February 23, 2023


Brilliant Carnage: Sam Peckinpah's slow-motion bullet ballet (David Lehman, February 23, 2023, American Scholar)

The film is also a study in leadership. Pike Bishop leads the group by virtue of something more than the sum of his abilities and experience. Dutch is his loyal partner. Pike maintains his leadership despite the challenges mounted by brothers Lyle and Tector, who like doing things "in tandem"--watch the film to be in on that joke. When the brothers begrudge an equal share of any profits with Sykes and Angel, Pike spikes the rebellion: "I either lead this bunch or end it right now." Later, he articulates the group's ethic: "When you side with a man, you stay with him, and if you can't do that, you're like some animal, you're finished! We're finished! All of us!"

Pike, Dutch, Lyle and Tector mount their attack on Mapache, his ill-trained soldiers, and the Germans with whom they're in league because Mapache tortured and humiliated Angel, violated their creed, and insulted their self-respect. But there is another reason, one bordering on nihilism, for going into a battle in which the bandits know they will die. The unspoken question is: What else do they have to live for?

In its own way, it's the final film about the Houe Unamerican Affairs Committee and American Communism. The Bunch are mass-murderous nihilists.  Pike's admonition about comradeship mattering more than anything is an echo of Lillian Hellman, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions," and E.M. Forster, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." Robert Ryan's Deke is the tortured former comrade who has sided with the idealists, a la Elia Kazan or Whittaker Chambers. It makes a perfect companion piece with On the Waterfront. 

Posted by at February 23, 2023 8:01 AM