A group of renowned outlaws are caught in a set-up and forced on the run to Mexico. There they meet General Mapache (Emilio Fernández), who hires them to steal arms, but for that they have to return over the border to the North…
I admit to having few points of comparison, being a relative novice in the Western genre, but I found The Wild Bunch to be an immensely enjoyable experience. Where Sergio Leone’s Westerns, particularly Once Upon a Time in the West, opt for slow, building atmosphere, with a true craftsman’s approach to sound and visuals, The Wild Bunch opts for sheer excitement. While it certainly has some very impressive cinematography, it can’t match Leone at his best in terms of sheer beauty.
The scale is on a par with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but with levels of violence and occasional nudity that leave it feeling more like an 80s exploitation flick. For this reason it’s remarkably undated, as it hurtles along with numerous first rate action sequences. The explosions and shooting are on a par with the likes of Rambo, and there’s a body count to match. You can’t beat the thrill of an in-camera action sequence, done for real, where actual horses got crippled, and The Wild Bunch has plenty of that.
It suffers from something Westerns often do of having a cast full of tanned, wrinkly, grey haired old men in cowboy getup, making it occasionally challenging to tell one from the other. It’s easy to tell who Dutch (Ernest Borgnine, right) is, however, as he looks like David Jason. Similarity aside, the assortment of gnarly old gents do a fine job bringing this world to life, in a fantastically well realised Western setting.
Crucially it does exactly what a Western should do and appeals to the part inside all of us that would secretly love to be a gun toting outlaw riding across the plains, fighting the authorities. Often in Westerns the law is so rotten the rough justice of a lawless gang is actually preferable, as in The Wild Bunch. In his review of the crummy 1998 Psycho remake (gifted to him by me), my co-goblin Dan said “What I didn’t realise was that Alex obviously hates me, and I’d like to apologise for whatever I did to deserve this obviously sarcastic present.”
As Dan bought me The Wild Bunch I can only assume he loves me, to which I say that, much as I like you Dan, I’m not looking for anything serious right now. Unless it was a sarcastic present. The Wild Bunch pushes the envelope of action cinema towards the blood spattered smoking barrel of the 80s resulting in a film that’s still exciting and entertaining today.