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FIL M ST U DIE S

Bliss
Peckinpah
“Peckinpah Today is evidence of Bliss’s reputation as an important Peckinpah

Peckinpah Today: New Essays on the Films of Sam Peckinpah


scholar, bringing together essays of the most significant writers and researchers
on this director and his work. This collection will immediately generate enthu-
siastic interest, as it covers substantial new ground. Peckinpah specialists, film

Today
scholars, fans, and buffs will all welcome this book.”
—Gabrielle Murray, senior lecturer in the Media and
Cinema Studies program, La Trobe University

W ritten exclusively for this collection by today’s leading Peckinpah critics,


the nine essays in Peckinpah Today explore the body of work of one of
America’s most important filmmakers, revealing new insights into his artistic
process and the development of his lasting themes. Edited by Michael Bliss, this
book provides groundbreaking criticism of Peckinpah’s work by illuminating
new sources, from modified screenplay documents to interviews with screenplay New Essays on the Films
of Sam Peckinpah
writers and editors.
Included is a rare interview with A. S. Fleischman, author of the screenplay
for The Deadly Companions, the film that launched Peckinpah’s career in feature
films. The collection also contains essays by scholar Stephen Prince and Paul
Seydor, editor of the controversial special edition of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
In an essay on Straw Dogs, film critic Michael Sragow reveals how Peckinpah and
co-scriptwriter David Zelag Goodman transformed a pulp novel into a powerful
film. The final essay of the collection surveys Peckinpah’s career, showing the
dark turn that the filmmaker’s artistic path took between his first and last films.
This comprehensive approach reinforces the book’s dawn-to-dusk approach, re-
sulting in a fascinating picture of a great filmmaker’s work.
 
A teacher of writing, literature, and cinema at Virginia Tech, Michael Bliss is the
author or editor of eight books of film criticism, including Justified Lives: Morality
and Narrative in the Films of Sam Peckinpah, Doing It Right: The Best Criticism
on Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch,” and Dreams within a Dream: The Films
of Peter Weir.

Cover illustrations: The ride out from Angel’s village in The Wild Bunch.

Printed in the United States of America


Southern Illinois University Press

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$29.95 usd
1915 university press drive isbn 0-8093-3106-3
isbn 978-0-8093-3106-2
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Edited with an Introduction by Michael Bliss
carbondale, il 62901
www.siupress.com

Bliss cvr mech.indd 1 4/2/12 10:55 AM


Peckinpah
Today
Peckinpah
Today
New Essays on the Films
of Sam Peckinpah

Edited with an Introduction by Michael Bliss

Southern Illinois University Press  /  Carbondale and Edwardsville


Copyright © 2012 by the Board of Trustees,
Southern Illinois University
“The Deadly Companions Revisited” copyright ©
Garner Simmons, 2011; “The Ballad of Divine Retri-
bution” copyright © Steven Lloyd, 2010; “From The
Siege of Trencher’s Farm to Straw Dogs: The Narrative
Brilliance of Sam Peckinpah” copyright © Michael
Sragow, 2012; “The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy
the Kid: Ethical Problems in Film Restoration” copy-
right © Stephen Prince, 2012; “The Authentic Death
and Contentious Afterlife of Pat Garrett and Billy the
Kid: The Several Versions of Peckinpah’s Last Western”
copyright © Paul Seydor, 2012.
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Peckinpah today : new essays on the films of Sam Peck-
inpah / edited with an introduction by Michael Bliss.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-8093-3106-2 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-8093-3106-3 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN-13: 978-0-8093-3107-9 (ebook)
ISBN-10: 0-8093-3107-1 (ebook)
1. Peckinpah, Sam, 1925–1984—Criticism and
interpretation. I. Bliss, Michael, 1947–
PN1998.3.P43P46 2012
791.4302'33092—dc23 2011036411

Printed on recycled paper.


The paper used in this publication meets the minimum
requirements of American National Standard for In-
formation Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed
Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
For Jeff Slater: Peckinpah archivist, gentleman, friend
Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted
deep in the personality. They have to be cultivated like
any other habit, over a long period of time, by experi-
ence. . . . The habit of art . . . is more than just a disci-
pline, although it is that; I think it is a way of looking at
the created world and of using the senses so as to make
them find as much meaning as possible in things.
—Flannery O’Connor, “Writing Short
Stories,” in Mystery and Manners
Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Introduction: Times Maybe, Not Them—


The Enduring Value of Sam Peckinpah’s Films
Michael Bliss  1

The Deadly Companions Revisited


Garner Simmons  6

Martyred Slaves of Time: Age, Regret, and


Transcendence in The Wild Bunch
Michael Bliss  36

The Ballad of Divine Retribution


Steven Lloyd  45

From The Siege of Trencher’s Farm to Straw Dogs:


The Narrative Brilliance of Sam Peckinpah 
Michael Sragow  69

The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid:


