If you love movies and movie history, “The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film,” is your book. It is a well-researched, detailed account of the movie, “The Wild Bunch.” The book also offers a glimpse into 1968, the year the film released, a tumultuous time in the United States.
Sam Peckinpah wrote “The Wild Bunch” several years before turning it into a film. He was an established director of several movies and TV shows. Peckinpah wanted to make a Western that depicted the reality of how cowboys really were. The movie industry was moving away from the sterile, clichéd Westerns where a cowboy rides off into the sunset. He also was fascinated by the Mexican Revolution. At the time, very little was known about it in the United States.
Cowboys actually were very violent, as Stratton notes “…Peckinpah opened a window into the minds of men who live violent lives and thrive on it.” He further writes “…Peckinpah destroyed all the standard stereotypes that made up cowboy pictures that came before it. It changed all the rules.” “The Wild Bunch" remains one of the most violent movies ever made.
When the movie was released in the Bahamas, there was a press conference after the viewing. Peckinpah was asked if he had crossed a line by depicting all the bloodshed and violence. He responded, “ I know what you mean. There is a very, very thin line and I think we operated as close to it as we dared...But, I am willing to admit that we may have passed over it at some point. We feel the violence is a catharsis, a release, but sometimes the line is hard to find.”
In 1968, America was in the midst of upheaval, politically, socially and culturally. There were civil rights protests, following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., and anti-war protests about Vietnam. Social mores were changing quickly. Peckinpah’s goal was to make a movie reflecting these violent times, but he didn’t condone violence.
The author of this immersive book writes in detail about the movie and the movie industry, which was undergoing change at the time too. Stratton gives a thorough account of Peckinpah, the central characters and takes us through every department of the film crew explaining their jobs. Peckinpah insisted on the best of the best for every department, and as a result “The Wild Bunch” is a nearly flawless movie, according to Stratton.
Upon the film’s release, “The Wild Bunch” became one of the most talked about movies ever made. Many reviews condemned the film because of its extreme violence; others praised it as a true work of art. “Today, it has somewhat of a cult following.” The author concludes by saying, “I’ve never seen a better movie.”