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Simply the Worst: Sam Peckinpah’s “The Osterman Weekend”

Simply the Worst: Sam Peckinpah's "The Osterman Weekend"

Sam Peckinpah hadn’t directed in five years when he was hired to direct the 1983 film The Osterman Weekend; and he’d be dead of a heart attack at a hard-ridden 59 before he got to direct another. Sam needed work in the early eighties—he’d been fired from Convoy during postproduction, capping a decade of cocaine, alcohol, paranoia, cost overruns, and diminishing returns—and it came in the form of this Robert Ludlum adaptation. With its catchy Cold War milieu, surveillance-culture sheen, and precariously hairpin plot, the film is more obviously topical than peak-period Peckinpah; the film’s sensationalism is a matter of its super-contemporary hook, rather than the more eternal, atavistic violence that was Peckinpah’s great subject.

David Weddle, in his invaluable Peckinpah biography If They Move . . . Kill ‘Em! , writes that the director “gritted his teeth” and turned in the product on time and on budget, despite fights with his producers. He wasn’t allowed to rewrite the script, or cast James Coburn, a proudly ornery bastard who’d sided with Sam in his fight against the producers of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid; he was granted a single preview screening for his cut of the film, which was full of near-subliminal self-parodic asides, and from which producers Peter Davis and Bill Panzer (later known for Highlander) unceremoniously trimmed half a reel or so. (Anchor Bay’s two-disc DVD does include Peckinpah’s preview version, taken from a low-quality video recording; I’ll be talking about the theatrical cut here, the compromised and interfered-with vision of which seems appropriate given the issue guidelines.) Reviews at the time ranged from the bemused to the flabbergasted, and if anyone’s made a passionate auteurist case for the film since, I guess I missed that article. Weddle does note, perhaps a little wryly, that the film did quite well in Europe and on the home-video market. Read Mark Asch’s entry in Reverse Shot’s “Simply the Worst” symposium.

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