Ethical Problems in Film Restoration  
Stephen Prince  82

The Authentic Death and Contentious Afterlife


of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: The Several
Versions of Peckinpah’s Last Western
Paul Seydor  101

ix
Contents

Human Striving, Human Strife: Sam


Peckinpah and the Journey of the Soul
Cordell Strug  137

Peckinpah’s Last Testament: The Osterman Weekend


Tony Williams  147

Dawn and Dusk


Gérard Camy
translated by Jean-Paul Gabert  164

Bibliography  187
Contributors  191
Index  193

x
Illustrations

Billy in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid xiv


Yellowleg and Turk in The Deadly Companions 13
Turk riding out at the end of The Deadly Companions 32
Regret 42
Transcendence 43
In crisis, a chat with God. The Ballad of Cable Hogue 58
“No trouble, just dying” 65
David, Charlie, and Amy toward the beginning of Straw Dogs 74
Amy’s flash-frame flashback of the rape in Straw Dogs 78
From the Turner cut of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid 94
From the raft sequence in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid 96
Garrett in the prologue to the 2005 version of Pat Garrett and Billy the
Kid 112
Garrett reflecting in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid 129
A disgusted Mike Locken in The Killer Elite 142
Steiner laughing toward the end of Cross of Iron 145
Media and manipulation. The Osterman Weekend 154
Another victim of media influence. The Osterman Weekend 162
Billy, Turk, and Yellowleg in The Deadly Companions 169
The empty studio. The Osterman Weekend 181

xi
Introduction: Times Maybe, Not Them—The
Enduring Value of Sam Peckinpah’s Films
Michael Bliss

T oward the beginning of Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,
the following exchange takes place.

Billy: Sheriff Pat Garrett. Sold out to the Santa Fe Ring. How does it feel?
Garrett: It feels like—times have changed.
Billy: Times maybe. Not me.

In the context of the film, this dialogue’s meaning is clear: afraid of being
old and poor, Garrett has made a choice that in many respects he regrets.
Regardless of changing values, Billy steadfastly remains true to his prin-
ciples. But there’s another possible meaning. Billy represents an idealization
of how Peckinpah saw himself: as an honest outlaw who lives by a code, a
man opposed to people who compromise their ethics for the sake of comfort
and convenience. This notion of integrity applies equally to Peckinpah’s
films’ allegiance to a series of values: loyalty, friendship, love, commitment.
Now more than ever, in a period in which almost every film is touted as
being significant and yet so few are, Sam Peckinpah’s films are important.
The artistic force that Peckinpah used to unlock the fascinating elements
that one so often finds in his films, elements that would most properly be
called forms of (in Emerson’s words) “conscious beauty,” outlives him. Like
Major Dundee’s Amos Dundee, like Pike and his associates in The Wild
Bunch, Sam Peckinpah has passed into legend—not because of who he was
but because of what he has done. There are many instances in Peckinpah’s
films of what the director referred to as “moments”—junctures at which
the entire film seems to compact down to a word, a gesture, a glance, all
of which shimmer with meaning: the interaction in the fog between the

1
Introduction

Russian boy and Steiner in Cross of Iron, the gentle conversation between
Steve and Elsa about right and wrong in Ride the High Country, those brief
seconds during which Cable Hogue tells Hildy, “Lady, nobody’s ever seen
you before.” These moments are what people who love these films will always
carry with them.
But of course, the attraction of Peckinpah’s films isn’t restricted to such
moments. What we value about so many of these films is the enthusiasm
that they demonstrate, not just for their subject matter but for the medium
of film itself. While he was writing for the television series Broken Arrow,
Peckinpah was offered the chance to direct an episode of the show. “Christ,
they knew I was dying to direct. They didn’t have to ask me a second time,” he
stated.1 The intensity that Peckinpah brought to his television work seemed
to become greater when he moved into feature films. It’s there in the tre-
mendous tension leavened with grim humor in his first feature, The Deadly
Companions; in the harrowing antagonisms in Straw Dogs; in the powerful
sense of honor and loss that hangs over Cross of Iron. But it’s perhaps most
readily appreciable in The Wild Bunch. The excitement about cinema in that
film is apparent as soon as we hear the opening strains of Jerry Fielding’s
theme music and see those first few shots of the Bunch riding into Starbuck.
Not only do we feel the technical mastery at once, but we know that we’re
about to view a terrific film.
In experiencing Peckinpah’s films we are brought out of ourselves, into
the films, and then, finally, beyond the films, even past the artist himself,
and into that region from which the films emerged: the imagination, the
soul, the universe, and, one dares say it, God. It’s a heartbreaking journey,
because as soon as we become acutely aware of how truly wonderful so many
of these films are, we also realize how evanescent was the person who helped
bring them into being. We grieve, but at the same time we celebrate—and
in celebrating, we become one with those who celebrate with us.
Like all great art, Peckinpah’s films are living entities, evolving through
time, nurtured by the careful attention that filmgoers and critics lavish on
them. And like all living entities, these films have organic integrity. In a
film such as Ride the High Country, the emphasis on the Bible and moral
rectitude is not imposed on the film so much as grows out of the individual
needs of two intimately related characters, both of whom are component
parts of a great struggle to live the right kind of life. Each man faces diffi-
culties. One stays true to his beliefs, making do as best he can. One drowns

