Awards and Honors:
The Wild Bunch
was nominated for two Academy Awards. The first, for Best Music, Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical) for Jerry Fielding and the second, Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Material Not Previously Published or Produced for Walon Green (screenplay/story), Roy N. Sickner (story) and Sam Peckinpah (screenplay).
The Directors Guild of America nominated Sam Peckinpah for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
Other awards included the Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards for Best Sound Editing (Dialogue) and Best Sound Editing (Feature Film), a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography to Lucien Ballard and, finally, in 1999 it was selected for the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board.
The Critics' Corner on THE WILD BUNCH
"The movie...is very beautiful and the first truly interesting American-made Western in years. It's also so full of violence--of an intensity that can hardly be supported by the story--that it's going to prompt a lot of people who do not know the real effect of movie violence (as I do not) to write automatic condemnations of it... Bodies, struck by bullets, make graceful arcs through the air before falling onto the dusty street, where they seem to bounce, as if on a trampoline. This sort of choreographed brutality is repeated to excess, but in excess, there is point to a film in which realism would be unbearable. The Wild Bunch
takes the basic elements of the Western movie myth, which once defined a simple, morally comprehensible world, and by bending them turns them into symbols of futility and aimless corruption... The ideals of masculine comradeship are exaggerated and transformed into neuroses. The fraternal bonds of two brothers, members of the Wild Bunch, are so excessive they prefer having their whores in tandem. A feeling of genuine compassion prompts the climactic massacre that some members of the film trade are calling, not without reason, "the blood ballet."... In two earlier Westerns, Ride the High Country
(1962) and Major Dundee
(1965), Peckinpah seemed to be creating comparatively gentle variations on the genre about the man who walks alone--a character about as rare in a Western as a panhandler on the Bowery. In The Wild Bunch
, which is about men who walk together, but in desperation, he turns the genre inside out. It's a fascinating movie and, I think I should add, when I came out of it, I didn't feel like shooting, knifing, or otherwise maiming any of Broadway's often hostile pedestrians." Vincent Canby, The New York Times
, June, 1969.
"When a particularly violent film like The Wild Bunch
comes along, there are usually three stages to the critical reaction. First, the film is attacked for its excessive violence. Second, it is defended by its admirers as a statement against violence. The excess of violence, it is argued, causes a reaction in the audience; the movie fights violence like an inoculation fights smallpox. The third critical stage comes when a critic actually attends the theater where the movie is showing. He returns horrified. The audience, he reports, was cheering and applauding and laughing; far from being revolted by the excessive violence, the audience loved it. What went wrong? One Chicago critic was so shocked by his visit to the theater that he suggested members of the audience might be in need of psychiatric help. I have a general theory, that audiences know what they're up to. If they laugh at violence, it is probably more useful to examine the violence than to psychoanalyze the audience. In the case of The Wild Bunch
, this is particularly true. Let me admit to heresy: I enjoyed the violence, too." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
, August, 1969.
"The absurdist heroics of The Wild Bunch
provide settings for good performances. William Holden and Robert Ryan, in particular, played their first good roles in years, and make the most of them. In the area of character acting the lowlife performances of Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, and Edmond O'Brien are particularly notable. Also significant is the whining depravity of Strother Martin in the role that established him as perhaps the last of the old-style character actors. The film is also distinguished by Lucien Ballard's cinematography and Jerry Fielding's tension-heightening score. The film's hero, however, remains Sam Peckinpah, whose subsequent films have demonstrated that he may possess the most comprehensive command of the resources of cinema of any American director since Orson Welles." - Harold Meyerson, Magill's Survey of Cinema
"The Wild Bunch
is the first masterpiece in the new tradition of 'the dirty Western.' The promise of Ride the High Country
has finally been fulfilled in what may someday emerge as one of the most important records of the mood of our times and one of the most important American films of the era." - Richard Schickel, Life magazine
"Peckinpah is such a gifted director that I don't see how one can avoid using the word 'beautiful' about his work. It is a matter of kinetic beauty in the very violence that his film lives and revels in." - Stanley Kauffman, The New Republic
"I think Wild Bunch
scared people as much as it turned them on...It made Peckinpah seem like a man who could go over the top in terms of the conventional expectations of this town. It was a film about violence, not just using violence. It was symbolic of a new day in the treatment of violence. This wasn't violence being used as a surrogate for sex. It had a specific gravity..." - Charles Champlin, L.A. Times
"[A] raucous, violent, powerful feat of American filmmaking... sufficient to confirm that Peckinpah, along with Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Penn, belongs with the best of the newer generation of American filmmakers." - Jay Cocks, Time Magazine
Alongside the glowing reviews were many negative reviews as well. Arthur Knight wrote in The Saturday Review
, "I very much doubt that anyone who was not totally honest in his wrongheadedness could ever come up with a picture as wholly revolting as this."
"The film winds up with a showdown that is the bloodiest and most sickening display of slaughter that I can ever recall in a theatrical film, and quotes attributed to Mr. Holden that this sort of ultra-violence is a healthy purgative for viewers are just about as sick." - Judith Crist, New York Magazine
"A chasm yawns and a river of blood flows between what The Wild Bunch
wanted to be and what it is. Peckinpah could only have intended The Wild Bunch
to be the last word on violence, but that too was to no avail. It is only the latest word. Several hundred senseless frontier killings don't add up to enlightenment. They only add up to several hundred senseless frontier killings." - Joseph Morgenstern, Newsweek
Compiled by Greg Ferrara