March Selection – The Wild Bunch

Apologies for an extremely late entry.



“The Wild Bunch is my March selection and this marks the first and only entry from the western genre, a group I have little experience with watching. I can only think of four westerns I have seen which include: “High Noon”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “Unforgiven” and “True Grit” (2010). Any comparisons I make will be to a very limited set of reference points. I’m going to exclude  “Unforgiven” and “True Grit” from the group due to their production after The Wild Bunch. Compared to “High Noon” and “Liberty Valance”, “The Wild Bunch” is a completely different animal. I would argue it does not even seem like a western, when compared to the standards of previous westerns. The biggest surprise was the 20th century setting, in a world quickly approaching World War I, not the usual time period of the mid 19th century. Maybe, “The Wild Bunch” broke the barrier of setting westerns in the 19th century. It is not only the time period that has changed, in fact the story-line is darker and more complex. There is no simple plot involving good guys fighting the bad guys. It’s a story only involving the bad guys.  The men portrayed in this film are greedy, reckless, violent and have no regard for human life, these men are only out for themselves. Throughout the film death lingers, it weighs heavily from the opening title card to the start of the end credits. However, the fear of death is not from a gun, instead its extinction. Specifically the wild bunch are coming to terms about their way of living, it’s coming to an end and not on their own accords. These men have survived for years on their set of skills, but they are becoming ineffective, as the world is changing, they are at a standstill.

Simply put The Wild Bunch is a heist film. It begins with a bank robbery, the last big heist, the retirement plan, which turns into a complete failure. Starting from scratch the group needs to come up with a plan, along the way an opportunity arises but requires working with some unsavory partners. The last heist requires stealing weapons from the U.S. Army and is pulled off successfully but with ramifications. A decision has to be made by the group on whether or not to go back and get one of their partners.

This film is almost perfect, so many aspects of it work so well, from the acting, to a spectacular script and great direction by Sam Peckinpah. The entire cast is terrific but there are three standouts: William Holden as Pike Bishop, Ernest Borgnine as Dutch Engstrom and Robert Ryan as Deke Thornton.  Deke has the least screen time of the three but is a good counter weight for the wild bunch and really fills out Pike’s back story even though they barely share any screen time together. Deke is Pike’s former partner, who struggles with his current situation trying to stay out of prison by hunting down Pike and his gang. Even though he is trying to bring these men down, he wishes he was riding with Pike. The script creates an interesting conflict for Deke and Pike, two former partners working against one another. Dutch is the moral compass of the film, he is Pike’s right hand and has a great amount of respect for him. Borgnine creates a memorable character, a tough but likable guy, something he pulls off successfully in his other films such as Marty and The Poseidon Adventure.  Holden as Pike, is spectacular, at first he comes off as a miscast, he didn’t look like a good fit for the role, but as the film progressed I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing this performance. Pike is a man who has seen and experienced a lot of suffering. It’s hard to tell if he is a man who has lost his way or a man who never had much of a moral concise. Maybe that’s the reason he surrounds himself with men like Dutch and Deke, men who will be his moral guide.  Pike is troubled by his past and his future. He is haunted by his mistakes in the past and the future isn’t bright. His ideas and plans are not cutting it anymore and the ability to work for himself is no longer an option, instead he is working for a military general of Mexico. Deke is suffering from the same issue, instead of working for himself, he is working for the railroad. The west is coming to an end, the days of being an outlaw are disappearing, working for yourself isn’t an option, you have a side to choose.