2
Introduction

his agonies in drink, and even when he’s offered the opportunity to reform,
he still feels the pull of compromise, only to eventually find himself at last,
as do so many of Peckinpah’s characters. Some find themselves in action,
some in abusiveness. In what I consider the most significant of these films,
they find themselves through spirituality. That the feature films from the
first half of Peckinpah’s career move toward redemption as though it were
a necessary consequence is a testament less to their director than to this
tendency’s inevitability, while the films from the latter part of Peckinpah’s
career slip away from this ideal, ending sadly, even mournfully.
Peckinpah was a man who had not only great passions but a great poten-
tial for self-destruction. That the latter capacity, with its attendant despair,
won out in the end was perhaps unavoidable given the abuse to which he
subjected his body, which dragged down his spirit along with it, but it does
not take away from the magnificent qualities in the masterpieces that he
gave us, chiefly The Wild Bunch and The Ballad of Cable Hogue, as well as
that ruined song of cinematic textures that is Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,
the finest keen for the Western ever committed to film.
The essayists in this book write from a sense of devotion to the films and
all that they stand for. In a groundbreaking piece of scholarship and criticism
that combines analysis with interview, Garner Simmons supplies us with
insights into the role that The Deadly Companions’ screenwriter, producer,
and director played in the production of the film. The Deadly Companions
gives us an idea of some characteristic Peckinpah dramatic concerns: the
connection between love and hate, the binding of characters in fierce op-
position, the focus on small cinematic elements that develop into evocative
icons. Thanks to Simmons’ essay, we learn a great deal about both the film
and Peckinpah’s working method.
Generally acknowledged as Peckinpah’s masterpiece, The Wild Bunch is
in many respects a film about a lost past and a dimly perceived future that
seems bereft of possibilities. Yet at the core of the film is a subtle sense of
optimism that is constantly at odds with grim realities. In my essay on the
film, I endeavor to catch a bit of what I feel are the film’s deeply spiritual
underpinnings, which rise to its surface at its conclusion. In my view, it’s
this aspect of the film, and not the disappointments and violence that it so
brilliantly portrays, that sets its tone.
Carrying this emotional momentum forward is the director’s next film,
The Ballad of Cable Hogue, a romantic tribute to the traditions and values

3
Introduction

of the Old West as well as a melancholy meditation on its imminent disap-


pearance. Steven Lloyd’s essay focuses on the film’s biblical aspects. Not
without its gritty moments, Cable Hogue nonetheless opts for love over
violence, redemption over retribution, as Lloyd’s essay makes plain while
also drawing attention to the important script contributions that Peckinpah
made to the film.
In large part thanks to its depiction of psychological and physical bru-
talities, Straw Dogs incited a great deal of controversy when it was first
released, and it continues to do so. That the conflicted responses that the
film occasions cannot be resolved is testimony to the director’s complex-
ity. Peckinpah is never easy to label, hence the inappropriateness of many
of the charges leveled against this film with regard to its supposed biases.
Straw Dogs has been widely misunderstood, a situation compounded by
Peckinpah’s pronouncements about Ardreyan territorial imperatives and
women as little more than sex objects. Clearly, though, the film is far more
refined than many of the comments on it made by its director would lead
one to believe. Its condemnation of protagonist David Sumner and the subtle
accenting of his wife’s resolve are brutally yet artistically portrayed. As
for the film’s extended farmhouse assault sequence, it is less an example
of directorial indulgence than a sad, foregone conclusion to the type of
socially approved violence that David had been unleashing throughout the
film. Michael Sragow not only investigates these notions but also shows
us how Peckinpah and screenwriter David Zelag Goodman transformed
Gordon Williams’ pulp novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm into a film of
extraordinary power.
Anyone familiar with Cordell Strug’s essay in the first published collec-
tion of Peckinpah essays, Doing It Right, knows how the application of this
author’s deeply contemplative sensibility to Peckinpah’s films yields such
satisfying results. In his essay for this book, Strug focuses on The Killer
Elite and Cross of Iron, two films deserving of greater critical attention.
Strug shows how strongly complementary these films are, how they are both
concerned with humanistic issues. Although there’s a careless, slapdash feel
to the former film that is not relieved by its supposed irony, both films are
richer for the attention that Strug lavishes on them.
When the Special Edition of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was released
in 2005, it generated a great deal of controversy. Many writers, feeling that
the so-called Director’s Cut of the film accurately represented Peckinpah’s

4
Introduction

intentions, were disturbed by what they believed was an inappropriate re-


working of the film. In a response to Pat Garrett’s Special Edition, Stephen
Prince asserts that it is at variance with accepted standards for film restora-
tion. By carefully documenting the work on other film restoration projects, as
well as the ethical implications of the rationales used in these projects, Prince
presents us with a point of view that is argued with clarity and conviction.
Paul Seydor, the Editorial Consultant for Pat Garrett’s 2005 version, not
only provides us with information about the choices involved in the film’s
recutting and how they are grounded in historical data but also offers post-
production information and a critical appreciation of the film that dovetail
with his discussion of the work that he did on it. Together, the Prince and
Seydor essays present two sides of a difficult and controversial issue.
Peckinpah’s final film, The Osterman Weekend, received equivocal re-
views when it was first released, and it has not garnered much better critical
reception since then. Tony Williams addresses this imbalance by giving us
an essay that views the film as a sophisticated tract on media. Complement-
ing Williams’ piece, and rounding out the volume, is Gérard Camy’s essay
on The Deadly Companions and The Osterman Weekend, which highlights
what a dramatic shift in sensibility there is between the two films and grants
us a deeply personal view of what Camy regards as the darkening path that
Peckinpah’s artistic odyssey took him on.
Here, then, is Peckinpah Today: not just a collection of essays but a col-
laborative attempt to evoke the essence of the films and all that they stand
for. Changing times notwithstanding, these films remain. Like their direc-
tor’s spirit, Sam Peckinpah’s work lives on, today and always.

