The Wild Bunch (1969)

wildbunch_2Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Jaime Sánchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernández, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Albert Dekker, Alfonso Arau

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Expectations: High. It’s The Wild Bunch.

fourstar


When I was a teenager I loved The Wild Bunch because it was bloody and violent in ways that I had never seen in a classic western. This violence — and the way it was edited — would forever change the course of American cinema. Re-watching the film in my 30s, I am struck by how the violence is never presented as entertainment. It is instead meant to affect the viewer, and while 45 years of violent, bloody filmmaking have definitely softened its impact a bit, it’s still incredibly brutal and hard to watch at times. The violence also makes the film feel a lot more modern than its contemporaries, which I’m sure is a huge reason why this film has continued to resonate with audiences over the years.

On the surface, The Wild Bunch is about a gang of bandits who are looking to make one last score before getting out of the game. On their tail is the calm, mild-mannered Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), who was once a trusted member of the outlaw group. It’s a rather simple and often-used story, but The Wild Bunch never feels simple or clichéd. One of the first images on-screen shows a group of children huddled around a colony of red ants attacking a small group of scorpions. This image is not only striking, but it is representative of the rest of the film and the struggles of the main character Pike (not to mention our own fascination with watching violent struggles).

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House of Bamboo (1955)

Starring Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, Shirley Yamaguchi, Cameron Mitchell, Brad Dexter, Sessue Hayakawa, Biff Elliot, Sandro Giglio, Elko Hanabusa, DeForest Kelley

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High. Sam Fuller.


If Hell and High Water was Fuller’s ability to shoot CinemaScope within confined spaces, then House of Bamboo is Fuller proving that he can apply the techniques to shooting wide-open vistas and dense cityscapes. House of Bamboo, while definitely being a minor Fuller film, is one of the best shot CinemaScope films I’ve ever seen. Literally every shot is gorgeously composed and full of vibrant life. Modern filmmakers using the widescreen ratio definitely need to sit down with this one, as they could stand to learn a lot from it and Fuller in general.

House of Bamboo is a tale of Westerners in Japan, but not like you’d expect; it’s a heist noir with heavy overtones of melodramatic interracial romance and homoeroticism. I’ll admit that I didn’t see much in the way of homoeroticism while watching House of Bamboo, but after reading a couple of essays on it (and Fuller’s own words), it is clearly his intention. I guess I have a tendency to take everything too literally.

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