Wild Bunch, The: Impact of Peckinpah on the Western Genre

Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 masterful epic The Wild Bunch had a huge impact, both within and without the film industry. For one thing, it singlehandedly revitalized the Western genre.

The movie launched a whole cycle of some interesting films, including “A Man Called Horse” (1970), in which the consciousness of a noble Englishman (wonderfully played by Richard Harris) is reawakened after staying among the Sioux Indians.

The hero of “Little Big Man” (1970) is a veteran of the Old West (Dustin Hoffman), who grows up in his adoptive Cheyenne family and shuttles back and forth between white and Indian cultures. The film takes a mock-heroic approach to its hero’s identity crisis, mixing irony and pathos. “Little Big Man” was the first film to cast an Indian actor, Chief Dan George, in a major role, as Old Lodge Skin, Hoffman’s grandfather. And it was also the first to portray General Custer as a caricature: the narrative climaxes with his foolish defeat at the Little Big Horn.

Paying tribute to Indians’ rights and acknowledging their culture also characterized “Soldier Blue” (1970), based on the novel Arrow in the Sun. At its center is a white girl (Candice Bergen), who becomes critical of American culture after being abducted by, and living with, the Cheyenne. Both films offered parallels with Vietnam in their treatment of the deliberate policy of exterminating Indians. They suggested that in their insensitivity and brutality, the white massacres against the Indians were similar to the My Lai and other massacres in Vietnam.