Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Wild Bunch (1969)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Wild Bunch (1969)

In co-writer/director Sam Peckinpah's violent, provocative, brilliant yet controversial western, one of the masterpieces of cinema - this classic western was shocking for its graphic and elevated portrayal of violence and savagely-explicit carnage, yet hailed for its truly realistic and reinterpreted vision of the dying West in the early 20th century. Its unrelenting, bleak tale told of aging, scroungy outlaws (the 'wild bunch') bound by a private code of honor, loyalty, courage, camaraderie and friendship, but they found that they were at odds with the society of 1913, during the height of the Mexican Revolution.

The much-imitated, influential film was book-ended by two extraordinary sequences, both massacres. The gang of desperadoes was first assaulted in the film's opening ambush following a failed railway payroll office robbery in a Texas border town. And then in the film's conclusion, they were brutally destroyed as united comrades in a selfless, redemptive act - by a savage and vindictive, anti-revolutionary Mexican warlord after a double-crossing arms deal.

The two scenes included some of the bloodiest, most violent shoot-ups ever filmed. Peckinpah choreographed each of the film's two bloodbaths as a visually prolonged, beautiful ballet - a slow-motion, aesthetically breath-taking, non-gratuitous, lyrical, extreme celebration of bodies being torn apart by bullets. With numerous, elaborate montage sequences and staccato shifts, the film set a record for more edits (3,643 shot-to-shot edits at one count) than any other Technicolor film up to its time.

The ultra-violent western was exceptional for its non-glorification of bloodshed, and its slow-motion, heavily-edited, stylized views of multiple deaths. It increased the acceptance and tolerance level for violence on the screen - a lasting influence that has been seen in the imitative graphic violence of the films of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, John Woo, and others. It received two Academy Award Nominations (Best Story and Screenplay, and Best Original Score).

The slaughter of innocent bystanders, and the use of women as shields (in the all-male film) were served up as counterpoints to the media's honest display of violence during the late 60s, with the Vietnam War, assassinations, urban riots, and other events filling the airwaves. Due to its violence, the film was originally threatened with an X-rating by the newly-created MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), but an R-rating was its final decision.

Many of the film's major stars, including William Holden, Edmond O'Brien, Robert Ryan and Ben Johnson, were veterans of westerns with a more romantic view of the West in the 40s and 50s. The anti-heroic 'wild bunch' represented contemporary American soldiers in the late 60s, out of place in the jungles of Vietnam.

  • the extraordinary opening sequence (including an impressive presentation of the credits) was set in a Southwestern Texas border town in 1913; to the sound of snare drums and cymbals, the Wild Bunch (five of them, then joined by more in town) was masquerading in the disguise of tan-colored, regulation khaki outfits as U.S. Cavalry soldiers; the main Wild Bunch members included:
    • Pike Bishop (William Holden), the leader
    • Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), second-in-command, dutifully loyal to Pike
    • Angel (Jaime Sanchez), young Mexican, bilingual, idealistic
    • Buck (Rayford Barnes)
    • Clarence 'Crazy' Lee (Bo Hopkins), half-witted
    • Lyle Gorch (Warren Oates), brother of Tector
    • Tector Gorch (Ben Johnson), brother of Lyle, both illiterate
  • in broad daylight, they appeared heroically-positioned, riding stiffly and formally into a dusty town (the fictional town of San Rafael, also called Starbuck) along railroad tracks; the frame froze into a black and white chiaroscuro image when each of the credits appeared, unfreezing to continue with the colorful action
Frames Froze into B/W Chiaroscuro Images
  • as they rode by, there was a symbolic parallel view of innocent village children gleefully watching as scorpions were senselessly tortured and eaten by a blanket of red ants;
  • in the center of town, the local South Texas Temperance Union was holding a rally and a parade, led by preacher Reverend Wainscoat (Dub Taylor), who were singing: "We Shall Gather At The River" and would inevitably be involved
  • Wild Bunch leader Pike surveyed the scene in town, and viewed the Southern Texas R.R. Administration Offices; their goal was to rob silver from the town's railroad payroll office; once the robbery commenced with five of the gang inside the local railway payroll office, Pike gave a chilling, snarling command - a warning to the hostages: "If they move, kill 'em"
  • the Wild Bunch were unaware that the railroad bosses had placed a posse of bounty hunter riflemen atop the town's San Rafael Hotel that was awaiting their arrival, to ambush and trap them; the motley, greedy, degenerate group of scruffy low-lifes included:
    • Patrick Harrigan (Albert Dekker), a manipulative RR agent-detective, and the mercenary organizer of the bounty hunters, with a total of $4,500 reward money
    • Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), an ex-Wild Bunch member, the leader of the posse of bounty hunters
    • Coffer (Strother Martin), sleazy and trigger-happy
    • T.C. (L.Q. Jones)
    • Huey (Paul Harper)
    • Jess (stuntman Bill Hart)
The Carnage During the Opening Massacre Following the Robbery
  • to increase the tension of the three and a half minute scene, the film was sharply edited, inter-cutting rapidly from the Bunch in the railway office, to the bounty hunters on the rooftop, to the temperance marchers in a parade
  • the Wild Bunch outlaws were ambushed in the dusty Texas town by a posse of bounty hunters, filmed with slow-motion, fast-edited, carnage and slaughter; bullet wounds sprayed gushing blood and chunks of flesh, and bodies writhed in agony and pain; the gang was able to partially shield themselves by placing themselves behind the civilians and the oncoming temperance union members, resulting in numerous innocent lives lost; one of the memorable images was the sight of one of the escaping, yellow-raincoated riders being shot from his horse and cascading-smashing through a store-front glass window of a dress shop and rolling into three dress mannequins (symbolic of violence toward women)
  • on the outskirts of town, the decimated gang paused by the children who were still intrigued and playing with their captured and devoured scorpions; the youngsters tossed dry straw on the caged scorpions and red fire ants, setting the whole swarming pile afire
  • as a result of the botched and aborted robbery, five of the Wild Bunch members ultimately survived, including Pike, Dutch, the two Gorches, Angel, and Buck (although Pike mercy-killed Buck who had been blinded by gunshot and couldn't ride); Crazy Lee was left behind in the railway office to hold the customers hostage, before he was killed by Harrigan; during the incident, there were many more civilians and onlookers who were shot dead; children imitated the adults by running around in the street littered with bodies, and pretending to shoot with imaginary guns while shouting: "Bang, bang!"
  • one of the Wild Bunch pursuers was Deke Thornton - a former gang member who was wounded, captured by the law, and sentenced to a prison term of life; in exchange for his brief 30 days of freedom, he was ordered to reluctantly hunt down Pike, his old friend, by Harrigan: "You've got 30 days to get Pike, or 30 days back to Yuma. You're my Judas goat, Mr. Thornton"; Thornton briefly remembered being whipped in Yuma Prison
  • after the botched robbery, the renegade group retreated across the Rio Grande into Mexico and entered a small rural Mexican border town; they met up with grizzled old Freddie Sykes (Edmond O'Brien), an ex-gang member who had fresh horses and saddles for them