The story of the Wild Bunch really shows how much depth western films carry. On the surface they seem simple but they really carry some heavy thematic elements. The Wild Bunch shows a darker side of the West, in which there are no good guys. It also breaks down some of those legends, myths or truths people hold about the West such as men living by this unwavering code of honor. It’s a story about men fighting to survive the only way they know how and seeing that their way of living is coming to an end. The editing is really a game changer for a film from this era, maybe the biggest change in editing style since Peter Hunt’s work on the Bond films. The action scenes are intense with various cuts and slow motion scenes spliced together. It’s a quick pace but one you can actually see the action unfold unlike today’s editing in action sequences. I’ve gone back and forth on what the most valuable aspect of the film was going to be, it was between the script, the cast and the director. The more I thought about it, the clearer the choice was, it had to go Sam Peckinpah. His direction and style changed westerns. Providing a more realistic and gritty western but also improving the visual aspects of westerns, specifically with location shooting and set design. My biggest issues with “High Noon” and “Liberty Valance” was the set design. They had the look of a studio backlot. While I’m sure “The Wild Bunch” had some shots on sets, they have a more realistic and natural look. While the action scenes are a huge standout, the arguments between the men are quite memorable creating a high amount of tension without the use of guns. Peckinpah’s ability to create such tension within the camera is remarkable when the film opens and ends with such intense action scenes. While the direction is superb there are two issues with the film, and they are really nit-picky items. The first issue is a flashback scene with Pike remembering how Deke got busted. It uses a visual effect to represent a flashback. The entire set and costume design of the flashback it so out of place with the film. The next item is the after the successful heist, the men share a drink and just have a big laugh. These scenes took me out of the film’s heavier tone, because they didn’t match the look and feel of the overall movie. Maybe Peckinpah was trying to show us a glimpse of the good old days for the men of the wild bunch. I  highly recommend The Wild Bunch, my rating is a 9 out of 10. It truly is a classic, changing the way Westerns are made.

Rating: 9 out of 10



February – Blade Runner by @campbelldropout

I can’t remember the last time I’ve given so much thought to one film. This is the fourth time I’ve tried starting this entry for CinemaShame. I’ve really struggled getting my views and feelings into a coherent essay. Blade Runner has been teetering on the edge of being despised or loved. After two viewings, reading various opinions and viewpoints and limited discussion with others, I’m still somewhat unsure how I feel about the film.  I’ve known about Blade Runner for years, seen the DVD on shelves, glanced over write ups in books, but never delved into the film. The main reasons include a lack of interest in science fiction films and a general lack of knowledge when it comes to noir. Also, the film has a huge history with its troubled production, original reception and the numerous versions, the Blu-Ray I purchased came with four different versions.

From the start, I knew I was going to view the original cut of Blade Runner, which may have been the wrong route.  Visually the film is remarkable, it creates a tone and atmosphere that really pulls the viewer into the film. The standouts in the film are Rutger Hauer and Sean Young. Hauer had the best scenes in the film. His ability to show such unstable emotion was really impressive. There are numerous enjoyable scenes with Hauer including his meeting with Tyrell, telling Daryl Hannah’s character about the status of the other replicants, and the showdown/monologue with Ford. Then there is Sean Young, well, she is just beautiful, it’s hard to take your eyes away from the film when she appears on the screen.  The scene in which Ford questions Young sums the entire tone of the movie, which comes completely from Young’s performance. The film has a compelling storyline that includes some deep themes, terrific performances and a great moody atmosphere. While it has strong, positive attributions, there are two aspects that hurt Blade Runner. The narration is awful. It felt like the story was being explained to a child, or the producers thought the viewer wasn’t capable of following the film’s plot. Every time the narration came on, I was pulled right out of the film. The tone or impact of a previous scene would be ruined by the narration. There was no thinking to be done by the viewer, it was being spoon fed to the audience.  The narration belonged in a parody or the opening credits of a Remington Steele episode.  The second aspect that hurts the film is the ending. The entire build up of the mood and atmosphere are completely thrown out. I was completely surprised by the ending, I anticipated the elevator closing shut and credits rolling, instead we leave this grimy world to a world of pristine national geographic footage. I was puzzled and annoyed with the original cut, but I will give it credit for being an intelligent film despite some huge setbacks which were clearly imposed by the studio.   I intentionally planned to wait a week before viewing the final cut. During the break, I did the worst thing imaginable. I jumped on the internet and went down a rabbit hole of Blade Runner information. A terrible, horrible mistake the more I read, the more irritated I got. The whole debate of Decker being replicant caught me off guard and reading various interviews in which Scott gives his opinions, was a shock. The film offered hints at the possibility with Young questioning Ford, the reflection in Ford’s eyes and the photographs but nothing that really stood out and said yes, Ford is a replicant..  When it came to time to watch the final cut, I was already disappointed, the online information impacted my viewing of the final cut.  The overall changes to the final cut were small, in fact the running time for both versions was the same, but each one is an entirely different film.  The biggest changes were the removal of the narration and the original ending. Even with the biggest issues of the original cut resolved, I had already soured on Blade Runner. The idea of Decker being a replicant was solidified with the introduction of the unicorn dream sequence and Scott’s statements.  There are two potential reasons I dislike the film: 1) I’m too dumb to notice the clues and unwilling to accept the storyline; or 2) the film tries to be deeper than it really is. It does have deep themes and meaning pulling from various concentrations such as human interaction with technology, philosophy, Greek mythology and religion. The idea of Decker being a replicant is too 50/50 for my taste, maybe I’m a viewer that needs it to be 51/49 so it’s not so ambiguous. Maybe I’m a viewer that the studio thought needed to be spoon fed. Or maybe it was just a tough film to make and put on screen. There were so many problems with the production of the film with Scott and Ford disagreeing over the interpretations, the interference of the studio and the overall reception during its original release. This film has to be a labor of love for Scott, to spend so much time working on this film 30 years after it initial release.  I want to believe Scott had more clues with Decker being a replicant but these scenes never show up in the original or final cut. The version Scott showed to the studio/producers was nearly four hours long. I’d like to think that version had more insights to the replicant theory.

