The Wild Bunch

Details At A Glance

Category Western Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1969 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 138:42 minutes Other Extras Biographies - Cast & Crew
Documentary - The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage (33 mins)
RSDL/Flipper Flipper (92:40)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 4 Director Sam Peckinpah

Warner Home Video
Starring William Holden 
Ernest Borgnine 
Robert Ryan 
Edmond O'Brien 
Warren Oates
RRP $29.95 Music Jerry Fielding

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Regarded by some as perhaps the best western ever made, indeed perhaps one of the best film ever made, this is undoubtedly Sam Peckinpah's defining masterpiece. Yet, if you were to press the point, exactly what makes this such a great film? Probably its defining characteristic is that despite being ostensibly an action film, and there is plenty of that, ultimately this is a character driven film.

    So exactly how do you boil down The Wild Bunch into a short synopsis? Ultimately this is the story of old desperadoes caught in the shift from the wild west to civilization, set on the US/Mexico border at the turn of the century. Led by Pike Bishop (William Holden), and also comprising Dutch Angstrom (Ernest Borgnine), Lyle Gorch (Warren Oates) and Freddy Sykes (Edmond O'Brien), the bunch is being pursued by bounty hunters hired by the railroad and led by Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan). They duly respond to a setup of the railroad in a small town involving a reputedly large sum of cash, where they are ambushed by the bounty hunters. Whilst the gang broadly speaking survives the ambush, which also seems to kill a significant portion of the local population, it becomes the focus of the failure to land that last one big job before retirement - especially after they discover that all they got for their troubles were a few bags of washers. In search of the last big job, they come across Mapache and agree to rob a shipment of U.S. Army ordnance for the General. In the end, though they did the job, their code of honour dictates that they give up everything to try and save one of their band taken by the General for purloining a case of rifles for his villagers.

    This turns out to be a great film highlighted by some superb performances by some of the doyens of films of the sixties. William Holden and Ernest Borgnine are superb as desperadoes caught in a changing world, whilst Robert Ryan gives a great performance as the bounty hunter. Famed for the direction of Sam Peckinpah and the brilliant cinematography of Lucien Ballard (1969 winner of the Best Cinematography award from the National Society of Film Critics), this is a director's cut restoring some of the cuts made before theatrical release and generally restoring the film to a state not seen for some time.

Transfer Quality


    Thirty years on, and this is definitely showing the ravages of time, despite the best efforts of Warners in the restoration.

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and with 16x9 enhancement.

    Despite the restoration, this remains a problematic transfer. The biggest problem seems to be a lack of definition in the print, which I found quite disturbing at times. Obviously, some allowance has to be made for a thirty year old print, but this is still a little worse than I would have expected. Shadow detail is also somewhat inconsistent, although this may also be a reflection of the style used by the director.

    This is definitely not a colour fest, and the colours are quite muted, although consistently so. This is not a mastering problem but very much a reflection of the style of the film and the location. The image is also a little bit over bright which gives a little glossy sheen to the picture, which some may have a little trouble adjusting to.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts, but film-to-video artefacts were very prevalent throughout the film. Whilst there was nothing really major, there is a constant shimmering throughout the film that becomes quite noticeable on occasions. Film artefacts were also very, very prevalent during the film, and at times were very distracting, even for a film of this age.

    We have another dreaded flipper on our hands here, with the break coming at 92:40. It is very disappointing that Warners have chosen to inflict this great film with such a poor option and obviously we would have much preferred a RSDL format disc.


    This version of the film provides a brand new 5.1 remastered soundtrack, and clearly Warners have gone to some trouble with the film. Which makes it all the more of a pity to report that there are some problems with the soundtrack.

    There is only the one soundtrack on the DVD, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times.

    There may be some audio sync problems on the DVD, as on a couple of very brief occasions the dialogue seemed to be a very slightly off to the film. It was not serious and did not really detract from the film, and may only affect those with Pioneer players - at least the DV-515.

    The score provided by Jerry Fielding copped an Oscar nomination in 1970, indicating the quality on offer. It is a very compelling soundtrack that really contributes to the on screen action, especially during the dynamic action sequences. However, for me the highlight was the at times quite subtle atmosphere the score gave the film.

    The main problem with the soundtrack is that it is not especially well balanced, with the rear channels seemingly being almost unused. The balance is very front and central, but even that is a little inconsistent and at times it almost sounds as if the soundtrack drops to a straight mono track through the centre speaker. The resultant sound picture is quite unnatural, which does not help the film too much.

    The other problem is that the bass has been quite aggressively mixed into the soundtrack, and becomes quite thunderous at times. Whilst many will have no complaint with that, my views on the subject should by now be well known. The result is that somewhat unnatural sound picture is reinforced.


    What distinguishes the extras package is the presence of the documentary, as there is very little else on offer.


    A fairly standard unanimated and quite plain Warners effort.

Documentary - "The Wild Bunch - An Album in Montage"

    This 33 minute effort is a very worthwhile extra, that provides a great insight into the making of the film and of the way Sam Peckinpah worked. Nominated for an Oscar in 1997 (for Best Documentary, Short Subject), be warned that the quality of the archival film is not the best. Presented full frame with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, with an English subtitle option.

Cast & Crew Biographies

R4 vs R1

The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on: Given the video problems with the enhanced version, I would not wish to see the unenhanced, NTSC version: Region 4 would clearly be the way to go in this instance.


    The Wild Bunch is undoubtedly a great film (although in all honesty I could not say it was amongst my best of all time) and is a worthwhile addition to any collection even with the transfer problems. Just a shame that it is a flipper instead of a RSDL format DVD.

    Overall video quality is pretty decent, allowing for the age of the film.

    Overall the audio quality is perhaps not as good as we would have expected, but still acceptable.

    The extras on offer are not over the top, but the documentary makes up for a lot of deficiency elsewhere.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
16th September 1999

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL