Wild Laughter

FACT: Peckinpah’s legendary four-and-a-half hour cut of THE WILD BUNCH consisted of an hour of dialogue, half an hour of action, and three hours of RAUCOUS GUFFAWING. The 145 minute version now available to us, on the other hand, has an hour of dialogue, half an hour of action, and seven hours of RAUCOUS GUFFAWING.

I exaggerate for comic effect. I’ve always been impressed by the film’s acting and action, but a little dubious about the points its making, but this time round I was more impressed by all of the above — it’s more coherent than I gave it credit for. Though cohesion isn’t necessarily what I look to Peckinpah for. But this one hangs together, is more than a selection of spectacular/beautiful/horrifying set-pieces. Though we do see quite a lot of Ernest Borgnine, irrepressible gap-toothed comedian, and his epiglottis, during the lengthy scenes of bawdy laughter, it’s nevertheless a film of some poetic grandeur.

For the first time I remembered to watch out for and recognize Albert Dekker and Edmond O’Brien. I never clocked Dekker before because we never get to see his bald head, and I never recognized O’Brien because we never get to see his bald face. Also he is playing Dub Taylor’s role in MAJOR DUNDEE, in the manner of Dub Taylor in MAJOR DUNDEE, so I spent three of the two-and-a-half hours thinking he was Dub Taylor. If he’d given us a few bars of “Rock Around the Rockpile,” I’d have known him in an instant.

William Holden periodically doesn’t look recognizable either: his aging, his face-fungus, his manner — part of it is he’s really playing someone different. Though I noticed this gesture repeated from the end of STALAG 17, made a thousand years earlier when he was still a golden boy:

I was surprised at how un-bleak the post-climactic scenes were. I’d forgotten all about Robert Ryan’s rather sweet ending. And as he rides off with a new, slightly milder bunch, I suddenly felt that this was all a metaphor for the life of the filmmaker, swapping gangs but keeping on the go. It won’t be the same, but it’ll do.

14 Responses to “Wild Laughter”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “The Wild Bunch” is the most sophisticated of all “Male Weepies” — a sub-genre Raymond Durgnat identified but few have the guts to discuss. It’s a 21 gun salute to self-destructive overgrown adolescents who would rather die in a hail of bullets than have sex with a woman or even another man. Fr “The Wild Bunch” Death replaces sex.

    The most popular “Male Weepie” of recent vintage is “The Shawshank Redemption.

  2. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Male weepies are all over the place.

    In fact, I wanted to find the original essay of Durgnat. Do you know where he mentioned this?

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Consult his book “Films and Feelings”

  4. …you probably know this already David but supposedly Holden was utilizing Peckinpah mannerisms for his performance!!!

  5. Yes, the men do have sex sometimes, but they more often pointedly turn it down at various times. When Holden finally does the deed he dies for it, like a girl in a slasher movie.

    Peckinpah’s heroes are often fairly raw self-portraits. Holden even shoots a mirror here, something that turns up again in Pat Garrett, with the real-life incident where Peckinpah peppered his reflection with bullets occurring in between, a case of life imitating art and being imitated in turn.

  6. chris schneider Says:

    Couldn’t agree more about SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, which continues to remind me of Lenny Bruce’s “Father Flotsky” routine — only played at half speed and minus the laughs.

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    So, David C., you have gravitated towards Sam. I like David E’s critical comment about the finale though would not phrase it as such. However, if I detect more than a passing interest David C. you’d be better be good” as Hawks would say or you will end up an “egg sucking rednecked peckerwood”!

  8. I’ve always liked Peckinpah for his style and I kind of respect his quest for truthfulness even when his “truth” sometimes strikes me as demented. I just had a slight resistance to The Wild Bunch for some reason.

  9. Tony Williams Says:

    As the late Stephen Prince shows in his book SAVAGE CINEMA (1999) based on archive research at the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences and Arts (now closed due to the pandemic), Sam felt unhappy with audience reaction to THE WILD BUNCH so decided that STRAW GOGS would offer no convenient “catharsis” escape mechanism. His work (especially some of his TV contributions) still await further exploration.

  10. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, I ran that in my 2015 Peckinpah class that had a graduate student from Saudi Arabia who loves STRAW DOGS telling me that a Turkish version had been made. Another German student asked if she could bring her friend as she was returning home the next day. These ladies also loved it! Very different from female reaction in a Kubrick class after LOLITA a decade before who accused Stanely of being a pedophile!

  11. That’s a foolish leap to make, but I could understand if students were critical of Kubrick and Mason’s decision to treat it as a love story. That’s a bit of a simplification of Nabokov’s intent. But the film can still be read in a whole range of different ways so it’s not like they shut down those avenues. The audience brings their own morality to it.

  12. Tony Williams Says:

    It was, what you would call, a “knee jerk reaction”. Even 20 years ago one had to be careful over a potentially explosive situation. A few classes later a potential A student blew her chance of that as a final grade by writing a rant condemning Kubrick personally rather than answering the assignment question at hand. Today, I would be condemned for screening Kubrick and also Allen and Polanski if students numbers were enough to guarantee the classes.

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