I’ve been back and forth with my rating on this film. It originally started out with an 8 out of 10 but it has fell to a 6.5 out of 10. It’s an interesting film but I got frustrated with the story when I let outside information create interference. I will come back to Blade Runner before the year is over, mostly through commentaries and documentaries in the set. In fact I even order a book about its production, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. I’ve grown as a film lover watching Blade Runner, it has been the first film in a long time I’ve had to sit down and really put time and effort into thinking critically about a film. While it has been nice, I do hope all my films won’t be this challenging.

Rating 6.5 out of 10

Well here is to March, The Wild Bunch.

January – On The Waterfront by @campbelldropout

On The Waterfront has eluded me for years, even though it’s been in my possession as  a DVD  and most recently as a Criterion Blu-ray. The film was released in 1954 and won eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. The AFI named it as the 19th greatest American film in 2007 and it currently is ranked 121 on IMDb. It is a piece of cinema history, I have no idea how many times this film has been shown in some type of montage highlighting films from the past or best quote montages have shown the scene with Brando in the backseat of the car saying, “I could’ve been a contender.” Well I can positively say I’m glad I finally watched this film. This is only the second film I’ve seen starring Brando with the first being Superman. As for Elia Kazan, this is my third outing with the director, previously viewing “Splendor in the Grass” and “A Face in the Crowd”, two personal favorites of mine, with the latter being a truly underrated film.

The story of Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), a former boxer, stands up against corrupt union leaders after realizing the harm they cause for the community. I’m not a great reviewer so I’m going to discuss the four aspects that sold me on this film. Brando is great, I’ve always thought the guy was overrated and just some eccentric actor due to behind the scenes stories from Apocalypse Now and Superman.  The mannerisms of Brando were so realistic and added to his performance, the scene between Brando and Eva Marie Saint at the bar having a beer is a beautiful scene and shows the range of Brando’s acting. The first few minutes I struggled to see the character but that was my problem seeing Brando not Terry, however this quickly wore off as Brando continued with the role. I will not say Brando carried the entire film because there are so many inputs from others that make this film great, but Brando pushes the film to a higher level with his portrayal. The second aspect is Elia Kazan, the man gets great performances out of all his actors and makes Hobokon look realistic, gritty and beautiful from the docks, alley ways, to the rooftops. Kazan really works the locations into the film and uses the environment effectively the background of some scenes encompass a lot of detail, showing a living city with so much going on in the background. I was surprised by the number of outdoor scenes since I’ve always thought older films used more sets and soundstages. The third aspect is the supporting cast with Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger and Karl Malden. All three of these guys were nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Lee J. Cobb is the standout, playing the heavy so effectively.  I didn’t even recognize Rod Steiger in the film but does a great job playing Malloy’s brother being Cobb’s right hand man. Steiger adds a lot of depth to the character as he struggles to protect his brother while trying to save his position and himself.  Malden’s speech/sermon in the film is probably the strongest religious speech I’ve ever seen in a film and the strongest scene in the film. Finally, Eva Marie Saint is a strong performer and shows Kazan’s instinct to pick and direct his female leads (check out Patricia Neal in A Face in the Crowd).  At first I thought Saint was awkward, I struggled with the quick onset of the love story between Saint and Brando and the attitude/emotion about a family member’s death was unbelievable. Those issues are more related to the script instead of Saint’s acting. Her performance progresses throughout the film and she stands toe to toe with Brando.

