Combustible Celluloid
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With: Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Mariette Hartley, Ron Starr, Edgar Buchanan, R.G. Armstrong, Jenie Jackson, James Drury, L.Q. Jones, John Anderson, John Davis Chandler, Warren Oates, William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brien, Jaime Sanchez, Ben Johnson, Emilio Fernandez, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Albert Dekker, Bo Hopkins, Dub Taylor, Paul Harper, Jorge Russek, Alfonso Arau, Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, David Warner, Strother Martin, Slim Pickens, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Chill Wills, Jack Elam
Written by: N.B. Stone Jr., Walon Green, Sam Peckinpah, John Crawford, Edmund Penney, Rudolph "Rudy" Wurlitzer
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 475
Date: 19/03/2013

Sam Peckinpah's Legendary Westerns Collection (2006)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The West Thing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The legend of Sam Peckinpah has risen up to take over his reality. He was a tough customer and a drunken misogynist. Yet he was a true maverick, a dangerous renegade who stepped out of line among timid studio people, challenging them with his hardcore vision. Sometimes he achieved what he wanted, though mostly he didn't. Peckinpah left behind fourteen feature films, and with the re-editing and restoring of films like Major Dundee (1965) and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), they've begun to reveal a genuine auteur. Now, at long last, the Peckinpah DVD collection is complete. Warner Home Video has released an essential new box set of four Peckinpah Westerns, The Legendary Westerns Collection. The set sells for $59.98. The individual titles, Ride the High Country (1962) and (1970) are available for $19.97 each, andthe two-disc sets The Wild Bunch (1969) and sell for $26.99 each. Each disc comes with a commentary track by a quartet of Peckinpahscholars: Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons and David Weddle, moderated byNick Redman. (These four have also provided tracks for most of the otherPeckinpah DVDs in release.)

Peckinpah's early feature, Ride the High Country (1962) has become as rare as gold, and so its new DVD debut is cause for hootin' and hollerin.' It's the ironically sprightly and funny tale of two old-time cowboys on what could be their last adventure. Hired to transport gold from a mining camp to a bank, Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) enlists the help of his old partner, Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott). Westrum brings along a whippersnapper sidekick (Ron Starr), who adds trouble to the mix when he falls for a young woman (Elsa Knudsen). Warren Oates co-stars in an early role as the unshaven, beady-eyed psychotic villain, one of a family of whooping, drunken redneck miners. With brilliant economy Peckinpah maneuvers many themes, using groundbreaking editing techniques along with his full-color, Cinemascope frame, and raises the film to a level far beyond a mere entry in an old genre. Using everything that came before and predicting everything that came after (notably McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Unforgiven), Ride the High Country can now be seen as the lynchpin in the history of the entire Western genre. The seemingly old-fashioned Ride the High Country has been unfairly overshadowed by the more spectacular The Wild Bunch, but now its place in the canon can be rightfully restored.

Warner Home Video originally released The Wild Bunch (1969) on DVD back in 1997 when the format was new, and its poor film transfer is considered a botched job. So this new release is another welcome sight. Even if it wasn't exactly a box-office smash, it remains Peckinpah's most popular film, even placing on the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 100 Greatest American films. Hence, it needs little introduction, other than the fact that its sad, autumnal story, shockingly balletic violence and insightful subtexts still hold up well today. The new two-disc Wild Bunch DVD contains two documentaries, Sam Peckinpah's West, and the Oscar-nominated The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage, and an excerpt from A Simple Adventure Story: Sam Peckinpah, Mexico and The Wild Bunch.

Coming as it does just a year later the silly comedy, The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) is an oddity in the Peckinpah canon. Jason Robards stars as a cowboy robbed and left for dead in the desert -- until he stumbles upon a water hole and turns entrepreneur, setting up a waystation for travelers stuck between two dirt-water towns. Hogue meets several odd characters, including a cute prostitute (Stella Stevens) and a randy preacher (David Warner), while waiting to take revenge. Slim Pickens co-stars as a stage driver. Like John Ford, Peckinpah prefers bawdy, rather obvious humor accompanied by dopey music; the "jokes" don't always work. But Robards' warm performance makes the film into a casual delight. The Cable Hogue disc includes an interview with Stella Stevens today, at age 69.

Finally comes Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), arguably the most butchered of all Peckinpah's films. The studio hacked it up upon its release, and since then it has appeared in various and assorted re-cuts of different lengths. This new two-disc set comes with two such cuts, a 1988 cut that runs 122 minutes, and a new, more streamlined 2005 cut that runs 115 minutes. Regardless of length, this is one of Peckinpah's most deeply-felt films, a true meeting of two like souls. The most interesting villains should be able to sit down to a cup of coffee with the hero, and that's exactly what happens here. Garrett (James Coburn) and Billy (Kris Kristofferson) once rode together and they remain kindred spirits even while trying to kill one another. Bob Dylan provided the film's beautiful score and songs, including "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," but also "acts" in the film, causing many film buffs to rip at their hair in frustration. Nevertheless, he plays only a small role, and never detracts from the film's beauties.

The Western genre has sadly fallen out of fashion over the past few decades, but Peckinpah's developing legend of maverick cool -- and the release of this box set -- should help to inspire a few new fans.

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