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January 11th, 2006 | DVD & TV
 

Sam Peckinpah's Legendary Westerns Collection

     
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Sam Peckinpah's Legendary Westerns Collection brings four of the director's best films to DVD. The centerpiece of the set is a new edition of his masterpiece, The Wild Bunch (1969). The graphic ballets of violence, specifically the episodes that open and conclude the film, were shocking in their day, and the movie's reputation for gory nihilism has overwhelmed it at times. It is a violent adventure film, but along with the havoc is a poignant tale of the end of an era where manhood is defined by your word and whom you ride with. We follow a few tired souls who choose to go out in a blaze of glory, standing up for a principle rather than fading away into the dusty sunset, on a suicide mission that simultaneously shatters and secures the Myth of the West. There's poetry in those bullets ripping through flesh in slow-motion. William Holden and Robert Ryan most perfectly embody the film's ethos, and their nobility is what the film is really about. Come for the carnage, stay for the ode to honor. Among the extras on the Wild Bunch DVD is the very good documentary Sam Peckinpah's West, a 90-minute examination of his career including interviews with friends, collaborators, admirers and critics.

The other three movies may be lesser known, but are all worth experiencing. Ride the High Country (1962), starring Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, is Peckinpah's first great film and a bridge between the genre's classics—from the likes of John Ford and Howard Hawks—to the revisionist renaissance about to be led by Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) is his last great Western, restored to a longer cut. Peckinpah's take on the oft-told legend is a love-it-or-leave-it proposition, but Bob Dylan's music (he also has a small role) and the offbeat casting of Kris Kristofferson as Billy make it at least worth a look. The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) is the biggest surprise for those who think they've got Peckinpah figured out. Made just after The Wild Bunch, it is a charming and funny parable about a man (Jason Robards) left for dead in the desert who stumbles upon a waterhole, and the little bit of the American Dream he builds around it. It's full of a gentleness and humor Peckinpah's name does not usually evoke.

All of the discs in the Legendary Westerns collection come loaded with bonus features, much of it all-new. Each film is sold individually, or in a boxed set.

 
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