Infamously, when the Wild Bunch was first sceened, a critic rose up afterwards and said, ‘Why was this film made?’
The fate of the film was anything but oblivion, fortunately, because I love it; but I also like that story and I cannot stop myself from sharing it here to begin with. It is Sam Peckinpah’s best film and, regardless of that critic’s opinion, the Wild Bunch is one that has continued to find an audience long after its 1969 release. If you haven’t seen it, the film follows five outlaws as they try to make one last good score, aware that their time of living by a gun is coming to an end, and it is defined by the impotence the men feel in a world changing around them. It is a film that details the slow, but violent suicide of this small group of men as they seek to reclaim a moral code that they have long ago left. It is, in all truth, great, with excellent performances by William Holden and Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan in particular.
I first saw it years ago and it left it a great impression on me – perhaps, in fact, a larger one that I ever realised, actually, for as I watched the film last night with my girlfriend, I realised just how much William Holden’s character of Bishop Pike looked like my internal visualisation of Aned Heast, the Captain of the Spine, in the Godless.
Here’s a clip from towards the end of the film: there should be sound when they walk up to the compound, a kind of marching music, but it’s not here in the vid, but the important thing is you can hear him speak, and have a close up on that face and the blue eyes. You can’t tell here, but Pike has a gunshot wound in his leg, an old one that causes him to limp.
I hadn’t seen the film for years – I saw it last long before I wrote the Godless – so Heast’s mirroring of Holden in the book is an unconscious one. But the look of Holden here, and the leg that is amputated and replaced with a steel prosthetic for Heast must have been inspired in a subconscious way by Holden’s struggle with the injury (of course, Heast doesn’t have a mustache; no character in any of my books has a mustache, because though William Holden is doing fine with his, most men are not doing fine with theirs).
What this means, of course, is when people ask me to cast my book as a film, I will now say, ‘Bring William Holden up from the grave, you bastards!’