“An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the “traditional” American West is disappearing around them.”
Okay. Look. I understand why this film is on this list, and I will go into those reasons in a moment. But, total fyi, I do not like Westerns. I don’t know why. I honestly have no clue. But, whenever I put a Western on to watch, without fail, I will fall asleep. In fact, I paused this movie about 50 minutes in and took a 45 minute nap. That’s a fact. So, knowing that, let’s get into this, shall we?
Let me start with the biggest reasons (at least, I think they’re the biggest reasons) that this film is on this list. It is a technical achievement. Certain aspects of this film, the way it was made, changed the way films were made from there on out. Let’s talk about my favorites. Sam Peckinpah, the director, and Lucien Ballard, the cinematographer, used telephoto lenses throughout the film. These lenses create a great effect, allowing everything in the foreground and background to remain completely in focus. Now, my absolute FAVORITE thing about this film is the editing (what a shocker). The editing is quick. It jumps. Different camera angles are spliced together. There’s lots of use of zoom. Everything is cut together so quick that it really does portray the chaotic feeling of each shootout scene. The editing helps to disorient the audience. Peckinpah was once quoted as saying that he wanted to give the audience “some idea of what it is to be gunned down” and he does an excellent job of this. He nails it.
The two biggest themes that are present throughout the entire picture are betrayal and the end of an era. The betrayal happens right in the beginning. Pike Bishop, our main character, is, in a way, betrayed by Deke Thornton, who once worked with him and who now is working to catch him. Now, Thornton isn’t doing this because he wants to. It’s because he has to. But, that still doesn’t negate the feeling of betrayal. Betrayal shows up again when the gang goes to Angel’s village in Mexico. Angel sees the woman he was once in love with in the arms of the horrible General Mapache. He confronts her, but it does not good. He feels utterly betrayed and shoots her dead.
The theme of the end of an era is the most present theme in the film. Towards the beginning of the film, after the bunch has robbed the bank in town, Pike says “We’ve got to start thinking beyond our guns”. He continues to say things throughout the film in that manner, such as “Just like it used to be”. Later on, when the General Mapache arrives in an automobile, they discuss that and airplanes. All of these advancements signal the end of the “gunfighter outlaw era”. Even the last line, spoken by Sykes to Thornton, is “It ain’t like it used to be, but it’ll do.”
The casting was good in this film. William Holden is always a delight to watch on screen. And, might I say, Ernst Borgnine’s performance in this film is genius. Like, it is crazy good.
When this film came out in 1969, it was controversial for two reasons: 1. the amount of graphic violence. And 2. the “portrayal of crude men attempting to survive by any means possible”. This is hard to understand today, seeing as the films that we watch now tend to be as crude and as violent as ever. So, don’t be expecting to be shocked when watching this film.
Did I ultimately like the film? Yes. Would I watch it again? Probably not. BUT, that’s only because, as stated above, Westerns put me to sleep. Maybe I’d watch it when a bout of insomnia hits. Maybe. Just maybe.