wild west used to have moral codes of honour, but now things are breaking apart and people betray one another.

We see two men who used to be friends caught on opposite sides of the law. Pike Bishop and Deke Thornton were ambushed by bounty hunters, but Pike escaped. Three years later Deke was offered his freedom if he could bring Pike to justice. Pike is trying to do one last big job before he retires. At first he wants to rob the payroll intended for the U.S. Army, but then he makes a deal with a Mexican general. The general will pay him $10,000 if he steals rifles and ammunition being delivered to the U.S. Army. Pike hates the general and his attitude, but it's just business.

When first released the film was notorious for being much more violent than any westerns shown before it. It's not just the lawmen and criminals who die, there are repeatedly innocent bystanders who are shot when they get in the way. That was 45 years ago. Today's audiences are hardened and don't care how many people are killed.

This week I read that a remake of "The Wild Bunch" is planned. That's scary. I can't imagine the remake being anywhere near as good as the original. What's the point anyway? The original film isn't at all dated. It would be easier just to re-issue it and show it in cinemas again.

If you like this film you might also like Clint Eastwood's spaghetti western films:

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