I love a good shoot-out movie. I have always loved them and very few are as iconic and legendary as The Wild Bunch. It was at one time the most graphic and intense shoot-out on screen. It was controversial at the time and a lot of people complained about it as being ultra-violent. The movie is certainly violent but it has a lot more going on than just a great gunfight at the end. It is one of my all-time favorite gunfight/western movies and not just because of the guns.
If you have not seen it, will be spoiling the ending here so be warned about that. Anyone who has not seen it needs to do so as fast as possible because you have been missing out!
20th Century Outlaws
The Wild Bunch is mainly about a gang of aging outlaws and gunfighters after the turn of the century. The movie starts with them robbing a bank to get enough money for possible retirement but it turns out to be an ambush where almost all of them are killed. They then take refuge in Mexico where they realize their days of living like they had been are about over as they are a dying breed. They get mixed in with some Mexican revolution hi-jinks while a former partner now working for the railroad who they stole from in the pastis trying to hunt them down. Meanwhile, they strike a deal to steal 1903 rifles from the US Army for the Mexicans for gold payment from the Mexican general ravaging the countryside.
After they steal the guns they let one of their gang members keep a case of the rifles for his poor villager friends and family to defend against the same Mex general. He is found out and is taken by the Mexican army and tortured while the rest of the gang goes on with the gold since there is nothing they can do.
After building guilt for abandoning their friend, they decided to go take him back from the Mexican General and his men, though they really knew it was going to be their end in a blaze of glory. That is exactly what happens after their pal is killed by the Mexican army when they demand his return and in turn gun down the General. They do kill about 1/4 the population of Mexico before being killed themselves.
The ending shoot-out is intense and hyper-violent which was very graphic for the time with blood splattering from the gunshot wounds. it is a really great payoff, but there is some great stuff in the middle. The movie has always really resonated with me in a few ways with some powerful themes and moments.
Loyal Friends And Bitches
One of the things that appealed to me is the friendship between the gang members, Especially the leader and his right-hand man. They stick by each other and defend each other from the other members of the gang during tense arguments. His friend never questions his leadership and is loyal to the end. Indeed even his last word is his friend Pike’s name as he dies. Still concerned about his friend even at the end.
At one point in the middle of the film, the leader, Pike, tells his pal why he limps. He was shot in the leg by the jealous husband of the only woman he ever loved. He was caught by the husband and was shot in the leg and the woman killed. Pike was not able to kill the man, and it has haunted him ever since.
The outlaw, ‘s relationship with women in the film is interesting. As above, PIke is shown to be very tender toward his dead lover. At another point having arrived at the hometown of the Mexican member of their gang to find out his sweetheart has run off with the corrupt Mexican General. Later when they meet the General he confronts his one-time love and sees her laughing at him in the General’s lap. In a rage, he stands and screams “Puuuuttttaaa” and shoots her in the chest with his 1911 killing her.
At the end of the film, in the final climactic battle, Pike turns his back to a Mexican prostitute and is shot in the back by her. He turns to her and exclaims “bitch”! and guns her down. This comes minutes after he paid a poor young beautiful Mexican prostitute with a young child more money than she expected after being with her. Then deciding to go out in a blaze of glory.
After the final fight, the village square is full of the dead and wounded. PIke still has his hand wrapped around the Machine gun he had been mowing down Mexican bandits with even in death. His old partner who had been reluctantly hunting him for the railroad to avoid spending his life in jail comes across his old friend. He looks down and sees his old friend’s Colt 45 revolver still in its holster.
Throughout the movie, Pike and the rest of the gang have been using the new, at the time the movie is set, Colt 1911 Automatic pistol, caliber 45 ACP. The revolver was the sidearm Pike had spent the most time with. No doubt it was his baby. Well-loved, it was from a time before his 1911 came along and with it, more modern guns obviously signifying the end of their era. Pike had still carried his older Colt because he loved it and was not willing to forget it or the memories of his prime it no doubt reminded him of. Pike and the boys all used 1911s for the entire movie, but PIke still always had his Colt Peacemaker on his hip. This is where it was when the outlaws who had outlived their age came to their end. Never even fired in his last fight.
The times had moved on and changed without the outlaws changing with it. They refused to adapt to a new world they did not like. Pike still held onto his old shooter and died with it on. His old best friend and partner comes across his body and removes the Colt and takes it with him. He stays in Mexico with the last survivor of the old gang and goes to fight in the revolution trying to preserve or hold onto the old days the best he can while he can, with Pike’s relic from a past age.
The Wild Bunch is a great movie but it is not just a great gunfight with great old actors. William Holden plays the outlaw leader, Pike and does it as well as he always did. You really see the pain and regret in his eyes and the seriousness and resolve as he leads his last friends and gang to their last suicidal glory-filled firefight.