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Retrospective: The Films Of Sam Peckinpah

Retrospective: The Films Of Sam Peckinpah

Starting today and running until April 7th, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is running a complete retrospective of the films of the notorious Sam Peckinpah. Not to be outdone, so are we — Peckinpah’s relatively short but stormy filmography is one of the most rewarding to revisit, especially as, more than most directors of his turbulent, cinematically fertile era, it can be viewed as a kind of ongoing project in reassessment and rehabilitation, not to mention a fascinating prism through which to examine changing attitudes to sexism, classism, racism and the masculine ideal.

READ MORE: The Essentials: 6 Great Warren Oates Films

Oftentimes, though, that scholarly reassessment has been a search for reasons and, well, excuses for liking his films — justifications for why these often brutish movies, full of testosterone-pumped machismo and orgiastic portrayals of violence are in fact pacifist in their outlook, or contorted arguments for how we can interpret Peckinpah’s many scenes of sexual violence and rape as somehow feminist. But not only does that thinking lead to a certain denial-based madness (if there is a signature shot of a Peckinpah woman-cipher, it’s probably her having her shirt ripped open to expose her breasts, often followed by a slap in the face), it also glosses over the real fascination of this unique and highly problematic corpus of work: Peckinpah’s artistry is not something that can or should be separated from its thematic politics because that’s precisely where so much of his artistry lies. It’s uncomfortable to consider the possibility that some of his films might not only be compelling and politically obnoxious, but compelling because they are politically obnoxious, but that discomfort is part of the heat and energy his films give out.

Nobody is ever just one thing, and Peckinpah as a filmmaker is many contradictory and conflicting things at once. His misogyny, while undeniable, is not simple — it is alloyed with a hyper-critical view of masculinity too, just as a similar current of attraction/repulsion, glorification/condemnation flows through his depiction of violence. And perhaps the biggest contradiction of all was the man himself — in contrast to the John Huston/Ernest Hemingway model of the egomaniacal genius hellion that somehow clings to him, Peckinpah, in the words of Pauline Kael had a “quiet that attracted attention; he was the model of the hard-luck passive/aggressive.” His drinking (he famously announced at one point that he could no longer direct while sober) seemed less about rabble-rousing and hellraising than a kind of desperate attempt to keep his head above water. And later in life when his alcoholism, failed marriages, fractious professional relationships and drug addiction had taken hold, he seemed, to quote one shocked interviewer, “fragile… he did not strike me as someone capable of the legendary mayhem and madness generally attributed to him.”

With just fourteen theatrical feature films to his name, eight of which, including most of his touchpoints, came during the seven years 1969-1975, Peckinpah burned brightly and briefly and brutally, and he left behind one of the most continually contentious and provocative bodies of work within that generation of ’70s filmmakers, who redefined the frontiers of American filmmaking as though it were their own personal Wild West.


“The Deadly Companions” (1961)

Recommended as a TV writer by friend and mentor Don Siegel, Peckinpah wrote for several serial westerns in the mid-’50s and a couple of his scripts even inspired serials of their own — “The Rifleman,” and then in 1960 “The Westerner” starring Brian Keith, on which he also directed. Cancelled after just 13 episodes run it was well regarded enough that when Keith suggested Peckinpah make his big screen directorial debut on this 1961 film, the producer acquiesced. That producer was the brother of the film’s main star, Maureen O’Hara, which means that ironically, notorious misogynist Peckinpah’s first film was really a vehicle for one of the few major actresses, aside from Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford, who projected an image of strength as a Western heroine. Sadly, however that’s sort of where the interestingness of “The Deadly Companions” ends: whether due to Peckinpah’s unsuitability, inexperience or his hamstringing at the hand of that same producer, the film is pretty forgettable. The story of a “fallen” woman and the man who accidentally killed her child, the unconvincing chemistry and unsteady characterization of the leads makes it feel like a quickie B-movie, if a competently made one. And while O’Hara’s fiery redhead routine always yields some pleasures here it’s in service of a story not so much about love conquering all and her forgiving her son’s killer, but about proving her dead child’s legitimacy — an agenda that must have seemed regressive even in the early 1960s. And as is standard even for the more sympathetic females in Peckinpah’s Western canon, when she’s not being a frivolous distraction from the bland hero’s main, manly mission, she’s a borderline incapable liability in terms of such practicalities as driving a wagon or digging a hole. Many Peckinpah films are unjustly overlooked; this one, not so much. [C]