Note
1. Qtd. in Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration, 6.

5
The Deadly Companions Revisited
Garner Simmons

O ver the quarter century since his death, Sam Peckinpah’s reputation
has evolved out of critical acclaim for eight of his fourteen features.
By general consensus, his best work can be seen in the exceptional Ride
the High Country, The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Straw Dogs,
Junior Bonner, and The Getaway, along with his two flawed masterpieces
Major Dundee and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.1 It is no small tribute to
Peckinpah’s talents that these eight films span barely a dozen years—an
intensely creative period from 1961 to 1973. This fact seems even more re-
markable when one takes into account the years immediately following
the debacle of Major Dundee, which resulted in Peckinpah being deemed
“difficult” and essentially “unemployable.”
While much has justifiably been written about these core films, consider-
ably less time has been spent examining the film that effectively launched
Peckinpah’s career as a feature director—The Deadly Companions. Despite
the fact that Peckinpah himself repeatedly attempted to dismiss it as flawed
beyond redemption and unrepresentative of his artistic intent, the film still
bears his undeniable stamp. Yet over the years, The Deadly Companions has
failed to attract more than a smattering of serious critical consideration.
Clearly, the time for reexamination is long overdue.
In 1973, the year I began to write Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage, it was
impossible to view The Deadly Companions due to legal wrangling over who
controlled the copyright. Since I had not seen the film in its original release
in 1961, I was anxious to locate a print. Upon my arrival in Los Angeles,
having spent three weeks with Peckinpah in Mexico, where he was prepar-
ing to film Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, I managed to track down

6
The Deadly Companions Revisited

a 16mm copy of the film at a company called Bartco, which was located in
Hollywood on North Cole Avenue. Despite reluctantly admitting that they
had the film, they were unwilling to screen it for me. After some discus-
sion, I finally managed to persuade a gentleman who worked there named
Pat Duram to allow me to “borrow” the print for twenty-four hours. I then
contacted the AFI, housed at the time in the Doheny mansion in Beverly
Hills, which was good enough to allow me the use of a screening room.
Given the difficulties I had experienced in simply obtaining the film, I ran
it twice out of concern I might never see it again. What immediately struck
me were the similarities it shared with Peckinpah’s other works in terms of
look, tone, and thematic concerns, despite his efforts to disclaim it.
Today, of course, it is possible to purchase a DVD of the film.2 Seeing it
again recently reminded me of how much the picture reflected Peckinpah’s
fledgling style. It also made me wonder anew about what really went on
between Peckinpah and producer Charles B. FitzSimons during the making
of the film. I had interviewed FitzSimons in 1974 and included a portion of
that interview in the chapter of my book that dealt with The Deadly Com-
panions. And while I had interviewed Peckinpah extensively, he had had
such a negative experience during the making of the film that he refused to
discuss it in any depth. However, in rereading the transcriptions that I had
made of those interviews, I began to see how things that seemed irrelevant
then now warranted closer examination. What had always been lacking,
of course, was the original source material, mainly the script itself. In my
initial research for the book, I had learned that the writer, A. S. Fleischman,
had actually turned his screenplay into a novel published under the title Yel-
lowleg. However, since it had been a paperback original with no hardcover
printing, I had been unable to track down a copy at the time. With the advent
of the Internet, this was no longer an obstacle.
After locating a copy of the novel online, I purchased a first edition, pub-
lished in 1960, for a mere ten dollars.3 But despite the claim by FitzSimons
that Fleischman had adapted the novel directly from his screenplay, there
were inconsistencies with respect to the finished film that made me wonder
if this was correct. With both Peckinpah and FitzSimons no longer alive, I
decided to go in search of A. S. Fleischman.
Born in 1920, Albert Sidney Fleischman was a former newspaperman
turned novelist who had adapted his own novel Blood Alley into a screen-
play for John Wayne and director William Wellman.4 This in turn led him

7
Garner Simmons

to write Yellowleg, which would eventually make it to the screen as The


Deadly Companions. Fleischman would become better known as a writer of
award-winning juvenile fiction. Taking a chance, I decided to contact him
through his website and discovered that he still lived and wrote in Southern
California. Agreeing to meet with me, he not only was willing to talk about
his experiences on The Deadly Companions but also provided me with a
copy of his screenplay. This new infusion of previously unknown source
material coupled with the transcriptions of the interviews mentioned above
form the basis for this study.
It seems decidedly prophetic that Peckinpah’s career as a feature director
should begin with a film titled The Deadly Companions, considering the
acrimonious conflicts that would develop between Peckinpah and FitzSi-
mons. Peckinpah had just come off of The Westerner, the television series
he had created for Dick Powell at Four Star Productions, a prolific television
company in the 1950s and early 1960s. As producer, writer, and director
on the series, Peckinpah had effectively been given full creative control.
Clearly accustomed to making all creative decisions himself, Sam Peckinpah
was young, talented, and ill-prepared for his encounter with FitzSimons.
Ironically, this primal conflict can be seen as a paradigm for the struggles
Peckinpah would have with producers throughout his career.
Charles B. FitzSimons was Irish by birth and a lawyer by training. As both
a producer and actress Maureen O’Hara’s brother,5 FitzSimons had been on
the lookout for a script that would take advantage of his sister’s talents. At
the same time, such a film would allow him to make the transition to full
producer.6 Hence, he had taken a proprietary position with respect to The
Deadly Companions long before Peckinpah arrived on the scene.
Speaking about the film in June 1974, FitzSimons maintained: “The Deadly
Companions originated as a long treatment by a very fine writer named A. S.
Fleischman that I fell in love with. The treatment was originally optioned
by Marlon Brando. And I waited and waited to see what Brando would do
with it, and when Brando decided to do One-Eyed Jacks, he dropped his
option on the treatment. So I met with Fleischman and talked to him about
what I wanted to do with [the project] and he and I became firm friends and
partners, forming a company called Carousel Productions. He then wrote
what I considered to be a fairly brilliant screenplay.”7
Interestingly, Fleischman, who preferred to be called “Sid,” remembered the
situation somewhat differently. Still a working writer despite his age, he agreed

8
The Deadly Companions Revisited

to meet with me only after completing what would turn out to be his final
book, a biography on comedian and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin (published
shortly before Fleischman’s death in 2010 as Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest
Man in the World). When we finally did sit down together, Fleischman began
by explaining that The Deadly Companions—originally titled Yellowleg—had
begun as a screenplay since he did not believe in or use treatments. He recalled:
“I had gotten an option for the screenplay from Marlon Brando. So to support
[Brando’s attempt to set the film up] and to give it a little more dignity, I turned
it into a novel. I don’t recall how long Brando had it—and he helped himself
to a couple of ideas, which he used in One-Eyed Jacks, by the way—but when
he let it go, Charles came into the picture.”8
Working together, FitzSimons and Fleischman struggled to get the fi-
nancial backing to mount a production. According to Fleischman, at least
some of the difficulty came from the kind of film they were attempting to
make. “The picture was really Maureen’s picture,” he recalled. “But of course
having a Western as a woman’s picture gave us all sorts of problems at the
time in terms of marketing. But Charles was determined, and he eventually
put the deal together.”9
Similarly, FitzSimons remembered:

We found it very, very difficult to get financial backing for the motion
picture because it was this morality play and required the carrying of
a dead child in a coffin throughout the film. Many people wanted us
to change the story . . . but we refused to do it.
Then we got lucky. Fleischman had written it as a novel from his
screenplay which was published by Gold Medal in paperback and was
enormously successful—it sold around 250,000 copies. So based on
the success of the novel, [James S.] Sam Burkett, who at that time was
head of sales for Pathe Laboratories, persuaded Pathe to co-finance
the picture along with the Theater Owners of America.
My first choice for the role of Yellowleg was Brian Keith. Maureen
was going to play the girl. . . . At that time I had other ideas as to who
I wanted to direct it. But Brian had some form of moral commitment
to Sam Peckinpah with whom he had done the television series The
Westerner. And Brian asked if we would consider Peckinpah for the
picture. So I ran some of the episodes of the series and agreed to give
him a chance.10

9
Garner Simmons

It is possible that FitzSimons’ claim that Brian Keith was his first choice
for the role of Yellowleg was in deference to his relationship with Keith at
the time, but Fleischman remembered the casting somewhat differently:

We were going to do it with Errol Flynn. But Flynn died unexpectedly.


So we decided to form Carousel Productions with Maureen O’Hara,
Charles’s sister. Given her status as a major star at the time, Mau-
reen agreed to do the picture for scale but take a 50 percent stake in
the company; Charles and I owned a quarter each. Maureen had just
done Parent Trap with Brian, and they had gotten along very well. So
we decided to offer him the role. We then hired Peckinpah on Brian
Keith’s recommendation for $15,000. We only paid Brian $30,000. The
entire picture was done for $300,000 to $400,000—unheard of for a
picture of that quality at the time.11
Sam, when I knew him, was a much different director than he would
become. This reputation he developed for being a wild man—arrogant
and difficult—was not evident on Deadly Companions. In fact, one of
the very few times I remember Sam losing his temper was the scene
where Brian Keith is supposed to shoot a rattlesnake. But the sharp-
shooter we had hired didn’t kill the snake with the first shot and had
to shoot it a second time. And Sam really blew up because it wasn’t
a clean kill. Of course in the final cut all you see is one shot and the
snake’s dead. But Sam obviously hated to see it suffer. I liked Sam but
Charles did not, and I think that the picture suffered because of that.
Deadly Companions had become Charles’s passion. Getting it made
took us years. He felt he knew what he wanted literally in every shot.
And that made it very tough for Peckinpah. Now Peckinpah went to
Tucson ahead of us. And when we got there, he had hired a secretary
and had begun to rewrite the script. That’s where the trouble started
because Charles didn’t even bother to read his notes. He simply said to
Sam: “We hired you to shoot the script.” Charles and I had worked hard
on that script. Now I was far more flexible than Charles because I always
felt that if something wasn’t working, I could come up with another idea.
But Charles wanted that script shot as is. And they were both fairly bull-
headed when it came to artistic decisions. And that was a problem.12

