56. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
I am a sucker for movies where everyone dies. I’m not a huge fan of violence or anything, but I like when the hero dies, and everyone else does too. I like the macabre, and I like sad endings so when the hero, plus everyone else dies, I tend to take notice, and usually it ends up as a positive for the film.
I have read that the ending for this film was heavily influenced by the long forgotten 1932 gangster film The Beast of the City. Now I am a huge fan of the film, having watched it recently and being enamored by it, especially the ending. Tragically the film has never been released on either VHS or DVD, and I happened to stumble onto it through my regular search for pre-code films on eMule.
Anyway, I uploaded the ending on youtube from the version I had, so here it is:
To me that’s a fantastic ending, I watched it for the first time without any knowledge or expectations, and was completely shocked to see something so violent, and so macabre take place in a 1932 film. Hell even today films don’t often end like that.
What I love about that ending is how sudden, brief, and completely destructive it is.
Now contrast that to The Wild Bunch.
This film has everyone die, and die violently, excessively and in slow-motion. Basically the final 15 minutes of the film features our heroes getting wasting in slow motion by a gatling gun. On one hand the absolute slaughter is kind of cool and unexpected. When I watched it, I remember thinking: “I can’t believe how violent this is”.
But in 2008, something seems passe about filming everything in slow-motion. I think slow-mo has gone the way of the Dodo in terms of being a relevant and effective technique. I mean it was done to death over the past 20 or so years, and now it just seems like a joke. Maybe in 1969 it was fresh, but I can’t view it as anything but passe.
It’s the opposite of The Beast of the City in the sense that where Beast contains a sudden jolt of violence designed to shock the viewer, The Wild Bunch revels in the violence, and draws it out as long as possible, in a sense it is a precursor to the Tarantino films which glorify and sensationalize violence.
I can’t deny the influence of The Wild Bunch, because clearly action/crime/western film etc. that has come since has been in some way influenced by the spectacular violence of The Wild Bunch, but I am not sure that’s a good thing.
On filmaffinity.com I gave the film an 8/10. It’s a solid western, that is most noteworthy for the ending. The fact that I disagree with how the ending was shot, doesn’t really diminish my appreciation of the story or the characters.