Mel Gibson to Remake Controversial 1969 Western ‘The Wild Bunch’

Nancy Bilyeau
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American actors Edmond O'Brien and William Holden on the set of The Wild Bunch, directed by Sam Peckinpah. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is one of the most influential of all Westerns made in the 1960s, if not all films produced in that decade. It had a tremendous cast led by William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, and Robert Ryan and scenes of epic, unvarnished violence.

The story is set in 1913. An outlaw gang called “the Wild Bunch” decide, after a failed railroad-office robbery, to head to Mexico for a job. They end up making a last stand in a Mexican town controlled by a ruthless general.

From right to left, William Holden as Pike Bishop, Ernest Borgnine as Dutch Engstrom, Warren Oates as Lyle Gorch, and Ben Johnson as Tector Gorch in the Sam Peckinpah Western ‘The Wild Bunch,’ 1969. Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

“Unchanged men in a changing land,” said the 1969 film’s tagline. “Out of step, out of place and desperately out of time.”

Now Warner Bros. has hired Mel Gibson to co-write and direct a remake of The Wild Bunch. Bryan Bagby will co-write the script with Gibson, who will also executive produce.

Mel Gibson. Photo by Georges Biard CC BY-SA 3.0

Gibson is continuing to act as well as write and direct. He next stars alongside Colin Farrell in the film War Pigs.

“Warner Bros has tried several times to mount a remake, but it seems in good hands with Gibson,” wrote Deadline. “From Best Picture winner Braveheart to films like Apocalypto and the recent Best Picture nominee Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson has distinguished himself as one of the best directors of action working in the business.”

However, the choice of Gibson is also drawing criticism.

He was blacklisted in Hollywood for nearly a decade because of anti-Semitic remarks and allegedly abusing his girlfriend, but in the last few years has been making a comeback of sorts.

Hacksaw Ridge earned him Oscar nominations for best picture and best director. As an actor he’s appeared in comedies such as Daddy’s Home 2.

Peckinpah’s conception of Pike Bishop was strongly influenced by actor William Holden.

“Here’s Hollywood for you,” wrote Women in Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein in late September. “[The] day the country is protesting having a sexual predator on the supreme court, Mel Gibson, a violent domestic abuser, gets a new writing a directing gig.”

Among the complaints, David Sims of The Atlantic wrote, “How did Gibson land such a big job with a major studio? Mock the power of the Oscars at your own peril — the Best Director nod for Hacksaw Ridge was the clearest sign that, for many in the industry, the dust had settled on Gibson’s past and he was welcome back into the fold.”

Production still for the film ‘The Wild Bunch.’ Director Sam Peckinpah on right.

The Wild Bunch was controversial in its day too. Peckinpah said he was influenced by Vietnam and a wish to make a film that dirtied the image of the wholesome Western.

It is particularly celebrated for its cinematography and editing and how it uses normal and slow motion images, which was new in the 1960s. Peckinpah is credited with revolutionizing film editing, shooting his many action set-pieces with multiple cameras and viewpoints, running the cameras at different speeds.

Production still for the film ‘The Wild Bunch.’

Wrote The Guardian, “The results were eye-opening, stretching and collapsing time in each of the movie’s many masterfully assembled action set-pieces, particularly the opening robbery. That sequence included the famous credit, ‘Directed by Sam Peckinpah’ hammered on to the screen after Pike Bishop (William Holden) spits out the words: ‘If they move, kill ’em!’ ”

After the film was released, Peckinpah was compared to John Ford and Stanley Kubrick.

But some critics and audience members said it glamorized violence. At Cannes Film Festival, Roger Ebert wrote that, “After a reporter from the Reader’s Digest got up to ask ‘Why was this film ever made?’ I stood up and called it a masterpiece; I felt, then and now, that The Wild Bunch is one of the great defining moments of modern movies.”

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After the sensation caused by this film, Peckinpah directed Straw Dogs, which was also violent and possibly even more upsetting to audiences. His last films were The Getaway, The Killer Elite, Convoy and The Osterman Weekend.

Sam Peckinpah died in 1984 of heart failure, at age 59.