“Ride the High Country” (1962)
With script control newly a prerequisite after his frustrations with his debut film, Peckinpah’s next project began with a total overhaul of the script, resulting in “Ride the High Country,” a film that makes overt text of his recurrent subtext about the death of the Old West, and the changing of the guard. Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, both associated with the Western’s heyday, are aging frenemies Gil and Steve, a crooked conman and a once-respected lawman respectively, both leathery as their saddles in a kind of ’60s “Grumpy Old Western Archetypes”. When Steve is hired to guard a shipment of gold, he enlists his old partner Gil’s help, with both men knowing deep down that Gil, along with his surly young sidekick Heck (Ron Starr) will probably try to steal the payload. But en route Heck falls for Elsa (Mariette Hartley), she ill-advisedly marries the worthless, violent Billy who intends to prostitute her to his brutish brothers, and the parameters of the old timers’ mission change. Suddenly the two men find common ground in Heck and Elsa’s relationship, implying that even fundamental moral and ideological differences can be trumped by the recognition that it is the older generation’s duty to safeguard the younger. It’s tamer and more classic in style than many of Peckinpah’s future films, but there are still some great flourishes, particularly in the unusually sympathetic portrayal of the callow Elsa and the dialogue between the old cowboys. Whether trying to negotiate their differing ethics or joking around about a hole in a boot, there’s a flinty camaraderie between Gil and Steve that gives “Ride the High Country” an appropriately unsentimental yet nostalgic feel. [B-]


“Major Dundee” (1965)
The film that birthed a reputation for being ‘difficult’ that Peckinpah would find it hard to live down after (and sometimes apparently played up to) “Major Dundee” initially debuted to near-universal derision. That reaction is pretty baffling now, as certainly the 2005 136m restored version (there were several cuts) is a grandly ambitious saga of colossal ego and hubris set against the backdrop of the waning months of the American Civil War. Charlton Heston is perfectly cast as Dundee (amusingly, for anyone familiar with “Touch of Evil,” at one point he’s described as making “an unlikely looking Mexican”) whose vendetta against an Indian chief is essentially a recasting of “Moby Dick.” Even-handedly bleak in its “all sides are equally wrong” ethos, it follows Dundee raising a ragtag company of all races, creeds and political persuasions in order to pursue his obsession. Captain Tyreen (a loathsomely urbane Richard Harris) a Confederate prisoner promised pardon if he and his men participate in the possibly suicidal mission, becomes not only Dundee’s reluctant ally, but also his most outspoken antagonist, in love and in war, full of silky, sneering contempt for his former Westpoint colleague’s careerism and pragmatic commitment to the Union cause. Both men tangle with the beautiful Teresa (Senta Berger) but neither does right by her, while Dundee’s demons, in the form of drink and isolation and guilt, multiply. Also starring James Coburn as an Indian scout (which we know because he wears a feather in his hat) and featuring a heady thematic mix of racism, classism and clashing masculinities, “Major Dundee” is a terrifically dense, complex film which enshrines a Peckinpah trademark that doesn’t attract nearly as much comment as his perceived sexism and obsession with violence: his magnificent, imperturbable ambivalence toward the fate of the “great man.” [B+]


The Wild Bunch” (1969)
If you’ve seen one Peckinpah movie, it’s likely “The Wild Bunch,” the biggest hit of the director’s career and perhaps his film which bears with the most enduring influence. It’s a picture that in large part reinvented the action movie, but its formal innovations aside, what makes it special is the sad, elegiac tone. Rushed into production in an attempt to beat “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” (which had sold as a script for a record sum), the film saw Peckinpah out to prove himself on the big screen again with the successful Jason Robards-starring TV drama “Noon Wine,” granting him something of a pardon from the director’s jail that “Major Dundee”‘s troubled production and his subsequent firing from “The Cincinatti Kid” had landed him in. “Major Dundee” had proved ahead of its time, but “The Wild Bunch” saw popular taste catching up to Peckinpah, with glowing reviews and solid box office. Set in 1913, the dying days of the Old West, it sees a gang of outlaws led by Pike Bishop (William Holden) forced into stealing a shipment of arms for a Mexican general (Emilio Fernandez), while being pursued by their former colleague Deke (Robert Ryan), now leading a posse of bounty hunters out for their blood. The squib-filled, bloody, slo-mo shootouts, particularly the apocalyptic finale, inspired by “Bonnie & Clyde” and influential on everyone from John Woo to Quentin Tarantino, are the first thing you think of when it comes to the film. But it’s the moments between the action, as portrayed by Peckinpah’s perfect cast (with Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson and Jaime Sanchez all making huge impressions), that bring the poetry, a dusty, bloody, sad tribute to a kind of life and a kind of person that was gasping its last during at the time and that was long gone by the time the film was made. [A]


