Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 1 18 February 1970
You're Gonna Die Bloody
You're Gonna Die Bloody
There is a new breed of western in town Bonnie and Clyde (1967) has started an interest in the more recent west. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (set about 1909) and The Wild Hunch (set 1914) are both preoccupied with violence, a certain kind of nostalgia for the passing of an era and a breed of men, and with a lingering ideal that outlaws are fascinating, charming, basically innocent and childlike people. Admittedly. Butch is a charming talc about a couple of hapless hoodlums, but with The Wild Bunch Sam Peckinpah has made the most violent and gory gun-fighting film you will ever want to sec.
It opens and closes on a couple of magnificently filmed bloodbaths and in between there are enough scenes of torture, callous passion (never complete without popping bubs) and mutilated ambushers to turn off the most dedicated violence voyeur. The tension in watching this madness should not be underestimated. When the smoke cleared alter the final gun fight, the audience were laughing out of pure relief and not at the bloody bodies strewn over the square. Despite this deliberate anti-romanticism—rather like using a Gatling to kill a gnat—the film has a curious sentimentality all its own. There is a grim pride and a certain golden wash of nostalgia for "them good old days", (shown in flashback and just as bloody ). The Bunch, led by William Molden and Ernest Borgnine, have a kind of freedom from ideological commitment which means they are independent marauders with an eye for the main chance), they have camaraderie of a sort ("if you can't stick with a man then you're some kind of animal"), and they carry with them their own sense of imminent extinction. Molden realises that the age for their kind of violence is passing: "We gotta think beyond guns, Them days is going last ..." But he knows equally well that his habits have become inflexible and that he must die as he has lived. Me admits with gritty pride: "I wouldn't have it any other way."
There is an important contrasting midsection set in a Mexican village which is gently and lyrically photographed, The change to greens and golds in the colouring, the languor of the cutting and the plaintive Mexican love song on the soundtrack (remarkably like the Maori) are background to another Peckinpah thesis about the deceptive innocence of children. Earlier we were shown the town children as innocent murderers of animal and insect life who can watch, imitate and do cruelty without relating to the reality of the suffering. At the fiesta, the two meanest members of the Hunch become playful and childlike. An old Mexican watches and mumbles something to the effect that all men want to be children at heart, perhaps too much so. Thus making excuses for "the innocence of babes" and "they know not what they do" is a dangerous and apathetic misreading of reality. But the Bunch must live through their cycle of pain and pride like on extinct breed of animal. At the end Robert Ryan, the lone leftover, joins another more wretched local gang drawling resignedly. "It ain't what it used to be but it'll do". Brutality and cold-eyed sentimentality are inseparable.
The certainty of death for the main characters also underlies the wryly comic tragedy Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill. 1969). Its main charm is in the playful offhand dialogue which rides the undercurrent of inevitable ambush with bitter sweet irony. There is an ingratiating friendship between the brash and talkative Butch (Paul New [unclear: an]) and the sarcastically laconic Sundance ("I gues I was born blabby"), delightfully played by Robert Redford. Bonnie and Clyde is an obvious godfather to this film for we again have a pair of innocents, short of alternatives to their way of life, being nudged by circumstances into following an inevitably fatal course. They are only dimly aware of this, even less aware of their reputation as vicious outlaws (after all, they are such nice guys), and seem to live in perpetual wonderment at the skill and persistence of their pursuers.
Violence is relatively low key, after the Wild Bunch, except for one scene where the two shoot down a small band of Bolivian bandits. They fall in slow motion amid huge clouds of dust with a single scream on the soundtrack. Ironically, this happens on their first attempt at going straight and is the first time Butch has shot anyone. They were payroll guards to the loot the bandits were sharing. "We've tried going straight. What do we do now?". Good question. The answer is to keep running from those guardians of the good society who intend to kill off the two wisecracking outlaws we have come to like so much. But the goodnatured springtime of this charming trio, (not to forget a fine performance by Katherine Ross as Etta Place. Sundance's girlfriend), is pointedly evanescent. The hard truth is spoken by an old but sympathy sheriff: "You're gonna die bloody and the only thing you can do is pick when, "But that nasty inevitability is sweetened by such [unclear: sceres] as the morning bike ride with Newman and Ross to the sole background of "Raindrops keep tailing on my head"), which ensure that the film succeeds on sheer lyrical personableness.
Editors note: Nevil Gibson and Catherine de la Roche placed The Wild Bunch among the best films of 1969 in their selections for The Dominion and The Listener. Does anyone, like me, feel that The Wild Bunch was utter rubbish? In terms of script, photography, the performances of the leading actors, and theme music. Butch Cassidy the Sundance Kid and the Leone movies (A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More. The Good, the Bad & the Ugly etc) were infinitely superior. The Wild Bunch, like Belle da Jour, was one of those films that everyone 'just has to sec". Once you've seen it, an Emperor's clothes neurosis sets in: 'everyone else is raving about it so maybe it's just me'. If you find you disagree with what Salient's reviewers have to say, please don't hesitate to write to me to express your opinion.