The Wild Bunch vs. The Man from Colorado

Every winter, I devote some time exploring a film star I know little about. This year, I’ve decided upon William Holden and began with two westerns, separated by twenty years of his career.

The Man from Colorado is a 1948 western-psychological drama film directed by Henry Levin and stars Glenn Ford and Ellen Drew.

I was surprised how much I liked the film. Two Civil War officers and friends return after the war to their hometown. The friendship sours as it becomes clear Colonel Devereaux (Ford) is mentally unstable and Capt. Stewart is tasked as watchdog with disastrous results. Glenn Ford’s hair is a symbol of the rage which threatens to overtake him. His nervous journal entries to himself about the beast within is right out of an Edgar Allan Poe story. Ford’s bulging eyes can’t keep up with the wild hair.

Del Stewart (Holden) has a crush on Carolyn (Drew) but loses her when she decides to marry Col. Owen Devereaux after he is appointed judge. Her role is one-dimensional and that’s unfortunate. Depicted as cooing and unaware her husband is a maniac, when she cries “Help, help!” there’s Stewart, and he steps in to save the day. The film needed a script that showed a better, complex love triangle. As it is, she’s a mere prop instead of a dynamic character. Despite the criticism, the climax is exciting and Holden and Ford are interesting to watch. PTSD affected every veteran in every war. This psychological dimension was unique for the genre. This is a film I would love to see as a remake; I think in the right hands, it could be as successful as 3:10 to Yuma (2007) starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

The Wild Bunch is a 1969 western drama directed by Sam Peckinpah. It has a cult following, admired for its quick-cut editing and varied use of slow and normal motion. I would not be surprised to learn Quentin Tarantino was influenced by the renegade director, Peckinpah, and “borrowed” Sam’s style for graphic violence and morally bankrupt, larger-than-life characters.

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The film opens prophetically and could be added to the discussion as one of the Best Opening Scenes . Ants take down and rip apart a scorpion. With morbid fascination, the children watch the scene like Roman citizens watching a gladiator dying in the Colosseum. And that pretty much describes the film. There’s no plot. Just aging outlaws who try for the last time to steal enough money to retire from their professions as robbers and outlaws. William Holden was the leader of the nine man band with Ernest Borgnine as his right-hand man.

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I was surprised how little I liked the film. Other than the editing and the opening scene, and the show down, I couldn’t get into it. Nihilistic stories show nothing redeemable about human nature. If life is meaningless and society useless, if there’s no point to anything, if resistance is futile, it’s hard to “like” a story when all characters are devoid of any likable trait like friendship, loyalty, or integrity. Nihilism is a drag. I saw no tenderheartedness under the gruff exterior. Losers condemned to death, anti-heroes banding together and going out with a bang–I’d rather watch The Dirty Dozen. 

What do you think about Holden’s performances here? Help me understand why I should like The Wild Bunch.

42 thoughts on “The Wild Bunch vs. The Man from Colorado

Add yours

  1. The American Civil War: how deeply and profoundly that event affected America. I think some people are still fighting it. The shrapnel and collateral damage can wound deeply.

    Nice comment about a remake. Absolutely.

    Peckinpah and Tarantino? Tarantino may have been influenced by Peckinpah – but he completely missed the message. Peckinpah disliked the dishonest sugar-coated killing and violence in much of TV and Film and hoped people be abhorred away from it by the reality of the violence, blood and killing in his movies. Tarantino does the opposite: he revels and exploits it – to the point of sadism – a theme in some his movies. A BIG difference. Peckinpah later came to realize that he had failed because of this kind of thing.

    You may “no plot” in The Wild Bunch, but there’s definitely a message.

    Peckinpah loved Westerns and his casting and crafting alone proves that. But he could not ultimately just tell a story. He had something to say.

    Holden won the the role of Pike Bishop over a stunning gallery of movie stars that were
    considered: Richard Boone, Sterling Hayden, Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, and James Stewart. And his casting was perfect though as it mirrored his own situation; and aging outlaw/Star on the downswing of his career. As with Ryan.

    There are a ton of deep messages in The Wild Bunch: Political, Social and Personal that go way past how deeply most anybody will care to investigate. That’s it’s failure. And i’m not really sure if Peckinpah really cared it we liked The Wild Bunch – as long as we just got part of what he was trying to say.

