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.

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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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The Villain (1979)

140420The Villain (1979)
AKA Cactus Jack

Starring Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margret, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul Lynde, Foster Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, Jack Elam, Strother Martin

Directed by Hal Needham

Expectations: Low, I’ve heard bad things.

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Enjoying Hal Needham’s The Villain as an adult requires one thing: a healthy love of Wile E. Coyote. I suppose you should also like ’70s movies too, but that’s kind of beside the point as this movie doesn’t feel like it’s from any specific time. It’s something that would only get made in the ’70s, but it never feels ’70s-ish, ya dig? In any case, if you’ve ever harbored some affection for the coyote with luck as bad as a 14-year-old’s acne, then you really should hunt this one down.

The Villain isn’t always trying to tell a story, but when it is, it goes something like this: Charming Jones (Ann-Margret) is on a train to town, looking to pick up some money for her father. The Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is her bodyguard waiting at the train station, ready to escort her home with the money in tow. But before we are introduced to them, we are introduced to the title character: the villain Cactus Jack Slade (Kirk Douglas). He sure looks the part with Douglas’s reckless good looks and determined swagger, but he’s a far sight from a man who can get the job done. After landing himself in jail, he makes a deal to intercept the Handsome Stranger and Charming while they journey home, stealing the money and thus dooming Charming’s family farm.

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