The Wild Bunch (1969)

Source: Warner Bros: DVD, 2010.

Year: 1969

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Action Stars

Ernest Borgnine

Emilio Fernández

William Holden

Bo Hopkins

Ben Johnson

L.Q. Jones

Strother Martin

Warren Oates

Edmond O’Brien

Robert Ryan

Jaime Sánchez

Genre: Western

Country: United States

Story Duration: 02:23:42

Act Duration:

1st Act: 00:36:26

2nd Act: 00:35:27

3rd Act: 00:37:03

4th Act: 00:34:43

Plot Turns:

1st: Pike and Deke’s backstory revealed

2nd: Pike’s gang departs for arms heist

3rd: Mapache agrees to Pike’s terms

ASD Ratio: 65%

AAD Ratios:

1st Act: 65%

2nd Act: 46%

3rd Act: 85%

4th Act: 80%

Action Structure: 2143

Action Scenarios









Speed (Dragging Variant)

Total Action Moments: 38

1. Narrative progression and control of machine gun
– Ernst using the weapon.
2. Tector usurps control of the weapon and fires at the increasing numbers of troops.
3. Lyle uses the machine gun while seriously wounded.
4. Pike’s last stand.
Action Structure

Notable Action Sequence: Battle of the Bloody Porch

Duration: 00:09:53

Act: 4th

Action Scenarios:


Fall (Speed Variant)





Despite being a late entry into the western genre, given its long history, The Wild Bunch (1969) manifests action scenario variations revealing how they are shaped by genre. Amongst the most notable of these is the dragged-by-a-horse stunt, a variation of the speed scenario, that often showcases its danger for both stuntperson and character. The stunt receives further variation in the film when Angel is inhumanely dragged by an automobile as punishment from General Mapache. In addition to these genre-specific action scenario variations, the film also features the speed scenario in the form of horseback riding as well as the steam locomotive, forms of speed arising from the genre’s historical setting.

The iconic place of the automobile and the train in the film, and more broadly the genre, also underscores one of its central themes, namely the presentation of the historical period of the western at the onset of modernity. Not only does modernity introduce transformational technologies into the film, but it also displaces the central characters of Pike Bishop’s outlaw gang as relics of the past.

This theme figures prominently in the climactic Battle of the Bloody Porch sequence. Normally, rescue projects occur at the start of the 4th act, but the decision to rescue Angel is deferred midway, as the gang collectively comes to a moral decision of redemption that will likely entail their death. The decision makes them heroes by acting on the welfare of another gang member, but also reveals how modernity in the film shifts moral values away from the protection of communities, which are depicted for the most part as not worth saving, to a stance that is restricted to the collective welfare of the outlaw group. This decision is enacted with Pike’s order to Tector and Lyle to “Let’s go.”, an accord that Dutch also wordlessly understands as he joins the gang. In union, they march towards Mapache’s compound initiating the action sequence.

Modernity makes its presence in the ensuing battle through the centrality of the heavy machine gun, a new and lethal weapon, which structures the progression of the sequence. At first, the machine gun is operated by Ernst, a German military advisor, who is then shot by Tector causing the weapon to swing wildly and fire upon Mapache’s troops [Figure 1]. Tector takes charge of the machine gun, shooting down soldiers as they advance toward the porch, suggesting that control of the weapon will bring ascendency to Pike’s gang during the battle [Figure 2]. Yet countless troops continue to fire on the gang, while Dutch tosses grenades at the arriving masses, another weapon of modernity. Eventually, Tector is shot repeatedly and loses control of the machine gun motivating his brother Lyle to take his turn with the weapon. But he is soon shot multiple times as well, firing the machine gun while seriously injured and yelling in pain [Figure 3]. Ascendency then begins to turn towards the side of the invading Mapache troops as the battle becomes an attrition of the gang’s ability to combat superior numbers. Pike watches with concern as Tector and Lyle are shot down before his eyes, motivating him to operate the weapon and fire at the remaining troops in his last stand [Figure 4]. But the action is short-lived as Pike is shot by a boy with a rifle and other Mapache soldiers. Pike and Dutch die together, thus marking the end of the sequence and the figurative end of the western outlaw.

 Buscombe, Edward. 1988. “Dragged by a Horse” in The BFI Companion to The Western. London: BFI.

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