FitzSimons concurred: “Now I believe that everyone is entitled to his


opinion, but I also believe that there has to be a boss. Unquestionably, Sam

10
The Deadly Companions Revisited

thought that everything he was suggesting was right, and I felt that, having
spent two years on what we had, there was no reason to change. I couldn’t
believe that the author and I could be that far wrong. So we went ahead,
and we made the picture according to the original screenplay without any
of Peckinpah’s changes. And as he would try to change it during shooting,
we would lock horns.”13
However, irrespective of FitzSimons’ stated belief that he had prevented
Peckinpah from straying very far from the script, a comparison between
the original screenplay and the finished film reveals a number of striking
differences. In fact, after a careful examination of the film, it is possible to
discern Peckinpah’s unique imprint despite FitzSimons’ resistance. And it
begins with the very first scene.
Both Fleischman’s screenplay and the novel open in daylight with three
riders—Turk, Billy, and a former Union cavalry sergeant called Yellowleg—
headed for the town of Gila City, ostensibly to rob the bank there. The film,
however, opens quite differently. Entering an out-of-the-way barroom at
night, Yellowleg (Brian Keith) passes a man, Turk (Chill Wills), balancing
on a barrel, his hands tied behind his back, a noose around his neck, and
five aces pinned to his shirt. Reaching the bar, Yellowleg catches sight of
the teeth marks in Turk’s left hand and instantly realizes that this is the
man who attempted to scalp him on a Civil War battlefield some years
before—the man he’s been pursuing ever since. When he asks what’s going
on, the bartender refers to Turk as a “five-ace card player,” while the men he
cheated lay bets on how long it will take him to slip off the barrel and hang
himself. Unwilling to allow Turk to die before he can claim his revenge,
Yellowleg intervenes. Knocking out one of the card players, he starts to cut
Turk down when Billy (Steve Cochran) enters, shirt undone and a pair of
six-guns in hand, from a backroom in the company of two prostitutes. See-
ing what’s happening, Billy reacts, shooting the rope before Yellowleg can
finish cutting Turk down. The three men then leave together. Once outside
in the dark, Yellowleg takes charge, suggesting he knows of a town with “a
new bank and an old marshal” that they might rob. Mounting up, they head
off together for Gila City.
While Fleischman did not remember the details of writing this opening
scene, he did recall that the suggestion of a man balancing on a barrel with
a noose around his neck as being Peckinpah’s idea. Despite how protective
FitzSimons was regarding Fleischman’s screenplay being the sole source

11
Garner Simmons

of the film, the staging of this new opening sequence would seem to be
pure Peckinpah. It has an almost improvisational feel to it. The dialogue,
of course, is minimal and would have been written by Fleischman, who
was present on the set for much of the shooting. But none of the bit play-
ers in this scene, including the bartender and one of the gamblers, both of
whom have speaking parts, received credit (a common practice at the time).
Given the nature of the scene, at least two of them are stuntmen (Big John
Hamilton and Chuck Hayward, both of whom worked frequently for John
Wayne). However, the quirkiness of the bar’s patrons, a scruffy, unkempt
lot, is reminiscent of the habitués of other bars from both Peckinpah’s tele-
vision and later feature work (the saloon in “Jeff,” the opening episode of
The Westerner cowritten and directed by Peckinpah, immediately comes
to mind, as do the saloons and bordellos to be found in films like Ride the
High Country and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid).
The same is true of Peckinpah’s orchestration of the action, including Wil-
liam Clothier’s camerawork, which opens with a tight shot of Brian Keith’s
“yellowleg” cavalry breeches as he enters the saloon. As Paul Seydor has noted:
“This opening is significant because it introduces one of Peckinpah’s basic sto-
rytelling techniques: he rarely opens a film or a scene with an establishing shot.
Instead, his camera will light upon a naturalistic detail that leads to another
detail and still another, until gradually the setting is built from and revealed
through a careful process of selection and accumulation of significant details.”14
Concurrent with this is a heightened sense of edgy and unpredictable
danger that is unlike anything else in the film. From the inspired dilemma
of Turk’s precarious balancing act to the staging of Yellowleg’s fight with one
of the card players that directly impacts the very rope used to string Turk up,
Peckinpah begins his career as a feature director by creating an uncertain
world where nothing is either safe or entirely what it seems.
Similarly, when Billy emerges from the back room to find Turk, his neck
in a noose, he must shoot the rope in order to free him. However, unlike
the typical Western convention where the gunman is such a marksman that
he severs the rope with a single shot, Billy’s first attempt misses the rope,
requiring him to take careful aim in order to free Turk with his second.
This serves both to underscore the reality that even a practiced gunman
can miss and to reveal Billy as less accomplished than his ego might allow.
It is the kind of obsession with imperfection that would continue to mark
Peckinpah’s world throughout his career.

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The Deadly Companions Revisited

Yellowleg and Turk in The Deadly Companions

And finally, as if to punctuate this auspicious directorial beginning,


Peckinpah has Billy, guns in both hands, turn to leave only to suddenly
come upon his own image in a mirror hanging from the barroom wall.
With a wild, impetuous grin, he shoots his own reflection, fracturing the
glass before dashing out the door. It is a signature moment that Peckinpah
would use again, most notably following the final shootout at the end of
Pat Garrett. In The Deadly Companions, this simple act allows Peckinpah
to define Billy’s character as someone who acts before he thinks, failing to
recognize his own image as he opens fire. In Pat Garrett, however, Peck-
inpah uses the device to reveal Garrett as repelled by what he sees—a man
who has just shot his friend and who therefore opens fire out of a sense of
self-loathing and remorse.
Having rescued Turk, Yellowleg now initiates a plan for the three of
them to ride to Gila City to rob the bank. What is interesting about this
arrangement is the way in which Peckinpah establishes the dynamics of the
gang. Though he is essentially the outsider, Yellowleg immediately assumes
command, implying that their success depends upon his leadership. While
this is unquestionably a dynamic that Fleischman establishes in both his
screenplay and his novel, it clearly appealed to Peckinpah and has been a
running theme he developed throughout The Westerner. In the series, Dave

