“The Wild Bunch”–not to be associated with Butch Cassidy and his Wyoming outlaw gang–is the type of action-western that meets with favorable b.o. reaction in regular as well as oater situations. William Holden and Ernest Borgnine are among draw-names that head the cast of the Phil Feldman production, loaded with exploitation ingredients.
Film at 145 minutes is far over-length, and should be tightened extensively, particularly in first half. After a bang-up and exciting opening, it appears that scripters lost sight of their narrative to drag in Mexican songs, dancing and way of life, plus an overage of dialog, to the detriment of action. Cuss-words crop up so often that frequently they drown out normal dialog, but they’re all in character and probably will get by despite some pretty salty language.
Plotwise, this WB-7A release is regulation stuff, focusing on a small band of outlaws headed by William Holden who hijack a U.S. ammunition train crossing the border into Mexico in 1913 to supply the revolutionary army of Pancho Villa, then fighting President Huerta. Actually, the story is two-pronged. Holden and his men go their way of outlawry and Robert Ryan, former member of Holden’s gang and temporarily-released convict, tracks down his former chief to ‘buy’ his freedom from jail.
Screenplay by Walon Green and Sam Peckinpah, based on a story by Green and Roy N. Sickner, builds suspensefully when action finally starts along about the middle of Technicolor film. Peckinpah’s forceful direction is a definite asset, particularly in later sequences in which Holden deals with a vicious Mexican general over the hijacked guns and ammo. There are numerous touches which add to overall realism, some of the killing done in slow-motion to give added emphasis to these scenes, and a spectacular sequence showing horses and men falling into the river after a bridge had been dynamited. It all adds up to much violence, especially in the finale.
Holden goes into character for his role and handles assignment expertly. Borgnine delivers his usual brand of acting as former’s aide and Ryan is dramatically efficient as Holden’s hunter. Edmond O’Brien also is a standout as an oldtimer-member of the gang and Jaime Sanchez is outstanding as the only Mexican gang member. Emilio Fernandez as the general, Warren Oates and Ben Johnson as other outlaws likewise appear colorful. Late Albert Dekker makes his final appearance as a railroad official who hold’s Ryan’s freedom in his hands.
Technically, the feature is of high quality, particularly color photography of Lucien Ballard, music by Jerry Fielding, art direction by Edward Carrere, special effects by Bud Hulburd. Louis Lombardo’s editing in second half also is commendable.
1969: Nominations: Best Original Story & Screenplay, Original Music Scoore