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  • 22 Jul 2012 at 8:11 am #1732

    Richard L.

    Seems like all the old McCarthy scholars are dying off or becoming lazy bastards, too feeble to note the passing of Ernest Borgnine, the last of the Wild Bunch except for Jaime Sanchez (who played Angel) and Bo Hopkins (who played Crazy Lee).

    Holden, ironically: “Well, I think we oughta say a few words over the dear departed – and maybe a few hymns would be in order. And a church social, with ice cream…”

    Well, get on your feet, you lazy bastards.

    An opening scene shows children torturing scorpions. The scorpions are not innocent-looking, but the laughing kids are a symbol of the mindless violence within us all, our animal origins. “He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence.”

    The Wild Bunch are in military uniforms, for this is, among other things, a parable of war. Holden orders Bo Hopkins to stay behind and keep the bankers and the customers hostage in the bank: “If they move, kill ’em.”

    Hopkins is a good soldier, blindly following orders to his death. Por nada, just mindless violence. Killing, for nothing.

    It is a trap, for the Railroad has hired mercenaries to ambush and kill the Wild Bunch, who are betrayed by one of their own, Robert Ryan. Most of the Wild Bunch get away, but with only bags of washers instead of money. The psychopathic Railroad Corporation is only mindful of its profits, and their mercenaries kill civilians caught in the crossfire without a whim or a regret. This is a war, after all. A merchant war.

    We prefer the bad guys we know to the bad guys we don’t know. And these are the poor against the rich. Also, these guys are getting on in years. They look as old and bent as a typical gathering of Cormac McCarthy scholars.

    The Wild Bunch actors are battle-weary veterans of many movie westerns: William Holden (8 westerns), Robert Ryan (14), Ernest Borgnine (10), Edmund O’Brien (10), Ben Johnson (16), and Warren Oates (8). Warner Brothers wanted to cast a young leading man in the role of Dutch but Peckinpah refused and instead cast Ernest Borgnine.

    “This is what Bill Holden is today,” Peckinpah said, “fifty, middle-aged, wrinkled, no longer the glamor boy.” Holden speaks about giving up the outlaw existence, living beyond their guns. “I’d like to make one good score and back off,” Holden tells Borgnine.

    “Back off to what?” Borgnine says.

    Indeed. What is it they all want? A stake in the economic pie and a chance to back out of the materialist duality toward love and decency and peace. Money is not enough.

    They cut a deal with another army, the Mexican general, for guns. There is a complication in this plot, for Jamie Sanchez’s woman is either kidnapped or goes willingly to become the general’s mistress. This is the subplot of the Trojan War.

    According to which account you believe, Europa was either abducted or seduced and taken away by Zeus, which spawned a series of like abductions. Roberto Calasso, in his great work on myth, says:

    “Out of these events history itself was born: the abduction of Helen, the Trojan War, and before that, the Argonauts’ expedition and the abduction of Medea–all are links in the same chain. A call to arms goes back and forth between Asia and Europe, and every back and forth is a woman, a woman and a swarm of predators, going from one shore to the other.”

    The variations of myth and history are always controversial. Did the woman leave of her own accord? Was she tempted and seduced by a snake? Or was she violently carried away? And no matter which way the story is told, the question remains: Is she guilty or innocent? And no matter how that question is resolved, is the war over her worthwhile?

    In the Wild Bunch, this war over a materialistic slut is ridiculous but it costs Jaime Sanchez his life at the hands of the general. The rest of the men don’t like it but they all swallow it as the cost of doing business.

    This parallels the swallowing and wallowing of Strother Martin and his vulture mercenaries, at whom Robert Ryan rants, “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.”

    And Robert Ryan’s character does indeed escape to Mexico, but not to join in the war–he has learned to avoid conflict, to make a separate peace. What does he want? Just to drift around and stay out of jail, he says. Just to exist.

    Holden and the remains of the Wild Bunch take their money and get drunk and get laid. But that isn’t enough for them. Holden passes by Borgnine, telling him to come on, “you lazy bastard,” and he rouses them all to stand against the general again. When the dye is cast, we hear Borgnine giggle and we see that psychopathic animal smile, death hilarious in his eyes.

    The final shootout then ensues, a cleansing bloodbath, absolving all tensions in death. And for what? Nada, nada, all is nada.

    To discerning viewers, the movie points out the conflict between the ethical and material values within our society, as Owen Ulph pointed out long ago:

    “Settled in debilitating, easy-payment-plan comfort, the remnants of their shrunken minds transfixed by a square of jittering glass, the pitiable, spineless, sniveling, sycophantic slaves of the Gorgon-headed establishment revel in the antics of saddle tramps who are never gainfully employed, bonanza-ing rancheros whose fancy spreads miraculously operate themselves…Spellbound audiences thrill to the chivalry of noble mavericks who…always upholding principle over expediency and reaffirming justice…in the face of the grinding tyranny of a corrupt law and the apathetic gutlessness of an ossified community.’

    “These same audiences, fatuous and fragmented, return to their respective offices, practitioners as well as victims of the vices they had vicariously deplored and hissed the evening before.’