  • as they argued about how to split up the money fairly, the two Gorch brothers - to their shock - opened the stolen money bags and discovered that they were filled with worthless steel or metal rings; right hand man Dutch Engstrom condemned their stupidity for thinking that they were pure silver: ("Silver rings, your butt! Them's washers. Damn!"); Sykes laughed at how they had been set up; Pike realized they had been had by "Railroad men, bounty hunters, Deke Thornton"
  • while considering their next move (a payroll, train or bank robbery) after their ill-advised and failed mission, Pike wisely explained how the end of the Wild Bunch's days was fast approaching: "We've gotta start thinkin' beyond our guns. Those days are closin' fast"; although he questioned his own leadership abilities, Pike dreamt of one final, successful job before retiring; he also experienced a short (shared with Deke) flashback of a previous failure in judgment, when he and Thornton were confronted in a bordello - Deke was wounded in the shoulder and captured by the law and subsequently imprisoned in Yuma Prison, while Pike escaped
  • the next day when further dissension broke out, Pike still affirmed a code of loyalty that they must loyally stick together: ("We're gonna stick together, just like it used to be. When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can't do that, you're like some animal. You're finished! We're finished! All of us!"), but he was caught in a dishonest contradiction when shortly later, Sykes reminded him that Sykes' own reckless and unreliable grandson Crazy Lee had been left behind in town [Note: Pike had also left Deke and Buck behind as well]; Pike answered only that the boy had done "fine, just fine"
  • as Pike mounted his horse, his stirrup broke and his old leg wound was reinjured, prompting the Gorch brothers to speculate about new leadership to replace Pike
  • the next day, the outlaws rode into Angel's village where the village elder and peasant revolutionary Don Jose (Chano Urueta) warned them that the village had been raided by self-appointed, corrupt warlord Generalissimo Mapache (Emilio Fernandez), an anti-revolutionary allied with General Huerta and the Mexican Federal Army; the vicious General was raiding all the local villages of their food and supplies to fight against Pancho Villa's forces; Mapache had shot Angel's father, and kidnapped Angel's willing girlfriend Teresa (Sonia Amelia), and had set up his headquarters in the closeby small town of Agua Verde
  • their second night in Mexico was an evening of celebration, music, carousing and dancing; the Bunch were given a romanticized, ceremonial farewell (La Golondrina, a wanderer's love song) by the villagers as they departed the next morning
  • the five surviving Wild Bunch members rode on to Agua Verde to visit Mapache and trade horses; the tyrannical Mapache entered the town's gate in a shiny-red, open-top touring car; in the town's compound filled with Federales, Angel vengefully shot Teresa dead in the chest when he spotted her flirting in Mapache's arms; the situation became extremely tense, but Pike calmed things down as Angel was dragged away to be beaten
  • Pike negotiated with the ruthless, megalomaniacal General Mapache, Mapache's Lt. Zamorra (Jorge Russek) and his manipulative German advisors for $10,000 dollars (in gold), to hire the Wild Bunch to supply their anti-revolutionary army with a shipment of guns; it would be their final daring job - the robbery of a US Army ammunition train across the border; he also negotiated for the return of Angel; after his release, Angel objected to Pike's plan to steal guns to kill his fellow countrymen; Pike promised to provide Angel with one of the 16 cases of rifles and ammo for his own villagers, if he gave up his gold share
  • as they rode to the site of the planned train robbery, Pike remembered in flashback how he had been careless in his past - and vowed to Dutch that this time, they couldn't fail: "This is our last go-around, Dutch. This time, we do it right!"
  • one of the most exciting and superb action sequences of the film was the train robbery (with the shot of a smiling Dutch emerging from behind a gun barrel); after the Bunch hijacked the front part of the train by uncoupling the engine and shipment of crates of guns from the passenger and freight cars, they didn't realize that Deke Thornton and his posse were prepared for them with one freight car loaded up with their horses; up ahead on the tracks, the train's cargo (of grenades and rifles) was unloaded and transferred onto a wagon and hauled away, while behind them, the unorganized posse of bounty hunters on horseback was in pursuit; after taking off with the loaded wagon of arms, the gang sent the train backwards to crash into the stranded cars on the track
  • during the chase, Thornton's posse foolishly began firing at the US cavalry that had finally caught up with them; and then, the group of pursuers was caught in the middle of a bridge structure spanning the Rio Grande (the border with Mexico) that Pike had earlier wired with dynamite; from the Mexico side of the river, Pike offered a magnificent hat salute to Deke Thornton, who was caught with his posse in the middle of a collapsing, exploded trestle bridge structure (reminiscent of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957))

