Tag Archives: William Holden

The 30’s were violent too.

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.

I AM big. It’s the PICTURES that got small.

31. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)

I chose this poster cos it’s all po-mo, and if you don’t know what that means then it’s T.S.(tethered swimming) for you (2 Simpsons references in one sentence).

Gloria Swanson gives one of the greatest performances ever in terms of watching someone deconstruct their public persona, and leaving themselves exposed.

A bit of backstory on Gloria Swanson: she was a massive star(she was big…Gabby Hayes big, Simpsons reference #3) during the silent era of the 1920’s. Her stardom faded with advent of the talkie. From 1934-1950 she appeared in 1 film. “Sunset Boulevard” would mark her comeback and her first film in 9 years.

So the premise of the story is this: a hack screenwriter named Joe Gillis(played awesomely by William Holden), shacks up with a delusional ex-movie queen named Norma Desmond(played by Swanson) and mayhem ensues(well not mayhem, more like well-supervised craziness: Simpsons reference #4). Desmond has visions of a big-screen comeback, and Gillis is helping her write a script.

The film also stars ex-director turned character actor Eric von Stroheim as Max, Norma’s chaffeur/butler and one time director. This is where art even further imitates life. One of Swanson’s last starring roles was in the Eric von Stroheim directed “Queen Kelly” which ran way over budget, was never officially completed, and bombed when released. It’s actually pretty awesome, but that film’s failure killed von Stroheim’s directorial career, as well helping to kill Swanson’s film career. So what you have in this film is von Stroheim, and Swanson playing versions of themselves.

It’s common nowadays for stars to parody themselves and poke fun at their celebrity, but in 1950 it wasn’t especially common, and what makes Swanson’s portrayal so incredible is that it’s not played for laughs. It’s actually pretty fucking uncomfortable. There is one scene that is as awkward as anything ever shown on “Curb Your Enthusiam“, where Norma, Max, and Joe show up to the set of Cecil B. DeMille‘s latest film. DeMille was one of Hollywood’s biggest directors from the 10’s to the 60’s. Norma thinks DeMille wants her to star in a film(he actually just wants to use her old-timey limousine for a scene) and shows up demanding the full star treatment. Everyone kind of humors her, but no one has the heart to tell her what’s going on. It’s depressing man. It’s the kind of thing you could imagine someone doing in real life.

Swanson’s willingness to completely embrace the role is what makes it so great. It takes a a hell of a lot of guts to look so pathetic on screen.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film a 9/10, but that could easily turn in to a 10(I try and be judicious and not give 10’s until I have watched a film more than once). Just a great film in every facet. I recommend the shit out of this film.