    Amen.

    1. 🙂 Hi JC ! I would have been disappointed if you hadn’t stopped to put your two cents in; I know how much you love this film. I wonder if the year it was released had anything to do with the nihilistic message? 1969 was one of the worst years in American History. The violence and senseless killing might have affected Peckinpah? I am out of my element here since I have only read a little about Peckinpah–he abused himself and was difficult and an outcast. That and he revolutionalized the industry with his varied film speeds and editing–that was great in the film and sustained my interest. I ♥ Ernest Borgnine and Holden was a fine choice–I know Holden had his personal issues and abuses, and I suppose his character as Pike was symbolic, too, of himself as a Hollywood legend, alone and forgotten as he aged.

      1. Definitely the Vietnam war played part in this. That’s one of the problems we can encounter when we see an older movie and don’t recall the social and political events of those times. I had to watch the several times before I figured a lot of things out about it. It kept nagging at me and I wanted to figure it out. And I didn’t really want to read anybody else’s analysis until I had arrived at a few for myself. Yet it was ultimately useful to read other people’s reviews. Many people didn’t like the movie of course – which is fine – and I believe that Peck himself would respect that. But what would hurt him was that so few got what he was trying to say. One reviewer said that Peckinpah was not subtle Director. I disagree. That’s why so many people don’t get it. Strangely enough, if you actually do, you may just as well be reviled by the movie and dislike the Bunch. And this is what Peckinpah was trying to achieve. Which the exact opposite of what most movies/Directors are trying to achieve when they make a movie – whereby they want to like the movie and relate with the Heroes. in The Wild Bunch, there are no heroes – unless some people relate with thugs, thieves and murderers. For this alone … a very unique movie.

        1. You are convincing me I need to re-watch it again. Any time a film causes this much consideration, you know you are dealing with art–like trying to get Picasso or Jackson Pollock. At first, you scratch your head wondering what it was all about. Then slowly you begin to “see”. Thanks, JC

  2. Though The Wild Bunch remains as one of my all-time favorite westerns, I understand why you couldn’t get into it. The last of the hard men coming to their bitter end, in a time that had no further use for them, is perhaps an acquired taste. “Likeable” isn’t really part of this film and definitely puts distance with the audience. Though I think their version of “friendship, loyalty, or integrity” is of the very flinty variety. It’s there, though. Just mixed amidst all that dried blood. Great look at these two William Holden westerns, Cindy!

    1. The Wild Bunch has many fans. Hard, flinty men coming to the bitter end–an acquired taste that speaks to many, although not to me, which is perfectly fine. I can respect it while simultaneously passing it along as a film I doubt I will come to love. Your comments are most welcome, Michael.

    1. Hello, Adam! Guys really love ‘The Wild Bunch’. I’d watch it for the editing. Very cool. The Man from Colorado is better than average and easier than many other classic Westerns. I confess, it’s a genre that’s hard for me to appreciate.

        1. Yes, I agree, I find Coen brothers are awesome with Westerns. Loved ‘No Country for Old Men’. Additionally, I thought Brad Pitt in ‘The Assassination of Jesse James’ the cinematography was outstanding.

  3. For me, The Wild Bunch and The Shootist along with Monte Walsh signaled the end of the West and Western movies. Sure, there have been others, such as The Unforgiven, since then, but they have been rare.

    1. Hi Allen. Can’t confirm or deny your assertion, because Westerns aren’t my forte, but maybe because subsequent ones were ‘softer’? I’ve seen ‘The Shootist and ‘Monte Walsh’ (1970). I would venture the technology of filmmaking had something to do with it. They were 70mm widescreen, colder, grittier, with large gaps of no dialogue. I have liked the Coen Brothers’ westerns –True Grit and No Country for Old Men They do it surprisingly well.

      1. It’s funny you should mention No Country for Old Men because the character played by Tommy Lee Jones reminded me a little of Robert Ryan’s Deke Thornton.
        Perpetually one step behind the death and mayhem and struggling to accept how the order of his world has been shaken.

