A visionary Director speaks candidly about the moviemaking process, both in his own words, and in the dialogue from a film…
“If they move, kill ’em!”
This iconic movie line is from “The Wild Bunch” – but it also speaks directly to the Director’s view of life! Meet Sam Peckinpah:
Time To Celebrate One Of The Greatest – And Wildest – Movie Directors EVER!
Director Sam Peckinpah earned his reputation as one of the most visionary – and downright ornery – Directors of all time. His list of great films includes “Straw Dogs”, “The Killer Elite”, the “black-as-coal” revenge thriller “Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia” and his biggest hit ever, “The Getaway” with Steve McQueen…
He was, however, also one of the combative film makers of all time as well…and his career is littered with anecdote after anecdote about his corrosive behavior, both on-set and off!
Let’s look at two films that showcase the Director’s brilliant storytelling ability, and speak to his penchant for outrageous behavior!
“The Wild Bunch”
By the end of the 60’s, films such as “Bonnie & Clyde” were showing new levels of violence and adult content in films. The Motion Picture Association was in the midst of creating a ”rating” system – to help guide viewers through this new world of permissiveness…
This 1969 classic western tells the story of aging bank robbers who just want one last score – as the wild west is closing in on them, led by a former gang member who now leads a private posse tracking them down – dead or alive…
Check out the trailer:
“The Wild Bunch” ushered in a new era of violence on screen: never before had bullets been seen tearing THROUGH a person, with trails of blood spraying out – in slow motion!
William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates and Ben Johnson were “The Wild Bunch”, and veteran character Actor Robert Ryan was their former member who was now tracking them down…
The movie is full of dialogue that speaks not only to the changing wild west, but to Peckinpah’s own battles with movie studios…
Pike Bishop: “What would you do in his place? He gave his word.”
Dutch Engstrom: “He gave his word to a railroad.”
Pike Bishop: “It’s his word.”
Dutch Engstrom: “That ain’t what counts! It’s who you give it to!”
The gang plans one last spectacular holdup – of an army cache of weapons – so they can sell them to the Mexican army and retire down south…but nothing goes as planned…
Iconic Movie Magic!
One of film’s most iconic scenes ever takes place as the gang is escaping from the posse. The cross a bridge and then stop on the other side of the river…for a very explosive reason!
Just as Robert Ryan raises his rifle to shoot William Holden, the bridge explodes – yes, the entire bride! This was the last scene to be filmed. Five stuntmen–each paid $2000–and six cameras were used. The scene was shot in one take. One camera fell into the river and was lost!
It is just one of many iconic moments in this brilliant film, and as I said earlier, it also raised the level of violence in film to never-before-seen levels…
Peckinpah’s “Ballet Of Blood!”
“The Wild Bunch” is brilliant, full of intense action set pieces and a beautifully staged train robbery – and it ends with one of the most violent action sequences ever captured on film – a “ballet of blood!”
Due to its violence, the film was originally threatened with an “X” rating by the MPAA’s (Motion Picture Association of America) newly created Production Code Administration, but ended up with an “R” rating – and was considered the most violent film ever released!
Peckinpah’s Brothel Bill!
According to IMDB, where most of this great trivia was found, Ben Johnson said in an interview that the Mexican women who “frolicked” with him and Warren Oates in the huge wine vats weren’t actresses but prostitutes from a nearby brothel, who were hired by Sam Peckinpah so he could tell people that Warner Bros. paid for hookers for his cast!
The movie’s line “If they move, kill ’em.” was voted as the #72 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere in 2007, and based on the film’s body count, a lot of peopled move!
A Butchered “Billy The Kid!”
Even with the success of “The Wild Bunch”, “Straw Dogs” and “The Getaway”, Peckinpah had to fight to get his films made…and one of the biggest failures was his story of “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid.”
In “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid”, Peckinpah tried to continue his story of a changing west, using two of the biggest male stars of the day.
James Coburn was a big star at the time, and he brought just the right touch of “fatigue” to lawman Pat Garrett, while singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson had the brash arrogance of a cocky stud, turning “Billy The Kid” into a rock star.
Here is the trailer:
Kristofferson had written huge hit songs at that time, including “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, and “Me & Bobby McGee”, which Janis Joplin turned into one of the biggest songs of its time.
“Knockin’ On Dylan’s Door!”
Speaking of rock stars, the movie’s classic song “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” was written for the film by Bob Dylan, who has a co-starring role in the film! Yes, Peckinpah enticed Dylan to play – , just another of the novel touches in the film.
According to IMDB, Sam Peckinpah’s alcoholism was so advanced during the making of this film that he would have to start the day with a large tumbler of neat vodka to stop his shakes. By mid-afternoon he would have moved onto grenadine. After that, he was too drunk to work. James Coburn recalled that Peckinpah was only really coherent for four hours a day.
The Notorious “Stretcher” Pic!
Another great piece of trivia, thanks to IMDB: Rumors began to reach the studio that director Sam Peckinpah was unable to work due to his heavy drinking. So as a joke, a photo was taken which showed Peckinpah on a stretcher being fed whiskey through an IV bottle while cast members carried him.
Even with lots of action and blood, the film tanked at the box office. MGM forced the Director to cut the film way down for time, and what was meant to be a love letter to the wild west became a truncated and confusing mess.
A box office failure at the time, Peckinpah’s masterpiece would be released on home video in his original Director’s Cut and is now considered on of his finest films.
For the heavy-drinking, aggressively hostile Director, he would have a tougher time in the late seventies, reaching his low point with “Convoy”, inexplicably based on the hot “trucker” song of the time…
Sam’s “Soup” Incident!
By the 80’s, Peckinpah was still making films, but also jumping on the new “music video” bandwagon, which led him to my friend Martin Lewis! Lewis hired the Director to film music videos for John Lennon’s son Julien.
On the way to the shoot, Peckinpah sat in the front seat with a hot container of soup…Lewis was in the back seat. As Martin attempted to discuss that day’s shoot with Peckinpah, the Director calamly glanced into the back seat, raised his arm and dumped the entire contents of his container into Martin’s lap!
The documentary “Passion & Poetry: The Ballad of Sam Peckinpah” (2005) includes Martin’s recollections on working with Peckinpah!
Check out any of Peckinpah’s films to see a terrific storyteller in action!
Click here to read all about his most popular film, “The Getaway!” You will also see stories about ALL of the 70’s biggest action movies!
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