“The Ballad Of Cable Hogue” (1970)
One of a handful of films that those who seek to defend Peckinpah against accusations of gratuitous violence hold up as evidence, “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” is certainly one of his softest films. But it is also one of his least satisfying, which puts a crimp in that narrative. Just as he’d later follow “Straw Dogs” with the winsome “Junior Bonner,” here he turned in ‘Cable Hogue’ directly after “The Wild Bunch,” but if the contrast in mood and subject matter strikingly suggests that Peckinpah was more than a one-trick pony, it also proves that some of his tricks were more impressive than others. Jason Robards, who was apparently born crusty, stars as Hogue, a down-in-the-mouth deadbeat whom we first meet as he’s literally left to die in the desert. Semi-miraculously, Hogue discovers a spring, and decides to claim the land and set up a hitching post. Abetted by pervy self-ordained preacher Joshua (David Warner), the ornery Hogue eventually makes a go of the enterprise just as the arrival of the first motor car foreshadows its obsolescence. All of this perhaps sounds relatively standard for a death-of-the-West Western, but what’s truly odd is the Benny Hill-esque vibe —it is as much about cleavage crash-zooms and fast-motion capering about as it is about men doing what they gotta do. Hogue’s relationship with his prostitute girlfriend Hildy (Stella Stevens) is one of the more tender in Peckinpah’s catalogue, but it tends to the sentimental and is not helped by a twee theme song which invokes “butterfly mornings and wildflower afternoons.” And Joshua’s exploitation of emotionally vulnerable women is particularly uncomfortable here, because it’s played for laughs. Peckinpah was a brilliant filmmaker, but he wasn’t a particularly funny one, and this attempt at comedy reveals as much about his prejudices as any of his bloodbaths. [C]


“Straw Dogs” (1971)
“The Ballad Of Cable Hogue” went over budget and over schedule, and proved unpopular with just about everyone, so just as soon as Peckinpah was in favor at Warner Bros., he was out in the cold again and ended up reteaming with “Noon Wine” producer Daniel Melnick for a loose adaptation of Gordon Williams’ novel “The Siege Of Trencher’s Farm,” retitled “Straw Dogs.” The film is one of the most provocative and divisive in a career full of work to which both adjectives could be regularly applied. Dustin Hoffman took the lead as David, an American mathematician who moves with his wife Amy (Susan George) to the remote Cornish town where she grew up. Her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Del Henney) and other locals are hired by the couple to renovate their house, leading to a legendarily controversial scene where Amy is raped by the villagers, while seemingly finding some pleasure in moments of the violation. Then the couple are besieged in their home after David hits and injures a local mentally disabled man, who turns out to have killed a teenage girl (a level of near-apocalyptic coincidence that comes from the novel, but still feels ropey). It’s a deeply troubling film, not least in its sexual politics, but to dismiss it as fascistic or exploitative, as many did, is too easy —it’s less an examination of machismo (though Hoffman is perfect as the timid man forced to stand up) as a look at the darkness, violence and aggression that lie beneath the surface of men. It’s a thin tightrope, but the film mostly stays on it, partly thanks to its refusal to comfort or console you or even to assure you that you’re not like the characters onscreen. And of course Peckinpah executes it with brutal skill: just contrast the film with Rod Lurie’s unimaginatively faithful remake from 2011. [B+]


