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Book reveals the revolution that was 'The Wild Bunch'

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"The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film," by W.K. Stratton (Bloomsbury Publishing, 336 pages, in stores)

Fifty years ago this summer, what was then considered an ultra-violent Western was released to U.S. movie theaters. "The Wild Bunch," starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan, stirred up audiences. Some loved it. Others were shocked and appalled, fled the theater and were ill.

W.K. Stratton tells in his book, "The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film," how he was allowed in the movie theaters in his home town of Guthrie, although underage, and got to see the Sam Peckinpah film in 1969.

"After the final shoot-out, after the last exchange of dialogue between Robert Ryan and Edmund O'Brien, after the credits rolled to the tune of 'Las Golondrinas,' I stepped out of the theater into the night, my heart beating as if I'd just been running hundred-yard sprints. I still feel that way every time I watch 'The Wild Bunch,'" he writes.

Stratton's book goes into fine detail about the origin of the story, from an idea by stuntman Roy Sickner, to a treatment by Walon Green, to a screenplay polished off by Sam Peckinpah, in various partnerships. It tells how Peckinpah, ostracized by Hollywood because people considered him too difficult to work with, still managed to obtain financial backing and a movie studio willing to indulge his idiosyncrasies as the film's director.

Peckinpah grew up with working cowboys. He served as a U.S. Marine during World War II. He knew the character of the men on horseback, and the horrors of combat. And he knew how to draw responses out of actors that helped them tell the story on film.

His film wasn't intended to be a normal Saturday matinee horse opera. No Roy Rogers or John Wayne, no Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott. "The Wild Bunch" is a film about men who have outlasted their time in history, who are confronted with technology they can't comprehend, whose code they'd always lived by is shattered and left bloody and dying in the dust of the Mexican Revolution.

If you're the kind of movie fan who loves to read the trivia offered by imdb.com, Stratton's "The Wild Bunch" is a gold mine. But be warned, if you haven't seen the movie, the book is packed full of spoilers. After I'd gotten a few pages into the book, I stopped reading and acquired a copy of the movie to watch — unlike Stratton, I wasn't allowed into the theaters in 1969 to see a movie such as this one, and 50 years later this was the first time I'd seen it. And after I finished reading the book, I watched the movie again.

It's an amazing movie — although the violence now seems rather tame considering many of the movies made since the 1960s — and the viewing is definitely enhanced by Stratton's fascinating account of how it got made. His book includes candid photos, a list of sources and footnotes, as well as an index. What it doesn't have, but really should, is a DVD or Blu-Ray of the movie itself, so the two can be enjoyed together.

— Glen Seeber, The Oklahoman

Glen Seeber

Glen Seeber was born in Kansas, but his earliest memories are of residing in Ardmore, followed by attending kindergarten and first grade in Tripoli, Libya, where his father worked as a geologist. The rest of Glen's education was obtained in El... Read more ›

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