Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Opening Titles: The Wild Bunch

wild-bunch-blu-ray-movie-title

Say what you will about “The Western” as a genre of film, or television, but it had way more versatility than some credit it. For something that seemed limited, stories set in the 19th century in the American “Old West”, it’s spawned quite a pedigree. Told tales of adventure (Vera Cruz, The Professionals), satire (Support Your Local Sheriff, Blazing Saddles), along with the drama (The Big Country, The Gunfighter). The barbarity, too.

Varying degrees of such foreshadowing whatever morality lay within.

Why one of my all-time favorite westerns, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, continues to fascinate. An aridly bitter revision of the classic “oater” of say John Ford or Howard Hawks. Cascading off the venerable “changing times” theme, Sam Peckinpah fostered a timeless saga in the trail of the once promising 60s as it drew to a rancorous close. A particularly grim ride of the last hard men biding their remaining days the only way they knew how.

Telegraphed blithely in the film’s stark opening titles sequence.

Delivered by the casual entrance of the “Wild Bunch” as it moseyed into a quiet southwestern border town. Accompanied by Jerry Fielding’s languid score, the sequence masked the violence to come with seemingly courteous order. Much like Pike Bishop’s gang of aging outlaws, masquerading as soldiers, looking for one last score. Warily finding the underlying cruelty amid the civility on approach — children gleefully pitting scorpions and red ants in a merciless match.

Lucien Ballard’s close camera work neatly captured the manifestation of what lay ahead for the band, and those unluckily caught in their wake1.

The sequence’s distinct use of interspersed high-contrast, monochrome titles noteworthy. Stylishly intercut with dirt-tinged freeze frames2 during the gang’s opening ruse in their attempt to steal a cache of silver from the railroad. Both effectively eye-catching and depicting a fast-fading past. An elegant train of images featuring laconic, brutish outcasts encased in their ways. Peckinpah removing any and all doubt by the final frame of the film’s credits.

What you’d expect by the combative auteur who made a name depicting the social values, ideals, and corruption of violence through the western. None other than William Holden conveyed the filmmaker’s quintessential eloquence with typical cynical bravura, which marked the director’s title credit. The irrevocable that’ll light the fuse to bloodshed; set the death dance in motion across the Rio Grande, and “The Wild Bunch” prophetically on to their destiny:

“If they move, kill’em!”


  1. Any illusion this was to end happily, or have a winner, with the harsh pairing of desert arachnid and insect is made quite clear by the filmmaker when the whole lot are set ablaze. 
  2. Note most of the actor titles freeze on character faces, with one glaring exception. Perhaps it’s Sam way to label the traitorous deed by Pike’s former partner, Deke Thornton, tasked to ambush his friend, by freezing Robert Ryan’s next to a horse’s ass. 
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23 Responses to “Opening Titles: The Wild Bunch”

  1. Colin

    One of the finest, and most memorable, opening sequences ever. It foreshadows everything that’s to come really pitches you headlong into the movie and its characters from the beginning.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      It certainly does, Colin. Just looking again upon this sequence made me want to tee up this classic Peckinpah once more. Really is one of the finest, indeed. Glad we have this in common. Thank you so much, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Joel Burman (@joelburman)

    Without any hesitation one of the worlds finest opening credits sequence. To me the placement of Ryans credit is the masterpiece. It helps setting up the fact that Ryans character rather would be (and should) riding with the bunch.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. Cavershamragu

    Easily one of the best films of its kind – along with RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and STRAW DOGS this remains for me the director’s best, not least because of his clearly most personal output, in these cases only was his cut was the one released

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      You’ll get no argument from me regarding that threesome, Sergio. Remarkable what Peckinpah accomplished during this period. Thank you very much for the read and comment, my friend. 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  4. Ted Saydalavong (@TSayda)

    I love the opening of this film and the ensuing shootout that follows. I love every small details that Peckinpah was able to capture, to modern audiences, this sequence might look weird but I think it’s one of the best piece of filmmaking I’ve ever seen.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      You’ll get no argument here, Ted. Simply a wonderful sequence that builds slowly to a supreme payoff. One of the great opening titles ever. Thanks for the read, share, and comment, my friend. 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  5. jackdeth72

    Great choice and a superb critique of one of best, and my favorite Westerns!

    The Testosterone is palpable within and around the cast. Which Mr. Peckinpah uses to maximum effect for the effort involved. From their shadow throwing introduction as ants swarm the weakening scorpion. Through the fruitless bank robbery, arguments, dirty deals and a bull blown train robbery to keep the cast and audience on their toes. Before a wondrously choreographed “Shoot ’em Up” to end all “Shoot ’em Up”s for dessert!

    But, it’s the prophetic opening scene that betrays the future of ‘The Wild Bunch’ as the ants of changing time slowly overwhelm and destroy the “Old School” scorpion to the delight of children!

    Very well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Well said, Kevin. A masterwork by the western auteur. Truly, a thing of dark beauty. Thank you so much, my friend. 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  6. ruth

    Great post Michael! That’s a fantastic opening title, I love when they invest in making a great opening title that you remember as well as the film itself, y’know. Nice that you highlight this and that you have an appreciation for this under-appreciated art form.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  7. Paul S

    As indelible cinematic openings go, this one is hard to beat. I’ll probably dig out the DVD and watch it again through fresh eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • le0pard13

      Yeah, felt the same way after writing up the piece on that indelible opening. Really quite something. Many thanks, Paul. 🙂

      Like

      Reply

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