        1. I truly understand why it’s highly respected–both No Country and The Wild Bunch–it establishes the outcast and the inevitable letting go. When I think of outcasts, I used to think of coming-of-age stories. But now that I’m older, I associate the concept of the outcast to an older generation. It’s a hard reality to realize you are not the current generation or the next after that. It’s hard knowing so much about life and experiencing so much yet youth can’t see the wisdom, the energy, or the dreams you once possessed and achieved. Once you led a group, now you get an uninterested glance or worse, embarrassed scolding, and you realize you are coasting through your days and biding your time.
          Good Grief. Now I’m depressed. 😉

      2. Thinking about your comment …. For me, True Grit is a comedy set in a Western setting. No Country for Old Men, for me, is nothing more than a Horror film set in a modern Western setting. All that is missing from No Country for Old Men are creepy sounds that appeared in 1950s Horror films when the monster or space alien appeared,

    1. Hi Ruth. I started with Westerns because it’s my least favorite of many genres. Next on the Holden investigation is Sunset Blvd. I promise, no spoilers.I will be curious to see what you see in the film. That’s the fun of it, yes?

      1. It’s my least fave genres too though there are some I like, i.e. 3:10 to Yuma and The Big Country. Yay, can’t wait to read your post on Sunset Blvd. and thanks for not spoiling it for me 😀

        1. Sure thing! I want to couple some romance films of his, too. That means Sabrina. Got to do a couple of his war films like Bridge Over the River Kwai. He won Best Actor for Stalag 17 and I’m embarrassed I’ve not seen it. More to come!

  4. I haven’t seen either of these, but I plan to eventually. That being said, I love Holden as an actor and strongly recommend diving further into his work. Network, Sunset Blvd. and The Bridge over the River Kwai are just three reasons to love him.

    1. Thank you, Andrew. Once you see the two Westerns, I’d be interested in your opinion 🙂 I’ve seen Bridge over the River Kwai but not Stalag 17, so I thought I’d group them by genre. There’s Sabrina and Sunset Blvd, too. Lots to choose from.

  5. Holden certainly sounds worth the time, Cindy. I don’t watch movies (no time!) but love your closing reflections: “If life is meaningless and society useless, if there’s no point to anything”. I know exactly where to go when the magic day comes for me to pick a film.

    Happy new year,
    Diana

  6. I agree ‘3:10 to Yuma’, was an excellent remake. I haven’t watched the 2 Holden movies spoken of here, so I can’t judge. But the opening sequence of ‘The Wild Bunch’ sure sounds interesting.

  7. Great critique, Cindy.

    Peckinpah isn’t for everyone. And Holden has been better in earlier films. Give Peckinpah’s ‘Junior Bonner’ a try.

  8. Hi, Cindy:

    Sam Peckinpah is not everybody’s cup of tea. Give his ‘Junior Bonner’ with Steve McQueen and Robert Preston in a decent estranged father/son/sibling rivalry rodeo film. Holden was good as the leader of ‘The Wild Bunch’, but he’s been better in ‘Hollywood ‘Stalag 17’ and ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’.

  9. Word press was giving me grief. Hence, the multiple posts.

    ‘Stalag 17’ is another post WWII stage play brought to the screen, like ‘Mister Roberts’. Holden is superb as the POW who everyone knows is guilty. 🙂 Excellent supporting cast full of familiar faces as well.

    While ‘Hollywood Boulevard’ has suspense and creepiness working for it.

  10. Holden – what a great choice, Cindy. Why is it we rarely hear about him when people mention the great ones? Doesn’t seem right. Glen Ford goes without mentioning one of my all-time favorites.
    I also located someone else that enjoys our classic movie passion – Christy Putnam @
    http://suesueapplegate.wordpress.com/

    ALL THE BEST FOR A FANTASTIC NEW YEAR!!

  11. There is an ongoing theme of change or ending in a lot of Peckinpah. His films make a nice bookend to John Ford that is more about the beginnings.
    If you are watching William Holden movies I would start with Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. One of Wilder’s best films and classic Film-Noir.

    1. LOL. I’m watching it tonight! I love Billy Wilder and have watched Sunset Blvd only sporadically. I’ve got Stalag 17 next. Seems like a lot of Westerns feature endings to the desperados. Please come back soon, thanks for commenting.

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