Sam Peckinpah, AKA Bloody Sam, is one of the most iconic directors in history. His distinct style came through the realistic, and often times repulsive, portrayal of violence and gore. Peckinpah was quoted saying “Killing a man isn’t clean and quick and simple. It’s bloody and awful.” That quote is all anyone needs before stepping into one of Peckinpah’s films for the first time.
The beginning of his career started with modest sized Westerns until 1965 when he first kind of came into his own with Major Dundee. Major Dundee reigned in two significant traits that would become consistent with all of his later films: 1) It was controversially violent and 2) it was his first clash with the studios.
Peckinpah was notorious for being hard to work with due to a pretty bad alcohol addiction (and later, drug addiction) he developed in the 60s. Studios would frequently edit down Peckinpah’s films for his graphic portrayal of sex and violence. On top of that, Sam would often send in cuts of his films that came in far over 3 hours long. The studios felt they didn’t have a choice in editing down his films and this became a consistent barrier for Sam Peckinpah throughout the rest of his career.
The films we talk about this week kick off with The Wild Bunch, the film that revolutionized the Western genre and put Sam Peckinpah on the map. That jumpstarted a pretty prominent few years for Peckinpah as he became one of the most sought after new directors. He went on to direct other classic and controversial films such as Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, which we’ve talked about in previous retrospectives here on Mandalay (70s British Cinema & Acid Westerns)!
Peckinpah had plenty of amazing films throughout his time, but you start to see that come the mid 70s onward, it was really hit or miss. His last few films in particular, with the exception of Cross of Iron, are all complete messes. These were all at the height of Peckinpah’s alcohol and substance abuse and by the end of the 70s, he became blacklisted and didn’t work again for 5 years when he closed his career out with by far his worst film, The Osterman Weekend. I think these 7 films do a good job at showing Peckinpah’s range as filmmaker. Enjoy and comment your favorite down below!