Pike's Hat Salute
Collapsing Rio Grande Bridge After Explosion
  • when the pursuit failed, Deke Thornton was ashamed of his small force of men (hunting down his former gang), and condemned his inept bounty hunters as a group of despicable, "gutter trash" mercenaries that he despised: "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"; only five of the original posse were left
  • during their retreat toward Agua Verde to return the haul of weapons to Mapache, the Bunch discovered a 'Big Gun' - a belt-fed Browning M1917 machine gun among the stolen arms shipment; on the way, they allied themselves with Angel's revolutionary followers (in support of Pancho Villa) who were provided with the promised single crate of weaponry; meanwhile, Mapache found his troops attacked and defeated by Villa's men, and was reminded: "With the new guns and ammunition, this would never have happened"
  • during a tense meeting with Lt. Herrera (Alfonso Arau), the Wild Bunch wisely decided to trade the double-crossing Mapache the stolen arms shipment in exchange for gold, but only gradually in three separate installments; as a present during the first load, the General was given the Browning machine gun - that wildly misfired due to its mishandling in Agua Verde's town square
  • during the delivery of the last shipment of guns to Mapache when Dutch and Angel were paid the remainder of the gold, Angel was recognized as the one who betrayed them by 'stealing' one of the 16 crates of rifles and ammo to supply the revolutionary peasant rebels who were opposed to Mapache's raids; Mapache added: "The mother of the girl he killed told me so"; Dutch was allowed to leave ("He's a thief. You take care of him"), but Angel was detained - to be severely tortured by Mapache; initially, Pike was very reluctant to rescue their youngest gang member
  • the Bunch were still being pursued by Thornton's relentless posse, and Dutch expressed his anger toward Pike that Thornton was continuing to track them down for the corrupt RR: "Damn that Deke Thornton to hell....Gave his word to a railroad"; Pike fatefully decided to return with the group to Agua Verde to shield them ("Let the General take care of those boys...Thornton's not gonna follow us in there"); they would pay Mapache with one sack of gold and bury the rest
  • later in Agua Verde, Mapache and his followers were holding a drunken celebration after the arms sale, and parading and dragging a severely-punished Angel through the streets; soon after, Pike realized that the group had to rescue their friend Angel
  • in the film's conclusion, Pike summoned the other remaining gang members, who loaded their rifles and courageously, suicidally and heroically decided to march together across town to face ruthless General Mapache and his army of 200 men for a final showdown in Agua Verde; they walked four abreast, reminiscent of the walk to the classic O.K. Corral in other westerns - to confront the drunken General Mapache, who held court next to the machine gun - his proud possession mounted on a table
  • Pike demanded the return of Angel ("We want Angel"), now bloodied, maimed and near-death from torture; Mapache appeared to comply, assisting Angel's walk over to them and then cutting his wrist ties with a knife. But in a brutal, full-frontal view, Mapache slit Angel's throat and was immediately killed in retribution by Pike and then multiple shots from Dutch and Lyle
  • the precipitation of their last stand - a violent, seven minute bloodbath counter-attack of monumental proportions in the open courtyard - was delayed with a long moment of silence and some nervous laughter during a stand-off; with their guns drawn, the four men were able to hold off hundreds of surprised and dumbstruck Mexicans, which now stood leaderless and still for several seconds, gaping at what had happened. Warily and then gleefully, Pike and Dutch smiled and laughed, realizing that for an instant, they just might succeed; Pike also shot and killed Mapache's German advisor Commander Frederick Mohr (Fernando Wagner), and then Mapache's two seconds-in-command (Herrera and Zamorra), and Mohr's aide
Closing Sequence