“Junior Bonner” (1972)
Displaying his softer side far more successfully than in the bawdy ‘Cable Hogue,’ Peckinpah’s follow-up to his most controversial film “Straw Dogs” is maybe the only one of his oeuvre that you could call “sweet.” Steve McQueen plays Junior, a rodeo rider who’s already crested his career and for whom all subsequent victories will essentially just be blips on the long slide down the other side. Peckinpah takes unusual care with themes of family and the bittersweet nature of homecoming, and gets some of his most straightforwardly sympathetic performances as a result. McQueen plays the stubbornly goodnatured Junior with real knock-me-down-I’ll-get-right-up-again charm, while Robert Preston as Ace, Junior’s womanizing dreamer Dad, and Ida Lupino as his practical, long-suffering mother, are superb, despite both being only 12 years older than McQueen. But it’s notable for being a gentler perspective on the demise of the frontier lifestyle, in which acknowledgment of the hardscrabble nature of that old life does not preclude a real feeling of nostalgia at its passing and the end of its archaic code. One particular scene between Ace and Junior, when they get drunk together in a deserted railway station, makes that manifest: Peckinpah is saddened that modernity and corporate capitalism are swamping the rugged individualism represented by the rodeo lifestyle, but is archly aware of the limitations of that lifestyle too. Still, the rodeo scenes are shot with characteristic energy, and at times the obvious use of stunt doubles and odd angles, in addition to trademark slo-mo and freeze frames, makes these sequences feel almost abstract, impressionist montages designed more to represent a philosophy than tell a story. After all, the future is a bucking bronco that even the strongest of us can only ride for so long before being thrown. [B]


The Getaway” (1972)
There’s hardboiled, and then there’s “The Getaway.” Based on a novel by pulp godfather Jim Thompson, whose script was rewritten by titan of cinematic masculinity Walter Hill, directed by the never-knowingly-nice Peckinpah, starring a McQueen firmly in the midst of a cocaine-soaked marriage breakdown, and a miscast Ali McGraw who simply can’t balance out all the gushing testosterone, this is a slick package expertly tooled and scored (by Quincy Jones), to be a boys-night hit. And on that level, it succeeds, then as now. The most profitable of all Peckinpah’s films to that point, it was a rebound from the disappointing reception of his softer hearted McQueen-starrer “Junior Bonner” and follows Doc, a newly released ex-con and his wife as they go on the run after a botched heist leaves them carrying the loot. Pursued by cannon-fodder cops and a variety of goons led by the repellent Rudy (Al Letteria), it culminates in a bloodbath in El Paso and a tender reconciliation for the by-then real-life lovers, but not before their road trip’s many detours have amassed quite a body count. Given its pedigree, it’s almost strange that it isn’t quite top-tier Peckinpah —aside from an impressively evocative opening that cross cuts between Doc’s last days in prison and his reunion with his wife, this is mostly a straight-up action/heist film. The staples are there —stunningly edited montages, patented slo-mo bullet ballets and a blank disregard for the lives of minor characters (witness the poor sap dentist who hangs himself in shame over his wife’s flagrant affair with Rudy). But despite all that, Peckinpah feels curiously recessive as a presence here, and the result is probably some of his smoothest but also most anonymous prime-era work. [B]


Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid” (1973)
Peckinpah intended “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid,” to be a grandly demythologizing take on the two famous outlaws, but it proved to be one of the bleakest experiences of his career: with his drinking at something close to a peak and clashing once again with the studio (MGM, this time), the film was taken away from him, cut heavily, and poorly received. “Peckinpah attempted to have his name removed from ‘Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid,’ wrote Roger Ebert at the time , “I sympathized with him,” while star James Coburn claimed “The MGM cut really blew my mind, it was really fucking terrible. It made me sick, after all the anguish of making the fucking thing.” Its reputation only began to be restored when a preview cut of the film resurfaced in 1988, and even in that form, it feels somewhat compromised, whether from interference or through Peckinpah’s own doing. But what remains is nevertheless a deeply distinctive and utterly, utterly sad picture that proves hard to shake. Coburn and Kris Kristofferson play the title characters, with the former out to bring in the latter, a story that echoes many of Peckinpah’s oaters. But the tone is quite different, with the elegiac bleakness of “The Wild Bunch” turned up to eleven, and a sort of counter-culture existential comedown feel (aided in part by the music from Bob Dylan, who also cameos) that makes the film stand alone even among the revisionist Westerns that were starting to emerge at the time. The expansive cast are all excellent, but it’s Coburn’s movie: the second of his three collaborations with the director is easily his best, and arguably the best he ever gave. Utterly misread at the time, it’s now catching up to “The Wild Bunch” as the most influential of the director’s films on a new wave of filmmakers, with modern-day classics like “I’m Not There” and “The Assassination Of Jesse James” paying explicit homage. [A-]


“Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia” (1974)
According to Peckinpah, ‘Alfredo Garcia’ was his only film to be released exactly as he wanted it. And to watch it is to wonder how anyone could possibly have attempted to tame something so bizarre, even if they’d wanted to. It’s the outlandish, surreal story of a barman called Bennie (Warren Oates in iconic perma-shades) who sees a way out of his squalid circumstances when two hitmen (Robert Webber and Gig Young in roles that homage “The Killers,” from Don Siegel, Peckinpah’s early mentor) commission him to find the eponymous Garcia, who has a bounty on him. Bennie’s prostitute girlfriend Elita (a terrific Isela Vega) not only had slept with Garcia, but she knows he is already dead, and so the couple go to find his grave —it’s a loved-up road trip interrupted when a pair of bikers (Kris Kristofferson playing one) attempt to rape Elita, and become the first of many people killed. But it’s only after that, when Bennie is knocked unconscious and wakes up half-buried with Elita dead beside him, that things start to get really odd. If some of Peckinpah’s films are analogous to a “Moby Dick” narrative, ‘Alfredo Garcia’ feels like what happens after the white whale is caught and the real cost of the pursuit is revealed. Bennie responds by essentially losing his mind, talking to Garcia’s disembodied, rotting, fly-infested head and embarking on a bloody rampage of vengeance. Contemporary critics loathed it, which seems inconceivable to those of us who admire controlled lunacy more than perhaps any other quality of Peckinpah’s, especially when that control threatens constantly to give way to the terrifying all-out insanity that snarls around the edges of this uniquely deranged film. [A-]


“The Killer Elite” (1975)
Sandwiched between two idiosyncratic, brilliant films that were trashed on release for all the wrong reasons, there’s “The Killer Elite” which has been overlooked for all the right ones. It’s not that it’s a terrible film, although the racism and misogyny of its central characters is almost more objectionable than elsewhere because of how offhand and casual it feels. But “The Killer Elite,” which stars James Caan (who allegedly introduced Peckinpah to cocaine on set) and Robert Duvall as the old Peckinpah staple of a pair of male buddies (we can tell because they banter about prostitutes with vaginal infections) who find themselves on opposite sides of some code, is among his most listless works. This was possibly because reportedly most of it was directed by assistants after Peckinpah retreated to his trailer in a coke-addled paranoiac huff due to not being allowed to change the script to his liking (the first time that had happened since his debut film). The story of an “intelligence contractor” (Caan), for which read “hired muscle for a private firm employed to do off-the-books assignments for the government” whose partner (Duvall) double crosses him, feels desultory, and is not helped by how little screen time the “Godfather” duo actually shares. There’s a long digression as Caan recuperates, a montage where he learns martial arts, and then a quite dull plotline about a Chinese client who needs protection but whom wily old Duvall also has his sights on. The most fun is probably had by the invaluable Burt Young as Caan’s later sidekick, but even he and Monte Hellman on editing duty can’t inject much life into this rote story (turns out the corruption goes right to the top!). It feels like nobody making it really cared about “The Killer Elite,” so why should we? [C]


“Cross of Iron” (1977)
A despairingly nihilist film, again wrestled out of a difficult shoot marred by personality clashes, cost overruns and Peckinpah’s increasingly volatile behavior, his sole World War II movie is probably the preeminent neglected masterpiece in his catalogue. Set within a company of German soldiers during the beginning of the German retreat from Soviet Russia, the film is less about Nazi atrocity (aside from the visceral and chilling documentary footage that frames the opening and closing credits while a choir of children sing a naive folk song) or even Nazi-Soviet aggression than it is about internal division in the armed forces, class conflict and the oppositional ideologies that men fighting and dying on ostensibly the same side can display. James Coburn, giving Peckinpah another of his best-ever performances, plays the rough-hewn Sergeant Steiner, who loathes the officer class, even the more “enlightened” variety, here represented by James Mason‘s Colonel Brandt and David Warner‘s decent but debilitatingly defeatist Captain Kiesler. They are joined by ruthlessly ambitious aristocrat Captain Stransky (Maximilian Schell) whose sole aim is to win an Iron Cross, despite the fact that he is as craven and corrupt a soldier as Steiner is brave and respected. As engrossing as the story is, “Cross of Iron” is also formally brilliant, displaying some of Peckinpah’s most lucid filmmaking, from the crisp Kubrickian sequence in which a convalescing Steiner hallucinates a whole party on a deserted verandah, to the tortuously long battle sequences —it’s as visceral and authentic as anything he ever shot. Released to massive disinterest the same year as “Star Wars,” it’s Peckinpah’s last great film and is more known now for its influence on other titles, notably Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” But “Cross of Iron” is an infinitely cleverer, sharper and more scathing film, a dazzling, dazing critique of war and its mythmaking power over masculine identity. [A]