    “Throughout densely populated, suburban Squalidonia, the maverick is a hero as long as he confines his heroics to Stultavision, Blatherania, and Disintegral Paperbacks. But whenever he is so indiscreet as to materialize and venture into the lush pastures of the current establishment, he is hazed off to forage with the wild cattle as soon as possible. . .Such ambivalence, characteristic of the psychosis of nostalgia, betrays the confusion, self-deception, hypocrisy, and absurdity of homogenized establishmentarian society. . .Our society is hopelessly schizoid. Nobody really loves Big Brother, and inside the most timorous conformist a smothered rebel cringes in fear.”

    “The discrepancy between our ideals and daily realities is manifest in the fascination with which even intelligent people view western fantasies depicting the achievement of social justice by maverick heroes who ride roughshod over all obstacles and ‘put things right,’ and the silent despair most of us suffer at the shoddy compromises and degrading sell-outs we incessantly endure.”

    22 Jul 2012 at 6:23 pm #1734


    Not sure i agree with this comment ”In the Wild Bunch, this war over a materialistic slut is ridiculous but it costs Jaime Sanchez his life at the hands of the general. The rest of the men don’t like it but they all swallow it as the cost of doing business”. The woman/slut is perfunctory to the cause, the way the actress laughs manically then comes sudden realisation at her disgust at what she has to do to survive runs parallel with The Bunchs disgust at themselves and some of their actions “the cost of doing business”. Their last stand is as much a rejection of the whores methods for surviving rather than their disgust at the execution and humilation of Jaimes . If they were so unhappy about the treatment of sanchez they would have went to ”war” immediately, its the joy they find in the rejection of supplication that is reflected in their laughing and grinning at the final battle, an inevitability of death on their terms rather than any loyalty to one of their own being tortured and killed because of a “slut wife”.

    22 Jul 2012 at 10:55 pm #1735

    Richard L.

    Yea, I worded that very badly; I should have quoted words that were not my own. “Slut” is a word I never use myself, at least since high school. Also, the chronological order is a bit amiss, in my post to yours, due to an inference in mine. The Wild Bunch leaves the women to go free Sanchez, who is still alive.

    Rather than hand him over to them, the General kills him, and then Holden shoots the General. That sets up the pregnant pause when Borgnine grins, just before the shooting breaks out in earnest.

    I worded this better on my blog right after I posted it here.

    Borgnine was a quality actor, appearing as the heavy in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and as a good guy in his award-winning MARTY role. The current issue of COWBOYS & INDIANS Magazine (Sept. 2012) has a picture of him co-hosting the Western Heritage Awards, held on April 21st earlier this year at the Oklahoma City museum. The Outstanding Western Novel Award went to Rode by Thomas Fox Averill. Yellow Rock won for best Western Heritage motion picture.

    Of course, the magazine went to press before Borgnine’s death. In this issue there is also a tribute to Levon Helm and Andy Griffith is quoted about his conversation with fellow Mayberry star George Lindsey (Goober on the show), just before his death on May 6th.

    Of course, Griffith himself is dead now.

    RIP to all, I say.

    23 Jul 2012 at 6:43 pm #1739


    did not mean to sound as if i was criticising i enjoyed your post, as The Wild Bunch is one of my favourite films its pleasant to read a post that doesnt just centre on the violence of it. The depressing thing is i read that one of the studios is planning a remake.

    24 Jul 2012 at 12:14 pm #1741

    Candy Minx

    I totally have been out of it news wise and did not hear that he had passed away

    When I was a kid Ernest Borgnine was a kind of god to us. He was a major part of the repertoire theatres in small town Canada and a staple at drive ins. I can’t even begin to remember all the movies I loved him in and they were mostly a sseries of B-Movies….of which…I never segregated the movies we saw as “good” or “bad” they were MOVIES! We loved all of them with unconditional non-judgemental eyes…we just wanted to watch movies. And Bornine was in so many of these cult favourites The Posedin Adventure, MacHales Navy, Ice Station Zebra, Willard.

    And later he was cast in several cult movies in his later years…Borgnine is a kind of yardstick for cool. He was in Gattaca, BASEketball and got an Emmy for ER. These later cult pop culture shows were made by people who probably like me just loved his roles in past classics.

    And because of his being in so many movies that were programmed in small town Canada at drives in and poorer low budget movie houses up north…he was a major topic for SCTV. Eugene Levy did an awesome perfoermance as Borgnin”Jupiter and Beyond” sketch back in the 1980s…

    here on YOutube:

    24 Jul 2012 at 12:21 pm #1742

    Candy Minx

    Dont even get me started on The wild bunch (or Dirty dozen) both of which I must have seen a hundred times each.

    A qualifier about the opening scene Richard…the kids are watching ants devour the scorpion. I’m not sure its that they are torturung the scorpion but they are fully embraced in observing the violence and death in nature. I wanted to be sure I remembered this correctly so googled it, and the kids are poking with a stick…but I think the ants were already in motion devouring the scorpion. Do they set fire to the animals to torture or to end the struggle I wonder? I also thought it was funny…my memories as a kid watching movies without distinguishing between high art and low art (which is taught usually later in life…kids don’t usually care…if its cool they will watch) and the kids in the film…a sort of optical democracy? Ha ha

    I landed up finding this little writing about the children in the Wild Bunch I thought you might enjoy…give you some reverie or inspiration…it’s not bad commentary…

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  Candy Minx.
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