Sam Peckinpah (Official MoFo's Discussion Thread)


SAM PECKINPAH(February 21, 1925 December 28, 1984)

Have seen couple of his movies over the years.. & I can now easily say he is turning out to be one of my favourite directors.
Haven't seen all his movies yet though, but I am certainly working on it.


Never heard of him.


"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra

But seriously...

Obviously Sam is one of my favorites.

The Deadly Companions, C
Ride the High Country, B-
Major Dundee, C
The Wild Bunch, A+
The Ballad of Cable Hogue, A
Straw Dogs, B
Junior Bonner, B-
The Getaway, B
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, B+
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, A-
The Killer Elite, C-
Cross of Iron, B-
Convoy, F
The Osterman Weekend, C+


The Wild Bunch is a masterpiece and the movie that made his reputation and legend. But he was already forty-four when that film hit, and it culminated a period in the middle 1960s when after toiling in television and finally getting his chance in features he had been fired off of a couple pictures (The Glory Guys and The Cincinnati Kid) and nearly came to blows with star Chuck Heston on Major Dundee, so it looked like he may have been on his way out of the business completely. I think Sam made several very good films after Bunch, but his abuse of alcohol and cocaine put him on a steady downward spiral, leaving him dead at fifty-eight with a decidedly uneven and small filmography.

The Wild Bunch speaks for itself, and while extreme balletic violence is what his name is most associated with, for me two of his best films are much more gentle character studies that don't fit into that box: The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner.

"Ain't had no water since yesterday, Lord. Gettin' a little thirsty. Just thought I'd mention it. Amen."

The Ballad of Cable Hogue

Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) is a two-bit roustabout who is left for dead in the middle of the unforgiving desert by his two unscrupulous riding partners (Strother Martin & L.Q. Jones). Rather than give up he keeps walking until he lucks upon a muddy little bit of a natural spring in the middle of sagebrush and punishing heat. Luck or divine providence? The water saves his life that day, and then Hogue gets himself an enterprising idea: with no other water for miles and miles, he's stumbled upon the perfect location for a stagecoach stop. He meets a fallen, lascivious preacher (David Warner) who is also wandering the desert, and Cable goes about the task of getting a loan in town and starting his business. He also meets the genre's hooker with a heart of gold (Stella Stevens) who he treats with equal parts lust, love, and non-judgment. And so Cable finds a little piece of paradise for himself on the plains.

This was Peckinpah's follow-up to his widely and rightfully praised masterpiece The Wild Bunch, and it's nearly as good...and completely different. There is a little bit of gunplay and some rattlesnakes, but this is not a mediation on violence but on redemption. It's essentially a character-based comedy with a bit of satire in a Western setting and definitely a great movie, with one of Robards' most endearing and memorable roles of his long career (which is saying a lot).

"Breaker, breaker. This here's the Rubber Duck."

So Convoy is that bad, huh?

I think Convoy is "that bad", yeah. It was also recut by the producer, Michael Deeley. Not that I think there was probably anything worthy in anybody's cut, but at least you could have said it was completely Sam's failure on his own terms had it stood as it was. Though I don't think Sam really gave a damn at that point. It's ridiculous material to begin with, trying to turn C. W. McCall's novelty Country song into a movie. There simply wasn't enough of a story there to stretch it into anything at all compelling.

Sam tried to take the material seriously, getting to know truckers and the CB radio culture that was a bit of a fad at the time. But this idea of the trucker as outlaw hero wronged by the over-the-top villainy of law enforcement who hated them was just too damn silly to play as the kind of updated Western the script and Sam were clearly going for. The pseudo-philosophical musings and posturings in the middle of this testosterone-driven nonsense makes it even worse. Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds had the right idea with the megahit Smokey & the Bandit (1977); play it for laughs instead of trying to wrench drama out of such trite material.

