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WILD BUNCH, The
(Sam Peckinpah . 1968 )

 

“We’re getting old.. Gotta  think beyond our guns.”

THE WILD BUNCH

 

Lee Marvin and Sam Peckinpah were old drinking buddies back from their 1963 days of The Losers on TV.  They often mused over potential stories together.  The Wild Bunch was one of Marvin's best - the title is a nod to his motor-cycle movie with Brando, The Wild One (banned in Britain for 13 years).

Never actually putting pen to paper, much less digit to typewriter, Marvin and talked through th etale with writer Walon Green and Lee’s stuntman pal Roy N Sickner.

Naturally some years later, Peckinpah asked Marvin to head up his wildest of all cowboy bunches.  "Shit," recalled Marvin, "I'd helped write the original goddamn script, which Sam eventually bought and re-wrote.

 

“I’d already done The Professionals.

What’d I need The Wild Bunch for?”

 

Pike Bishop .   Peckinpah,  who was to share his sole  Oscar nomination  for the script with Green, next turned to James Drury, a favourite of the director since his 1962  breakthrough, Ride The High Country  (UK: Guns in the Afternoon).  After that experience, Drury had joined the big TV ranches and seven years on,  he was still hog-tied to his last saddle-sore season as The Virginian.  (The show's guest stars included Lee Marvin).

Also rejecting Pike (aka Peckinpah) – Richard Boone, Sterling Hayden, Charlton Heston,  Burt Lancster, Robert  Mitchum, Gregory Peck and James Stewart   What werethey thinking?Going against type, William Holden agreed  to lead the gang. He was perfect, said  Peckinpah, "50, wrinkled, no longer the glamour boy."

Deke Thornton .   For, lone survivor of the  bunch, who'd seen civilisation headed West and had opted out, becoming a bounty-hunter, Peckinpah wanted his Major Dundee- not mentioned in Charlton Hestson's diaries.  (Nor was Peckinpah's offer for Pat Garret and Billy The Kid).

Peckinpah then toyed with  more  anti-type ideas.   Yet despite their love  of  Ride The High Country  (the farewell film of Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea), everyone  passed. Gregory Peck politely refused to ride the blood-splattered  country. Sam  then  asked two of his favourites: Richard Harris from Major Dundee, 1965,  and Brian Keith from TheWesterner,1960, and The Deadly Companions, 1961.  Also in the mix: Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford (!),  Van Heflin, Ben Johnmson (he became Tector Gorch) and Arthjur Kennedy.  Finally, almost inevitably, Deke Thornton suited the dour Robert Ryan. 

General Mapache .   Swarthy West German actor Mario Adorf had been cast as a  Mexican by  Sam in  Major Dundee, 1964. Howevert,  a great deal of Adorf and, indeed, James Coburn, bit the dust as the five-hour Peckinpah cut became two.  They had got on so well that Sam asked Adorf to be Mapache, the Mexican target of Holden’s bunch.  But Adorf felt the script was way too violent. (The script, not the film!). His agent was furious. “Look, you’re in Hollywood at exactly the right time. Pedro Armendárizhas died. Anthony Quinn doesn’t want to play Mexicans or Indians anymore…”  Adorf understood there was a vacancy to fill. And Sam’s pal, the Mexican actor-director Emilio “El Indio” Fernándezfilled it.  And Peckinpah kept him aboard his next two movies: Pat Garrett & Billy The Kidand Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia. Adorf went home.  “I don’t want to end my days playing Hollywood Mexicans.”  By 2019, he had completed 220 screen roles.

Dutch Engstrom .   Hollywood’s only Swede to be nicknamed Dutch..! Jason Robards, Peckinpah's future Cable Hogue, was first asked to join the party but passed Engstromto Ernest Borgnine.So did Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Robert Culp, Sammy Dabvis Jr, Richard Jaeckel, Steve McQueen, George Peppard and James Stewart.

Angel .   The career of the ex-“child worker" Robert Blake - born Michael James Vijencio Gubitosi - was on hold. Indeed, he was banned by J Edgar Hoover from ever guesting on The FBI.  Peckinpah saw him for Angel – but he wanted too much money. Then Peckinpah saw  Jaime Sánchez in a screen test called…  The Pawnbroker.(The test for both Borgnine and Ryan also had n name. The Dirty Dozen!).    

Hailed  by at least one critic as "the best Western  ever,"  the film of  some  3,643 montage cuts,  was attacked for what even Peckinpah  admitted was "unbearable" violence (often in slow-motion at 25, 28, 32, 48 and 64 frames per second).

Hailed by at least one critic as "the best Western ever,"the film of some 3,643montage cuts, was attacked for what even Peckinpah admitted was "unbearable" violence (often in slow-motion at 25, 28, 32, 48 and 64 frames per second).

 

“I tried to emphasize the sense of horror and 

agony that violence provides,” said Peckinpah.

And... pacifists threw punches at me!"

 

Marvin had the last word… 

"I don't think it really succeeded.   It had all the action and all the blood and all that shit, but it didn't have the ultimate kavooom, ya know?It didn't have the one-eye-slowly-opening aspect it should have had."






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