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. It is certainly violent but it has a lot more going on than just a great gun fight 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, i will be talking about a few plot points and spoiling the ending here so be warned on that. Anyone who has not seen it needs to do so as fast as possible because you have been missing out,
The Wild Bunch is mainly about a gang of aging outlaws and gunfighters after the turn of the century. The movies 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 into Mexico where they realize their days of living like they had been, are about over and they are a dying breed. They get mixed in with some Mexican revolution Hi-jinks while a former partner now working for the rail road who they stole from in the past is trying to hunt them down, they steal 1903 rifles from the US Army for the Mexicans to use, in return for gold payment from the Mexican general ravaging the countryside.
After they steal the guns they do let one of their gang members keep a case of the rifles for his poor villager friends and family to defend against 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 know it is going to be their end in a blaze of glory. And that is exactly what happens after their pal is killed by the Mexican army after they demand his return and the leader guns 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 with very graphic for the time, blood splattering from the gun shot wounds. it is a really great pay off, 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.
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 the name of 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 with her and was hit in the leg and the woman killed. Pike was not able to kill the man, and it has haunted him ever since.
The outlaws relationship with women in the film is interesting as well. As above, PIke is shown to be very tender toward his dead lover. At another point, they have arrived at the home town of the mexican member of their gang to find out his sweet heart has ran 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 turn to her and exclaims “bitch”! and guns her down. This comes after minutes earlier, 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 ad 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 rail road to avoid spending his like in jail comes across his old friend. He looks down and sees his old friends Colt 45 revolver still in its holster unfired.
Throughout the movie, Pike and the rest of the gang had been using the new, at the time, 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 and 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.
The times had moved on and changed without the outlaws changing with it. They refused to adapt into 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 gun fight with great old actors. William Holden plays the outlaw leader, Pike and does it so well, you really see the pain and regret in his eye and the seriousness and resolve as he leads his last friends and gang to their last suicidal glory filled fire fight.