It was also probably miscast. I like Kristofferson on screen just fine and think he's done some good work, but here for a character that spends most of the time talking in the cab of a truck he's too stoic. And Ali MacGraw, who was never much of an actress, is really dead weight here. They both LOOK great, at the tanned height of their physical sexiness (although MacGraw's mini-fro hairdo is less than flattering). They both worked with Sam before and clearly were doing him a favor, but the script gives them nothing to do and neither has the kind of natural personalty that might have infused some much needed wit or energy into the albatross of that thin story and cardboard characters.

It's photographed well by Harry Stradling Jr. (Little Big Man, There Was a Crooked Man, Bite the Bullet) and if trucks are your thing the flick is practically pornography full of glamorous money shots of big rigs rolling on dusty highways and desert landscapes. There are a couple decent stunts, I suppose, but the flick is so relentlessly dumb yet devoid of any fun that it is nearly impossible to enjoy.

But, you know, to each their own.

will.15's Avatar
Semper Fooey
I would rate Ride the High Country a lot higher than a B minus. I think it is his second best film, a near masterpiece with a great send off for two veteran actors with many of the same themes of The Wild Bunch. His last movie, The Osterman Weekend, is practically incoherent. The plot makes no sense at all.

*the message Peckinpah got from all the producers he worked with at the end of his career

The Osterman Weekend

Troubled production that was to be Sam's "comeback" and wound up as his last feature before his death. After the financial duds of Cross of Iron and Convoy mixed with Sam's reputation as a drunken Hellion who hated Studios and producers (pretty fair and well-earned rep in many ways, actually) he was essentially unemployable in the late '70s and into the 1980s. He was a living legend, largely a critical darling and esteemed by other directors and actors, but nobody would hire him. As far as the completion bond companies especially were concerned, he was an uninsurable risk. But a couple of independent producers who had the rights to a lesser Robert Ludlum book very much wanted him.

Adapted from the Ludlum novel of the same name, it's a contrived piece about paranoia, betrayal and espionage that has an interesting tone and all-star cast but never comes together. Peckinpah's name coupled with Ludlum's netted burgeoning star Rutger Hauer and Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster, and with those names attached the cast quickly added John Hurt, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon, Helen Shaver, Craig T. Nelson, Meg Foster and Cassie Yates. The story involves the CIA, an apparent nest of Russian spies, sophisticated surveillance, forced complicity, and revenge. The bulk of the film takes place in a single house (shades of Straw Dogs), pitting the characters against each other in a confined space as secrets and truths are slowly exposed, leading to a bloody and explosive conclusion.

The R1 Anchor Bay two-disc DVD has a nice retrospective documentary with just about the entire cast (minus Lancaster and Hopper) and the producers, detailing some of the behind-the-scenes chaos and fun of the shoot, as well as Sam's original cut of the film plus a good audio commentary track by a few Peckinpah scholars. Looking at either cut, the flick is definitely more than a bit of a mess and too convoluted to play very consistently, but while very far from any kind of lost masterpiece is pretty memorable and has plenty of good elements, despite its many flaws. Disappointing and less than the sum of its parts, yet still you'd have to say a better way to go out, all things considered, than Convoy.

will.15's Avatar
Semper Fooey
Osterman is actually well directed with good performances by the three leading actors. The problem is the script. It starts well, but with each revelation and twist it just goes deeper into screwy land.. Either the Ludlum novel wasn't worth filming or Peckinpah should have shot the screenwriters.

Cross of Iron is a pretty good movie, but who thought from a commercial standpoint it was a good idea to make a World War II with the entire focus on German officers?

The Getaway

Adapted from pulp master Jim Thompson's novel by Walter Hill, The Getaway is perhaps Sam's most accessible and satisfying picture, a crowd-pleasing genre flick with a great iconic movie star turn by McQueen, a fantastic supporting cast, and just enough of Peckinpah's trademark flourishes in the action scenes and character moments to keep it interesting. It was the biggest hit, box office-wise, Sam ever had, the eighth highest grossing domestic picture of 1972. It's pretty straightforward, following a proficient bank robber bailed out of prison to pull a heist, double crossed by his employer and accomplices, then makes his way to the border while being pursued by gun-toting psychos, all with his wife in tow.

