Cast: William Holden (Pike), Ernest Borgnine (Dutch), Robert Ryan (Deke), Warren Oates (Lyle), Ben Johnson (Tector), Jaime Sanchez (Angel), Edmond O'Brien (Sykes)
Director: Sam Peckinpah (The Osterman Weekend, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Straw Dogs)
Plot: Without giving anything away, this film is about an aging outlaw gang at a time (1913) when the culture of America was inevitably changing and these men had nothing left to lose. They go in for one more score and all hell breaks loose.
Why you should watch it: I still contend that the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s was the last gasp of the big Hollywood Studio era. That time provided some outstanding cinema, with great actors, new and exciting writing, and more risks taken on the screen. The Wild Bunch is an outstanding example of this dying time.
The western was a staple of film making since the dawn of the medium. For the most part, the good guys wore white hats and saved the girl, and the bad guys wore the black hats and got what was coming to them. The protagonist usually stood for what was right and just in America. However at the time of this movie's release, America as a society was changing. The heroic men who fought in World War II were watching their sons go off to Vietnam, and we all know how the youth of that time felt about the war. If there were to be westerns in film, the hero would seem outdated, quaint even. The Wild Bunch really helped audiences learn to root for the anti-hero.
The Wild Bunch, obviously influenced by Sergio Leone's action packed and violent Spaghetti Westerns, really brought a new style of western to the screen. No longer was there only two real western protagonists - John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Now it seemed it was ok to root for the bad guys, and Peckinpah really has the audience rooting for his gang of violent outlaws. This movie is a veritable bloodbath. The conclusion of the film set the stage for the over-the-top violence that many writers and directors would emulate (and straight up steal) for many years to come. While the violence may seem excessive, it was indeed necessary. The film really demonstrates how the aging protagonists saw their world changing, and how they felt they needed to adapt.
The cast is perfectly assembled. William Holden and Ernest Borgnine are the central figures in the outlaw gang, and they lead with a world-weary line of vision. Warren Oates and Ben Johnson are the younger (mid-40s) men who still think they can remain outlaws. Jaime Sanchez is the youngster fighting for his people, and using the gang as a means to an end. The casting of Robert Ryan as Deke, the former gang member, now bounty hunter, is excellent. He is just as much a sympathetic anti-hero as Holden and his gang are.
The film runs about 2 hours, 25 minutes, so if you have some time to kill, watch this. It's not only a film that I consider to be a classic, it's also in the US National Film Registry in the Library of Congress as an important piece of cinematic history. The trailer isn't all that great (it's the original cinematic trailer), and doesn't do the film justice, but check it out nonetheless.