Throat-Slitting of Angel

Mapache Shot Dead

Mexican Troops

Lyle with Browning M1917 Machine Gun
  • in the so-called Battle of the Bloody Porch, the Wild Bunch gang took on an entire Mexican soldier regiment to avenge Angel's death; for awhile, they were able to commandeer the big gun in the open courtyard, but then the gang found itself slowly outmanned and outgunned, surrounded and condemned to die in the pending climactic battle; one by one, they were slaughtered in the spectacular, climactic bloodbath as the four remaining outlaws took down as many men as they could; although some of the Wild Bunch held off the troops momentarily by using grenades and by commandering the machine gun and firing it with orgasmic intensity, they were soon wounded and killed. With their violent deaths, they had become liberated
Deaths of Two Lorch Brothers
Deaths of Pike and Dutch
  • in the film's final farewell scene, victorious Deke Thornton, Pike's friend-turned-nemesis, rode into the rural town's massacre scene, and sat propped against the outer gate's wall, as his bounty-hunter comrades looted the bodies of the dead; Thornton only took Pike's loaded revolver as a talisman; he then declined to continue on with the bounty hunters into the US to collect the bounty (with the bodies slung over saddles)
  • then, a revived Freddie Sykes arrived (with Angel's village elder) and a group of revolutionary rebels, who had just avenged the gang's deaths by ambushing and killing the bounty hunters; Thornton explained how he felt like he had paid his dues; he mentioned that his plan was to "drift around down here, try to stay out of jail"
  • Thornton was given an offer to join Freddie Sykes' new group of adventurers: "Well, me and the boys here, we got some work to do. You wanna come along? It ain't like it used to be, but, uh, it'll do" - and Thornton reluctantly rose from the dust, mounted his horse, and rode off toward the horizon with them, to join in Villa's Mexican Revolution against the Mexican government, thereby forming a 'new' Wild Bunch with Sykes, one of its original members

Freddie Sykes to Deke: "You wanna come along?"

Deke Thornton Offered to Join New Adventurers' Posse

Ending Montage of Images
  • in the film's ending, a montage of images (presented as in/out dissolves) flashed momentarily onto the screen, over the view of the departing posse; the images were earlier views of the 'reincarnated' members of the old Wild Bunch when they would sit around together and engage in laughter, and when they rode away from Angel's village (linking them to Sykes and Thornton); the end credits rolled up (accompanied by a reprised chorus of La Golondrina)

Opening Titles Sequence: The Approach of The Wild Bunch into Texas Town

Village Children Happily Watched as Scorpions Were Eaten by Red Fire Ants

Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) Alerted by Patrick Harrigan

Two of the Scruffy Bounty Hunters on the Rooftop

Pike's Command During Local Railway Office Robbery: "If they move, kill 'em"

Thornton Firing From Rooftop

Discovery of Worthless Silver Rings in the Stolen Money Bags

Grizzled Old Ex-Member Sykes (Edmond O'Brien)

Pike's Wise Words: "We've got to start thinkin' beyond our guns. Those days are closin' fast"

Pike's Statement of His Belief in a Code of Loyalty ("We're gonna stick together")

The Village Elder Don Jose Telling Angel That Mapache Had Killed His Father

Warlord Generalissimo Mapache (Emilio Fernandez)

Angel's Ex-Girlfriend Teresa (Sonia Amelia) Shot Dead in Mapache's Arms by Angel

Bounty Hunters in Pursuit

Mapache's Lt. Zamorra (Jorge Russek)

Before Train Robbery: Pike: "This is our last go-around, Dutch. This time, we do it right!

Train Robbery: Lyle Gorch

Train Robbery: Pike

Train Robbery: A Smiling Dutch

Dutch and Angel Shocked at the Posse's Pursuit Behind the Train

Pursuing US Cavalry Soldier Shot With Spurting Blood

Deke Thornton's Opinion of His Own Bounty-Hunters: "And what do I have? Nothin' but you egg-suckin', chicken-stealing gutter trash"

Mapache's Lt. Herrera (Alfonso Arau) During First Exchange of Guns for Gold With the Wild Bunch

The Wildly Firing Machine Gun in Mapache's Hands

Angel Captured - To Be Tortured by Mapache For 'Stealing' One Case of Arms

Dutch Angered With Pike About Thornton's 'Word' Given to RR to Track Them Down

Angel After Being Dragged Behind Mapache's Car

Pike's Decision to Save Angel: "Let's go"

Four Gang Members Marching to Face the General in Agua Verde

Pike with Machine Gun


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