If there are any issues with the film, they lie in the script and the pacing of the film. The death of the family member didn’t seem realistic enough; the characters seem too impacted more by secondary events instead of the actual death. With a family members death the last thing on my mind would be hanging around with the person who could be connected to the death, let alone going on a date. The overall love story seemed rushed between Brando and Saint, I could be ignoring the fact that they knew each other when they were younger and maybe there was a previous attraction (this seemed to be hinted at but I struggled to pick up on it). Clocking in at 108 minutes the film could have benefitted with more story showing the toll of the death and the building of the relationship. The most disappointing part of the film would probably be the famous scene with Brando and Steiger in the back of the cab, after seeing it and hearing it so many times the effectiveness of the scene was not there. It is still a great performance from Brando, but the impact of Brando realizing what his brother and the union leaders have done to him was lacking. The most impressive part of the film was the religious tones in the film, this was a big surprise. I was not expecting how deep and forward the film would get with religion. Brando’s character battles against himself, his friends and family trying to figure out right and wrong. He is tempted and blinded by his family and friends to ignore the issues and just do as you are told, but he realizes the wrong he has committed through his own self revelation and Saint’s help. With her help and advice from the preacher, Brando realizes the wrong he has committed and repents/confesses for those mistakes. The preacher is an interesting character and I got a vibe from his character as someone who is having a crisis of faith, not in the manner of not believe in God but how far he will go to carry out his duty and do the Lord’s work.  Overall, On the Waterfront is a beautiful and uplifting film. While it is very early into 2014, I think this film will be in my top 15 first time watches for the year.

Rating 9 out of 10

Next month: Blade Runner

My List by @campbelldropout

First of all, I want to thank @007hertzrumble for putting this site together and his excitement for this project/adventure and for paying attention to my twitter posts (finally someone pays attention to me). Second, I want to thank @QuelleLove and @LaurasMiscMovie for creating and discussing a list of classic films they will watch in 2014 which gave me the idea of creating a list of classic films that I need to see for the year.

Now the films I have chosen to watch over the next year are consider the classics, either classic in the sense of all film history or classic to a specific genre or both. I believe most of these films will fall under both. There are various reasons I have not seen these films but I have narrowed it down to three.

  1. Time – Out of the 12 films I have picked only two are under 100 minutes long. It’s tough to find time to watch a 100 minute film let alone a 150 minute film.
  2. Netflix – Instead of sitting down watching Citizen Kane (run time 119 minutes), I end up watching Stolen (run time 96 minutes) with Nicolas Cage. I never seem to learn my lesson and always fall for this trap.
  3. Critical reception – These are some of the greatest films ever made but what if I dislike them or worse cannot understand what is going on. Well, this is really no longer an issue, but I believe it is one reason why I didn’t watch these films when I was younger. If I watched The Godfather and hated it, did that mean I could never be a film lover?

Below is my list of films for the year, I have switched three films around in order to complete a film for this month. The first film was originally going to be Blade Runner but I have pushed that to February because I wanted to watch the theatrical version of the film and not the director’s cut. For this month I will be watching On the Waterfront and hope to have a post up by next Thursday discussing the film.

January – On the Waterfront (January 30, 2014)

February – Blade Runner (February 27, 2014)

March – The Wild Bunch (March 27, 2014)

April – Infernal Affairs (April 24, 2014)

May – Seven Samurai (May 29, 2014)

June – Citizen Kane (June 26, 2014)

July – The Godfather (July 31, 2014)

August – The Godfather: Part II (August 28, 2014)

September – Taxi Driver (September 25, 2014)

October – Halloween (October 30, 2014)

November – Seventh Seal (November 27, 2014)

December – It’s a Wonderful Life (December 26, 2014)