‘The Walk’ is perhaps the most famous scene in The Wild Bunch (1969).
In it, William Holden and his band of ageing desperadoes load their guns before strolling slowly and knowingly to meet their fate.
Famously, the sequence very nearly didn’t exist. A spur of the moment decision by director Sam Peckinpah, the scene was hastily thrown together on-set. It has since gone on to assume classic status.
While it’s a justly famous moment, it’s the short, near wordless scene that immediately precedes it, which is my favourite scene. For me, it’s the most important scene in the film, providing both its emotional and thematic core.
|Mark Schilder via JoBlo|
The Wild Bunch is the story of a group of ageing outlaws. The old west is disappearing, being replaced by a world of motor cars, airplanes and railroads. The code of honour by which they’ve lived is increasingly strained by a modern, impersonal world. Their time, literally and figuratively, is running out.
These ideas underpin the scene. Holden (the Wild Bunch’s leader) and the Gorch brothers (played with lusty uncouthness by Ben Johnson and Warren Oates) are holed up in a brothel.
It is the morning after the bunch have tried to blot out their conscience with a night of whiskey and whoring. To save themselves, they’ve sold out Angel, one of their comrades in arms, to local tyrant General Mapache.
A weary, hung-over Holden struggles on with his boots. Across the room, a young prostitute smiles wanly. Nearby, her young child mewls quietly, further emphasising Holden’s advancing years.
In the background we hear Oates and Johnson bickering with a prostitute over the price they’d agreed on. Holden’s face appears to visibly age. A lifetime of regret flickers across it.
Holden hefts a tequila bottle in his hand. Weighing it as if it were the contents of his life. Unhappy with what he finds, he throws it angrily to the floor.
Holden walks into the adjoining room where the Gorch brothers are continuing their argument. A heavy silence follows. The Gorchs sense the profundity of this moment. Finally, Holden says, “Let’s go.”
It’s a simple line, but delivered with devastating effect. Holden has already spoken it multiple times throughout the film, but always with a different inflection. Here, it’s delivered with a heavy solemnity. The words imbued with the weight of a man who has resolved to make a final redemptive act. Even it if it is one that will ultimately end in his destruction.
Oates pauses for a few seconds, comprehension slowly dawning on his face. Finally he replies, “Why not.”
Walking outside they find Ernest Borgnine, who’s passing time whittling wood. No-one speaks. But Borgnine can read their expressions. Chuckling to himself, he begins to prepare – along with the others – to make ‘The Walk’.
Just four words have been spoken. Yet we’ve watched a scene rich with emotional complexity, and one on which the ending, indeed the whole film, pivots. It’s a tribute to the skill with which Peckinpah has drawn these characters that he can pull this scene off with such economy. And it’s all the more powerful for it.
What's your favorite scene from The Wild Bunch?
Wanna listen to Will discuss The Wild Bunch on The LAMBcast?
Editor's note - you probably noticed that the YouTube clip above doesn't quite match up to Will's post. It's heavy on "The Walk" portion and light on the segment that Will focuses on. Unfortunately, Will's original clip was removed from YouTube after he did his write up, possibly by some modern-day YouTube Mapache.