The critics were sharply divided on The Wild Bunch
but it struck a chord and Peckinpah's reputation was made. Years later, the original version would be restored but too late for Peckinpah to see it. The restoration in 1991 would bring back flashbacks explaining Pike's relationship with Thornton, his previous relationship with a woman that ended tragically and shots that generally added more depth to Pike's character.
Sam Peckinpah got his start working with Don Siegel. In Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(1956), Peckinpah was given a cameo as Charlie, the meter reader. Later, Peckinpah gave himself cameos in Junior Bonner
(1972), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
(1973) and Convoy
Prior to working on The Wild Bunch
, Peckinpah was developing The Diamond Story
, an action-adventure movie set in Africa with Charlton Heston in the lead; it never got made.
Despite all the massive bloodshed in The Wild Bunch
, and the Motion Picture Association of America's objection to much of it, it was only the cutting of Angel's throat that they deemed "unacceptable."
It wasn't until the 1995 restoration that audiences finally got to see the flashback revealing how Pike got his leg wound.
Phil Feldman, the executive producer of The Wild Bunch
, had helped Francis Ford Coppola launch his feature film debut with You're a Big Boy Now
in 1966. Feldman had also served as a deciphering analyst on codes during World War II.
Roy Sickner, who had originally come up with the idea for The Wild Bunch
, was the original Marlboro Man used in television commercials for the cigarette manufacturer.
Besides working as second unit director on Winter A-Go-Go
(1965), Sickner also performed stunt work on The Great Escape
(1963), the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
(1964) and Nevada Smith
According to one report, Sickner raised so much hell drinking and brawling in Mexico after arriving to work on The Wild Bunch
that Mexican authorities physically escorted him out of the country, barring him from returning.
Walon Green, who wrote the screenplay from Sickner's story, met Sickner in 1964 when Green was dialogue director on Saboteur: Code Name Morituri
(1965). Sickner was working on the film as a stuntman, doubling for star Marlon Brando in certain scenes.
Green later revealed the inspiration behind many of the main characters' names in The Wild Bunch
. "Pike was a name I always wanted to use, it's a kind of carnivorous fish and it suggested someone who is tough and predatory...Gorch was [named] after a real mill-trash family I knew...Mapache means raccoon in Spanish, and it seemed to me something a peasant risen to a general might call himself....Coffer was named for a stuntman I knew named Jack Coffer who was killed. Jack was a real inspiration to me for the kind of guys who are really
wild and crazy."
Green said he wrote The Wild Bunch
, "thinking that I would like to see a Western that was as mean and ugly and brutal as the times, and the only nobility in men was their dedication to each other."
Peckinpah's work on Paramount's Villa Rides
(1968) influenced the second half of the story greatly, specifically the Mexican revolutionaries and their need for U.S. guns and ammunition.
In the pre-casting phase of The Wild Bunch
, Peckinpah asked Jason Robards to play a role but the actor was committed to the Broadway run of We Bombed in New Haven
, a play by Joseph Heller (Catch-22
). The director also offered a role to James Drury, the star of the TV series The Virginian
, but the actor could not take a break from his series to do it.
In his autobiography, Ernest Borgnine discussed the making of The Wild Bunch
and intimated that some of the crew were often annoyed with Jaime Sanchez, who played Angel: "He was barely thirty at the time, and he was like a kid in a candy store. He just loved playing with his gun and he got to be a real fast draw. But it got to be irritating, having him constantly pull his six-shooter on us."
According to Susan A. Compo in her biography Warren Oates: A Wild Life
, Bo Hopkins had not worked with blood squibs before. For his scene, where he is shot during the railway office holdup at the beginning of The Wild Bunch
, he was hooked up to copper wire holding powder capsules. "They'd been putting wires on me all day, all up my legs and on my chest. They asked me if I wanted to wear a T-shirt, and I said, 'Oh no, I want to feel it so I can react,' Like a dummy, I didn't know they went off and caused blisters."
Like director John Ford, Peckinpah seemed to take delight in harassing particular actors on his sets. For The Wild Bunch
, Strother Martin was often the target of his abuse. "I sensed that he liked me but I wasn't sure," Martin once admitted. According to editor Lou Lombardo, "Sam would ride the sh*t out of Strother...Strother was afraid of horses, for example. Sam gave Strother the tallest horse - and then made him mount on a downhill grade."
The director was particularly suspicious of studio executives and didn't ever want them hanging around his sets. He warned Lombardo, "Don't show anybody anything you cut until I see it. If Feldman walks in, pull the plug on the moviola."
Joe Bernhard, a friend of Peckinpah, once said of the director, "He thought if he showed violence the way it really is, people would shun violence."
Peckinpah said it was Emilio Fernandez, who plays Mapache, who gave him the idea to use the children killing the scorpions with ants. Fernandez said, "You know, the Wild Bunch, when they go into that town like that, are like when I was a child and we would take a scorpion and drop it on an anthill."
The Aqua Verde sequence, in which the Wild Bunch opens fire on Mapache and his troops, took thirty-two days to film, employing over 300 extras and more than 500 animals.
According to one source, Peckinpah wanted to add in the sound of flies buzzing in the post-battle scene at the end of The Wild Bunch
and, without it, felt like the movie was incomplete.
The studio kept re-editing The Wild Bunch
in an effort to make it more accessible and popular like True Grit
or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
, the hit westerns of the day. Ironically, it is now The Wild Bunch
that is more often imitated again and again.
The bounty hunters' death scene was to be an elaborate shoot-out but producer Phil Feldman suggested killing them off-screen entirely. Peckinpah liked it so much he wrote him to thank him saying, ""Your idea of taking out the killing of the bounty hunters was absolutely correct."
Future director Martin Scorsese was one of the first people to see The Wild Bunch
, in a private screening with Jay Cocks, Judith Crist and Rex Reed. Scorsese thought it was a masterpiece.
Peckinpah was often attacked for the excessive violence in The Wild Bunch
but he defended it, saying "Actually, it's an antiviolence film...because I use violence as it is. It's ugly, brutalizing and bloody f*cking awful. It's not fun and games, and cowboys and Indians, it's a terrible ugly thing. And yet there's a certain response that you get from it, an excitement because we're all violent people, we have violence within us. Violence is part of life and I don't think we can bury our heads in the sand and ignore it. It's important to understand it and the reason people seem to need violence vicariously."
Memorable Quotes from THE WILD BUNCH
Pike Bishop (William Holden): "If they move, kill 'em!"
Pike Bishop: "I'd like to make one good score and back off..."
Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine): "Back off to what?"
Pike Bishop: "He gave his word."
Dutch Engstrom: "He gave his word to a railroad."
Pike Bishop: "It's his word."
Dutch Engstrom: "That ain't what counts! It's who you give it *to*!"
Crazy Lee (Bo Hopkins): "Well, how'd you like to kiss my sister's black cat's ass?"
Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan): "What I like, and what I need, are two different things."
Pike Bishop: "You boys want to move on or stay here and give him a... decent burial?"
Tector Gorch (Ben Johnson): "He was a good man, and I think we oughta bury him."
Pike Bishop: "He's DEAD! And he's got a lot of good men back there to keep him company!"
Tector Gorch: "Silver rings."
Dutch Engstrom: ""Silver rings", your butt! Them's washers! Damn!"
Lyle Gorch (Warren Oates): "Washers. Washers. We shot our way out of that town for a dollar's worth of steel holes!"
Pike Bishop: "If you two boys don't like equal shares, why in the hell don't you just take all of it?
"Well, why don't you answer me, you damn yellow-livered trash?"
Lyle Gorch: "Now, Pike, you know damn well..."
Pike Bishop: "I don't know a damn thing, except I either lead this bunch, or end it right now!"
Pike Bishop: "We're not gonna get rid of anybody! We're gonna stick together, just like it used to be! When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if you can't do that, you're like some animal, you're finished! We're finished! All of us!"
Deke Thornton: [upset] "Harrigan! Next time, you better plan your massacre more carefully or I'll start with you!"
Deke Thornton: "Tell me, Mr. Harrigan, how does it feel? Getting paid for it? Getting paid to sit back and hire your killings... with the law's arms around you? How does it feel to be so goddamn right?"
Harrigan (Albert Dekker): "Good."
Deke Thornton: "You dirty son of a bitch!"
Angel (Jaime Sanchez): "Would you give guns to someone to kill your father or your mother or your brother?"
Pike Bishop: "Ten thousand cuts an awful lot of family ties."
Pike Bishop: "C'mon, you lazy bastard."
Pike Bishop: "A hell of a lot of people, Dutch, just can't stand to be wrong."
Dutch Engstrom: "Pride."
Pike Bishop: "And they can't forget it, that pride, being wrong. Or learn by it."
Dutch Engstrom: "How about us, Pike? You reckon we learned, being wrong, today?"
Pike Bishop: "I sure hope to God we did."
Dutch Engstrom: "At least we won't have to worry about Deke Thornton."
Pike Bishop: [laughs] "Hell, no; not after ridin' a half a case of dynamite into the river!"
Sykes (Edmond O'Brien): [calmly] "Well, don't expect him to stay there! He'll be along... and you know it!"
Dutch Engstrom: "They'll be waitin' for us."
Pike Bishop: "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Pike Bishop: "We've got to start thinking beyond our guns. Those days are closin' fast."
Don Jose (Chano Urueta): "We all dream of being a child again, even the worst of us. Perhaps the worst most of all."
Coffer (Strother Martin): "Mr. Thornton; you, ah, rode with Pike, what kinda man we up against?"
Deke Thornton: "The best. He never got caught."
Deke Thornton: [to his posse] "You think Pike and old Sykes haven't been watchin' us. They know what this is all about - and what do I have? Nothin' but you egg-suckin', chicken stealing gutter trash with not even sixty rounds between you. We're after men - and I wish to God I was with them. The next time you make a mistake, I'm going to ride off and let you die."
Dutch Engstrom: "Eh, "Generalissimo", hell! He's just another bandit grabbing all he can for himself."
Pike Bishop: "Like some others I could mention?"
Dutch Engstrom: "Not so's you'd know it, Mr. Bishop. We ain't nothin' like him! We don't HANG nobody! I hope, someday, these people here kick him, and the rest of that scum like him, right into their graves."
Angel: "We will. If it takes forever."
Dutch Engstrom: "Well, I'd say those fellas know how to handle themselves!"
Sykes: "They been fightin' Apaches for a thousand years; That's a sure way to learn."
Pike Bishop: "They ever get armed, with good leader, this whole country'll go up in smoke!"
Sykes: "That it will son, that it will."
Dutch Engstrom: "Give 'em hell Pike!"
Sykes: "Didn't figure to find you here."
Deke Thornton: "Why not? I sent them back; That's all I said I'd do."
Sykes: "They didn't get very far."
Deke Thornton: "I figured."
Sykes: "What are your plans, now?"
Deke Thornton: "Drift around down here. Try to stay out of jail."
Sykes: "Well, me and the boys got some work to do. You want to come with us? It ain't like it used to be; but it'll do."
Compiled by Greg Ferrara
Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch
Edited by Stephen Prince (Cambridge Film Handbooks)
Bloody Sam: The Life and Films of Sam Peckinpah
by Marshall Fine (Donald I. Fine, Inc.)
Ernie: The Autobiography
by Ernest Borgnine (Citadel Press)
Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden
by Bob Thomas (St. Martin's Press)
Warren Oates: A Wild Life
by Susan A. Compo (University Press of Kentucky)