Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sam Peckinpah Westerns Collection

Sam Peckinpah made some pretty awful movies, particularly in the last days of his career, and he made some pretty pedestrian ones, but he also made some amazing and beautiful ones that stand up to the dross being spewed out of the studios today.

This collection (reasonably priced at Best Buy for about $43), includes "Ride the High Country", "The Wild Bunch", "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" and "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid". They're all sad, melancholy looks at men's loyalty to each other, the prices we pay to discard that loyalty and place of violence amongst men.

The only one with any sort of real notoriety is "The Wild Bunch" which was groundbreakingly violent for its time and turned him into an international sensation with the ability to make a few more movies as he saw fit. With a cast of old stars (Robert Ryan and William Holden) and the cream grizzled character actors (Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, LQ Jones, and Strother Martin) Peckinpah assaults viewers with deep betrayal, casual as well as epic violence and serious questions about living with dignity. The movie, set along the US/Mexican border during the Mexican Revolution, is epic in scope and brutality. Even to this day its violent finale goes pretty unmatched.

"Ride the High Country" is very much a traditional western with none of the graphic violence Peckinpah started using in "The Wild Bunch". Instead it looks at a pair of tough, old men who've lived past the end of the West that let them become notable. It stars Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, both of whom had been notable Western stars for decades. Both came out of semi-retirement to make this movie as a clear meditation on age and the end of the frontier. Supposedly both felt it served as a fitting cap to illustrious careers and a fitting commentary on the Western as a genre. Scott fully retired and McCrea only made a few minor appearances aftewards.

"Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" is fascinating and works similar ground to "The Wild Bunch". Sherrif Garrett (James Coburn) is forced to track down his friend, Billy Bonney (Kris Kristofferson) as the increasingly settled and civilized Lincoln, New Mexico can't stand for his outlaw behavior any more. It's a slow moving film that was butchered by the studios and has been restored from Peckinpah's notes and original cuts. There are some amazing sequences (Slim Picken's and Katy Jurado's short appearances as a sherrif and his wife is one of the most moving things I've seen in any movie lately) but it does suffer from a slackness at times that is disappointing. Bob Dylan appears as one of Billy's men and he composed a great country folk score.

The last movie included is "The Ballad of Cable Hogue". It stars Jason Robards, Stella Stevens and David Warner and has none of the violence people (and the studio) expected from Peckinpah in the wake of "The Wild Bunch". Again, Peckinpah presents us with a movie about age, obsolescence and revenge. This time it's done on a small scale with sweetness and a gentle touch.

If you have any interest in Westerns or just like downright great movies you could do much worse than buy this collection. There are three great films and one pretty dang good one.

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