“Convoy” (1978)
There is basically no justice in this world, which is the only way to account for the fact that “Convoy,” by some 18-wheeler big-rig distance the absolute daftest of Peckinpah’s films, and the very least Peckinpah-esque, should be his most financially successful. Designed with some justification to cash in on the brief, inexplicable box office dominance of “Smokey and the Bandit” and the trucker culture in vogue in the U.S. for a short time, it stars a frequently shirtless Kris Kristofferson, a sultry, cropped-haired Ali McGraw and a fuming, gurning Ernest Borgnine in a story so slight it feels like a single, underdeveloped episode of a TV show, right down to those cheapie yellow opening credits (and credit sequences in Peckinpah films otherwise are almost invariably fascinating). That said, it’s certainly possible to see why the film could have been a hit: it’s a breezy anthem to blue-collar non-conformity with a couple of pretty decent stunt sequences, usually at the expense of Borgnine’s doggedly malevolent sheriff who wants to run The Duck (Kristofferson), Pig Pen (Burt Young), Spider Mike (Franklin Ajaye), Widow Woman (Madge Sinclair) and the rest of the ever-increasing convoy off the highway for no better reason than “I hate truckers.” And as ever with these last few films, there’s a reason it feels relatively anonymous; Peckinpah was on a steady decline in terms of his health and his worsening addictions, and much of the film was reportedly shot, uncredited, by his friend and regular star James Coburn. Word of Peckinpah’s disengagement got around (the budget doubling didn’t help either) and for the first time in his directorial career and with typical irony, he found himself unemployable in the immediate aftermath of the most successful film he’d ever make. [B-/C+]


The Osterman Weekend” (1983)
It’s rare that a director makes such an atypical film for his finale, and that Peckinpah’s should be such an oddly ambitious tangle only makes it more singular. Based on a Robert Ludlum novel that reportedly Peckinpah himself had little love for (he needed the work after three fallow years) and stacked with a terrific cast (Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Burt Lancaster, Dennis Hopper, Craig T. Nelson, Chris Sarandon), it’s the convoluted story of CIA agent Fassett (Hurt) trying to get a ring of suspected American Soviet agents (Hopper, Nelson, Sarandon) to defect at the behest of a superior (Lancaster) whom he’s unaware condoned the assassination of his wife. Fassett approaches the suspects’ old friend Tanner (Hauer), a firebrand TV interviewer with a shaky marriage to help turn them, but why this should also involve a massive closed circuit TV operation, the kidnap of Tanner’s wife and child and the faked decapitation of their dog is never adequately explained. Still, although you can almost palpably sense that Peckinpah’s ailing heart isn’t wholly in it, there are flashes of his erstwhile filmmaking brio beneath a nicely sleazy Lalo Schifrin score, though how much of that survived the re-edit after the first cut was deemed near-incomprehensible is hard to say. What truly sinks “The Osterman Weekend” is a surfeit of plot, for which Peckinpah, a master of the minimalist, lean, linear narrative, was just not well suited, and there’s a sense that his bandana-wearing wildman instincts are being throttled right down to deliver this indoorsy story of pallid men watching TV sets. With Peckinpah dying the following year, this film amounting to his swan song feels a bit like the ironic/tragic fulfillment of the prophecy of so many of his better titles —that the old, blunt-but-honest way of life must always cede to a kind of effete modernity with which it is ill-equipped to deal. [C+]

The Peckinpah season runs through April 7th at the Film Society of Lincoln Center .

–with Oli Lyttelton

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