Ali MacGraw, as I said earlier, is not much of an actress, but she was certainly easy on the eyes in her day and The Getaway has to be her best performance. Her on-screen chemistry with McQueen was palpable, and while the story has them at odds for much of the picture, when the cameras weren't rolling the co-stars of course were falling in love (much to the consternation of producer, Studio boss and then-husband Robert Evans). The supporting cast was spot-on: Ben Johnson fresh off his Oscar for The Last Picture Show, Richard Bright, Bo Hopkins, Dub Taylor, Sally Struthers, Slim Pickens and the awesome Al Lettieri, the same year he rose to prominence as Sollozzo in The Godfather.

For my taste anyway it's a little too straightforwad to put it in the very top pantheon of Peckinpah's greatest cinematic achievements, but it has some terrific set pieces, especially the final battle at the hotel, and is plenty of fun. Compared to The Killer Elite and The Osterman Weekend, which were needlessly silly and contrived, it is great to see Sam groove to one that is perhaps a bit less ambitious narrative-wise but definitely delivers the goods. The 1994 remake, directed by Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, White Sands) and starring then real-life husband and wife Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, is often maligned, especially by Peckinpah fans. But for this admirer of Bloody Sam, I like the remake just fine (it also has a great supporting cast, including James Woods, Michael Madsen, David Morse, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Tilly and Richard Farnsworth). Perhaps that's because I don't revere the original as a masterpiece, rather as a great artist working as a craftsman in a solid but less than amazing genre piece?

I know it's just me, but I wish he had stuck to the original ending of Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia.

Not that I had a problem with the one they filmed... but I would have preferred the one that was originally written.

Just saw The Ballad of Cable Hogue. & I can easily say that as of now this is my favourite Peckinpah movie..

Now I have yet to watch the following:
The Deadly Companions
Ride the High Country
Straw Dogs
Junior Bonner
The Osterman Weekend

I know that's a lot of movies pending to label him as my favourite director. But I can't help it, I have not enjoyed a director's work so much as I enjoy his movies.

Please Quote/Tag Or I'll Miss Your Responses
I watched three movies of his when I was 17. I found him to be more interesting than his movies! I like The Getaway because of the rare truth you see, that chasing all that money is like chasing yourself, and being chased by others. In other words, it's not worth what you robbed. The Wild Bunch has a great cast, but the first two times seeing "Straw Dogs" I didn't like it - I think because it's so dark, so I saw it again about 10 years and had the same feeling until I saw it today - amazing film.

I just saw an interview of him on youtube (it's the only one longer than 5 minutes I believe) and the interviewer was the worst (proper empty suit with an English accent) - seemed to be a little rat, and would reply with "The Swedish director?" to assure the cameras he knows what Sam is talking about, but not engaging.

I've actually only seen three: Straw Dogs, The Wild Bunch and The Getaway. Thought i had seen more for some reason. Loved the first two and The Getaway was alright.

Please Quote/Tag Or I'll Miss Your Responses
In order... Have a few more to watch.

Straw Dogs - 8/10
Ride The High Country - 8/10
The Getaway - 7.5/10
The Ballad of Cable Hogue - 5/10
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - 5/10
The Deadly Companions - 4.5/10

I don't like reading too much, but I heard something, somewhere about a movie in one setting, about Nazi officers (Iron Cross, Osterman?)

Please Quote/Tag Or I'll Miss Your Responses
I absolutely love The of my guilty pleasures that I NEVER tire of re-watching.
I haven't saw it in a long time, but it seems to be his most accessible. I like the message I got... How it isn't worth putting your life constantly at risk (death or prison) for money when everything you need is right in front of you.