Tag: Warren Oates

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI 100*** #79. The Wild Bunch (1969)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
Wild Bunch
“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.”

Like Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch is a movie I knew by reputation for years before I ever got around to actually watching it. And like Bonnie and Clyde, that reputation was 100% based on violence. These are two movies that churned stomachs and angered censors on release. But since they came out in the 60s, violence has been done to such an extreme in so many movies since, it’s always a risk that a move like The Wild Bunch won’t be as shocking or affecting by modern standards. Then I remembered that The Wild Bunch was directed by Sam Peckinpah, possibly the most stereotypical manly, alpha male, whiskey swilling director of all time, and I was immediately reassured that The Wild Bunch would still pack a punch.

It’s 1916 and Pike Bishop (William Holden) along the titular bunch ride into a small town, planning to rob the local railway office and make off with that one last big score that will set them all up for life. The only problem is, it’s a setup by former Wild Bunch member, now coerced lawman helper, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan). After a lot of gunfire and more than a few casualties, Pike and his men escape with what they think is a fortune in silver, but turns out to be worthless metal washers.

Laying low in Mexico, the bunch, including Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), Lyle (Warren Oates) and Angel (Jaime Sanchez) head for Angel’s home village. After an indiscretion involving the local, corrupt Generalissimo, Pike bargains for his man’s life by offering to stage an elaborate train robbery to help the General’s war effort. All the while, Deke and his militia are hot on the bunch’s trail.

The bullets fly within the first five minutes of The Wild Bunch kicking off, and they rarely stop. As much as this is a neo western, at the beginning of a total new wave of American cinema that was the 70s, it still has its foundations deeply in classic Western mythos and genre rules. Peckinpah just heightens them and pushes them to new extremes. The violence is visceral and relentless, but it’s not what makes this movie so effective.

It’s the men at the centre of this violence. When Pike and Deke have a camp fire discussion about life, regrets and what drives them to be the ruthless men they are, this one short exchange is enough that you totally believe everything they do from this moment on. You probably won’t agree with their actions and motivations, but you at least understand them.

The characters of Pike and Deke share almost no screen time together, but those few, short moments are more than enough to completely fill in their history. They also let you know exactly how hard it is for Deke to carry out his current assignment, and how hard it is for Pike to view is former friend as a current enemy.

The violence might be what put The Wild Bunch on the map, but with decades of hindsight and the evolution of film violence since, it’s good that the violence is now kind of just a footnote to modern movie watching eyes. While it might have been shocking and distracting in 1969, now, it’s just one great part of telling a great story.

The Wild Bunch
Directed By – Sam Peckinpah
Written By – Walon Green, Sam Peckinpah

Academy Awards
Best Original Screenplay (Peckinpah & Green nominated, lost to William Goldman for Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid)

MOVIE REVIEW | Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Bring Me the Head

My experience with Sam Pekinpah’s work is pretty slim.  But having seen The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, I was prepared enough to know Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia wasn’t going to be all sunshine, lollypops and rainbows.

The movie opens with a beautiful young woman, glowingly pregnant, laying by a picturesque river, surrounded by a rustic, yet majestic Mexican homestead.  Everything is so perfect, you can just tell she’s going to be OK.  Hang on, this is a Sam Pekinpah picture, of course she’s brutally tortured in the first minute or two.  You see, this is a non-naptual aided knocking up and the girl’s dad is not too happy about it.  So not too happy, he’ll have her arm broken if it means she’ll reveal the identity of the baby daddy.  It works and a $1million bounty is put on the literal head of the obviously virile Alfredo Garcia.

Soon, henchmen have made their way to Mexico City where we meet Bennie, played by Warrren Oates (better known to me as Sgt. Hulka from Stripes).  He’s an American ex-solider, now playing piano in a crappy bar and in love with a local hooker.  It just so happens, that same hooker was also banging Alfredo Garcia on the regular and informs Bennie that Garcia’s already dead from a drunk driving accident.  So they set off in search of his grave with Bennie thinking his job just got a whole lot easier since being dead will make Garcia less objectionable to a cheeky decapitation.  Because this is a Pekinpah movie, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say things become a little more complicated than expected, leading to a shit load of bullets and a shit load of blood.

Despite the bright colours, blinding sun and daylight hours, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia comes with a serious film noir tone.  Warren Oates’ gets plenty of Bogart-worthy dry quips and hard boiled, world weary observations.  The main female character comes with a suitably dark and dangerous past.  And Garcia’s head is as effective a mcguffin as the titular figurine in The Maltese Falcon.  Like the falcon, the transit papers is Casablanca or the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, the more obsessed Oate’s becomes with obtaining Garcia’s head  and the closer he gets to accomplishing is goal, the less the object of that goal really matters in the grand scheme of things.  It’s not about getting the heard or not getting the head, it’s about what we learn about the character and what he learns about himself in the persuit of the head.

A bit of a financial and critical flop on release, I found Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia to be a really great, really gritty example of 70s film making at its toughest and pulpiest.  The movie is even more entertaining when you realise that for every drink consumed on screen, Pekinpah probably had at least half a dozen while working behind the camera.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo GarciaWatch the full movie, streaming for free HERE
Directed By – Sam Pakinpah
Written BY – Sam Pakinpah, Gordon Dawson