Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film

When Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch hit movie screens 50 years ago, it revolutionized the western genre. In contrast to family-friendly films like True Grit and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, The Wild Bunch shocked and divided critics and moviegoers with its outrageous slow-motion scenes of violence. W.K. Stratton (Dreaming of Sam Peckinpah) details how Peckinpah's seminal and visceral film originated and how the amped-up violence reflected the country's mood during the Vietnam War and college protests. Moreover, it explores ways the film challenged and overcame limitations enforced on 1960s filmmakers.

Stratton offers concise and perceptive background information on the explosive director's earlier career. When Lee Marvin dropped out of the movie shortly before filming began, the filmmakers convinced William Holden to join Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Edmund O'Brien and Warren Oates as the aging group of outlaws and bounty hunters hoping to make one final score by robbing a U.S. army train. Peckinpah and Holden were known as blackout drinkers, but both swore off alcohol during the shooting. Stratton does an outstanding job highlighting the essential contributions of composer Jerry Fielding, cinematographer Lucien Ballard and editor Lou Lombardo.

Stratton loves The Wild Bunch (he succinctly writes, "I've never seen a better movie"), but this is not a gushing fan letter. Stratton's meticulous research, exhaustive interviews and scholarship all combine to create a fascinating portrait of a maverick filmmaker working at the top of his game and pushing the boundaries of moviemaking. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant