Without Sam Peckinpah, film wouldnt be worth acknowledging as an art form. In fact, its probably safe, and fair, to say that Peckinpah changed the face of modern cinema for good back in 1969 with perhaps the most complex film ever created, The Wild Bunch.
As part of my research into screenwriting and more specifically, mythic archetypes, Ive watched 30 or so movies in the last month. They have run the gamut from fantasy (Krull) to drama (Killer Elite) to blockbuster (Star Wars) in an effort to find the reasons why movies worked or didnt work.
In most instances, I can find something to love. In fact, almost every movie Ive watched had something I could point to and enjoy. Sure, there have been some horrible movies but with few exceptions, Ive learned something with each viewing.
Perhaps one reason why I loved The Wild Bunch above and beyond every other Peckinpah film is due to the perfect casting. William Holden was a certifiable but fading star when he took on the role of Pike, the surly, strong-willed outlaw near the end of his career, but it made many of his peers take notice. He had already won an Academy Award for Stalag 17 (the inspiration for Hogans Heroes by the way) but he wasnt getting the plum leading roles anymore and Peckinpah was lucky to have landed such a fantastic principal actor for his mythic outlaw hero. It is rumored that Holden owes Peckinpah himself with inspiring his performance, not as the director, but the example by which he created his character.
Ernest Borgnine was the perfect actor to play Pikes loyal second. He was at the top of his craft, netting a Oscar for his performance as Marty in 1955 but with The Wild Bunch he was embarking on a reinvigorated career as a Western action star. He took to that particular direction like a duck takes to water, fashioning a persona that resonated with fans of the genre.
As far as Peckinpah films go, if youre a fan of mythic archetypes, outlaw structure in particular, the films that you should see include:
1. The Wild Bunch (William Holden & Ernest Borgnine)
2. The Getaway (Steve McQueen & Ally McGraw)
3. Convoy (Kris Kristopherson, Ally McGraw & Ernest Borgnine)
Each of these films is proably the best example of the theme: You gotta break a few eggs to make scrambled eggs!