13
Garner Simmons

Blassingame, the lead character also played by Brian Keith, frequently would
fill a void wherever leadership was required, thereby bringing him into
conflict with men of lesser ability.
Yellowleg is a flawed hero, also a Fleischman conceit, marked by the scalp-
ing scar hidden beneath his hat, as well as by a minié ball he carries from an
old war wound in his right shoulder that compromises his skill with a gun.
There is no question that this is the kind of handicap Peckinpah responded
to as well. We see Peckinpah employ it in an episode of The Westerner titled
“Hand on the Gun” (another episode cowritten and directed by Peckinpah)
where a character named Oresquote, played by Michael Ansara, attempts
to deter an impetuous, young would-be gunfighter named Cal, played by
Ben Cooper. At Blassingame’s urging, Oresquote raises his shirt to reveal
a bullet scar from a gunfight that had put him down for many months.
Unimpressed, Cal—who, much like Billy in The Deadly Companions, is
constantly practicing his fast draw—ignores the warning only to die in the
street when the gunfight he longs for becomes a reality. Similarly, in later
films, wounds affect other Peckinpah characters such as Samuel Potts, the
one-armed scout, and Amos Dundee, whose arrow wound compromises
his command in Major Dundee. In The Wild Bunch, Pike Bishop carries
a bullet in his leg from a gunfight that resulted in the death of the only
woman he ever loved. And Mike Locken, the former quasi-CIA agent, is so
severely wounded in the opening sequence of The Killer Elite that he must
walk with a cane.
When I interviewed Fleischman, he was good enough to lend me a copy
of his screenplay, titled Yellowleg.15 Tucked into the back cover page of this
script was a Thermofax copy of a set of typed change pages.16 Brown and
weathered, their edges curled with age, the Thermofax changes carry a title
page that reads:
TREK
Screenplay by A. S. Fleischman
From the Novel
YELLOWLEG
By the same author

When I questioned Fleischman about this, he remarked that Trek had


been one of the titles under consideration before they settled on The Deadly
Companions. The set of changes amounts to forty-four pages, less than 40

14
The Deadly Companions Revisited

percent of the original script. And in truth, most of the changes are minor,
dealing primarily with dialogue adjustments made during the course of
production. However, there are also several more specific changes in action
that require closer examination. For purposes of clarity, from this point on
I will refer to Fleischman’s original complete screenplay as the “Script” and
to the Thermofax pages as the “Change Pages.”
The first of these revisions deals with Kit Tilden’s son, Mead. In the Script,
the boy (who is referred to as being six years old, though from his appear-
ance—and for obvious practical reasons—Billy Vaughan, the young actor
playing Mead in the film, would seem to be closer to ten) is introduced on
page 8 when he and his mother first enter the saloon turned into a tempo-
rary house of worship. In the Change Pages, however, Mead first appears
on page 4 coming down from the roof of the dancehall (presumably the one
where his mother works) as Yellowleg, Turk, and Billy ride into Gila City:

EXT. DANCE HALL—MEAD


With an air of curiosity and excitement, he shinnies quickly
down a drainpipe to the ground. He turns to silently watch the
three strangers riding into town.

Since the boy does not appear at this point in the story in either the original
screenplay or the novel, it would be logical to assume that this revision,
though clearly written by Fleischman, reflects Peckinpah’s involvement as
director.
Further evidence of Peckinpah’s touch here can be seen in the staging
of the scene on film. As the three gunmen ride into town, Peckinpah starts
with the camera on Mead standing on the roof playing a harmonica—a
bit of business that is not present in the Script or in the Change Pages. It is
significant that Peckinpah visually links the harmonica with the boy so that
he can use it to poignant effect once the boy has been killed. In the street
below, a group of other boys are roughhousing with wooden swords. Spot-
ting Mead, they stop to taunt him for not having a father, thereby establish-
ing him as an outcast. But by placing him physically above the other boys,
Peckinpah visually implies Mead’s moral superiority. At the same time, this
positioning allows Peckinpah to capture both the gunmen and Mead all in
one shot as they ride past.
As the scene progresses, Turk heads toward the blacksmith’s to have
one of his horse’s shoes replaced while Yellowleg and Billy ride ahead and

15
Garner Simmons

dismount at a hitching rail. In the Script, Fleischman uses the moment to


underscore the developing conflict between the two men by having Yel-
lowleg hand Billy the reins to his horse, telling him to take both horses
around to the livery stable. When Billy chafes at this, Fleischman initially
takes the edge off the moment by having Billy back down. But in the Change
Pages, he introduces the boy at this point, who intercedes, offering to take
the horses for them. Fleischman describes it this way:

[Yellowleg and Billy] stare at each other, tension mounting—and


then Mead comes into the shot, swinging under the hitch rail.

Mead: I’ll take the horses for you.

Mead takes the reins of both horses and leads them away, leav-
ing Billy and Yellowleg still staring at each other. Then Billy
cracks a grin.

Billy: There’s some men is just plain lucky.

