“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?”
Particularly when offered $1m and then some to“sing” in Paint Your Wagon, 1969.
Peckinpah, who was to share his sole Oscar nominate nfor 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 Bishop (aka Peckinpah) - Sterling Hayden, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck. What were they thinking?
Going against type, William Holden agreed to lead the gang. He was perfect, said Peckinpah, "fifty, wrinkled, no longer the glamour boy." Jason Robards, Peckinpah's future Cable Hogue, was first asked to join the party but passed Engstrom to Ernest Borgnine. So did James Stewart. (Engstrom was Hollywood’s only Swede to be nicknamed Dutch!)
For Deke Thornton, 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 next offer to Chuck for Pat Garret and Billy The Kid).
Peckinpah then toyed with more anti-type ideas. Yet despite their love of RideThe High Country (the farewell film of Randolph Scott and JoelMcCrea), Glenn Ford and Gregory Peck politely refused to ride the blood-splattered country. Sam asked two of his favourites: Richard Harris from Major Dundee, 1965, and Brian Keith from The Westerner, 1960, and The Deadly Companions, 1961. Finally, almost inevitably, Deke Thornton suited the dour Robert Ryan.
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 TV series. Peckinpah saw him for Angel - but gave the role to Jamie Sanchez.
Swarthy West German actor Mario Adorf had been cast as a Mexican by Sam in Major Dundee - until great deal of Adorf and, indeed, James Coburn, bit the dust when 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. “No thank you.” His agent was furious. “Look, you’re in Hollywood at exactly the right time. Pedro Armandariz has died. Anthony Quinn doesn’t want to play Mexicans or Indians anymore…” Adorf understood there was a vacancy to fill. And let Emilio "El Indio" Fernández fill it. “Bu I don’t want to end my days playing Hollywood Mexicans.” He went home, where by 2214, he had completed 212 screen roles.
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."