But Peckinpah builds on this interchange by expanding the moment


between Yellowleg and the boy. As Mead steps up to say, “I’ll take the horses
for you, Mister,” Peckinpah gives Brian Keith as Yellowleg an improvised
response: “You look like an honest man to me.” He then fishes a coin out of
his pocket to give to the boy, who takes the reins and leads the horses off.
This addition is significant since the incident brings the boy into direct
contact with Yellowleg prior to the accidental shooting. In both the intro-
duction of Mead on the roof and again here with his taking the horses,
Peckinpah burnishes the boy’s character and expands the moment. He
achieves this effect by making a more tangible connection between him
and Yellowleg, thereby deepening the eventual pangs of guilt the man will
feel after he accidentally kills the boy.
Peckinpah follows this with another unscripted exchange between Yel-
lowleg and Mead as the boy and his mother, Kit (Maureen O’Hara), enter the
saloon as it is being readied for the church service. As Kit and her son come
through the swinging doors, the impetuous Billy is immediately attracted
to her, commenting, “That’s what I call pretty.” But recognizing Yellowleg,
the boy smiles and calls out, “Howdy, Mister,” to which Peckinpah has Brian
Keith smile and ad lib, “Hello, boy.” Clearly Peckinpah is attempting to reaf-
firm the connection beginning to form between them. Having created the
television series The Rifleman, which centers on the relationship between

16
The Deadly Companions Revisited

a man and his young son growing up in the West, this is clearly familiar
territory for Peckinpah.
Entering the saloon, Yellowleg and Billy are surprised to discover the
room being rearranged to accommodate a church service that is about to
begin. Fleischman’s plot requires that the saloon be temporarily converted
to a place of worship in order to introduce Maureen O’Hara’s character, Kit,
as a mother first and a dancehall girl second. Since we now have already
met Mead, this also serves to establish him as her son. At the same time,
Fleischman needs to have the bank across the street open for business in
order to stage the daring daylight robbery that will occur shortly. He neatly
solves the dilemma by having the bartender explain that it’s been so long
since the town’s seen a calendar that some townsfolk think it’s Sunday, while
others hold that it’s Monday. Hence both the makeshift church and the bank
across the street are conducting business simultaneously.
The bartender in this scene is played by character actor Hank Gobble,
clearly cast by Peckinpah (he appeared in five episodes of The Westerner as
a cowboy named Digger), as were the prostitutes, who appear both in the
opening scene and later here in Gila City. As Fleischman recalled: “The pros-
titutes in Deadly Companions were real prostitutes. Sam insisted on going
down to the whorehouse and hire real prostitutes. They couldn’t act, but then
I’m sure he tried them all out.”17 Regarding the casting, FitzSimons recalled:

Brian Keith, I happen to believe, is one of the finest actors in the busi-
ness today [1974]. I also happen to believe that he is the only actor who
has the silent virility of John Wayne. I don’t think that Brian, in this
instance, understood the morality play [aspect]. And I think because
he was Sam’s booster, he obviously felt that Sam had enormous talents
and he felt that he had the responsibility to take his direction from
Sam, which, of course, is as a good actor should. So I can hardly fault
the actor for what happened [with the film].
I also think that both Steve Cochran and Chill Wills were brilliant in
the picture. . . . I had always admired Steve Cochran, but he had always
played a heavy-heavy. I told him when I cast him in the role of Billy
that I wanted him to play a likeable heavy. I wanted him dangerous but
likeable so that at the end of the picture, the audience isn’t sure just who
they are rooting for. I told him that I wanted to lighten his hair one shade
and put a wave in it. Cochran laughed and said okay because he trusted
me. And he did play the picture with a light quality—a likeable villain.18

17
Garner Simmons

However, the character of Billy as portrayed by Cochran embodies a con-


tradiction that Peckinpah would explore in the future as well. Half courtly
valor, half animal lust, Billy becomes a reflection of conflicts Peckinpah
found within himself. It is possible to see in Cochran’s Billy a foreshadowing
of the character of Billy Hammond, played by James Drury, in Peckinpah’s
Ride the High Country. Each character possesses what Peckinpah himself
once described as a kind of “little boy bravado” and a preening self-love that
presumes that every woman he desires, regardless of her protestations, really
desires him as well. Just as Cochran’s Billy attempts to force himself on Kit,
Billy Hammond attempts to physically force himself on Elsa after her arrival
in Coarse Gold. Even if we assume that FitzSimons sincerely believed that
this kind of prideful, self-absorbed behavior made Billy into someone the
audience might be secretly “rooting for,” Peckinpah clearly did not. All of
Billy’s actions are overstated. From his showy gun-twirling to his brocade
vest to the red arm-garter he wears on his left sleeve, Billy, as Peckinpah
presents him, is a source of self-parody not to be admired.
The character on which Peckinpah and FitzSimons agreed was Turk, a
character whose creation should be properly attributed to Fleischman. In
both the screenplay and the book, Turk is portrayed as uncouth and dishev-
eled, an animal in a man’s skin. In the novel, Fleischman introduces him
as he is about to answer nature’s call: “The short, big-eared man, the one
who called himself Turk, pulled away and dismounted along the cutback.
He began humming a little tune and unbuckled his breeches in the area of
some bunchgrass. He rejoined the others about ten minutes later.”19 This was
the kind of offbeat character moment that would have caught Peckinpah’s
attention. Clearly, throughout the film he attempts to capture Turk with
all his twitches and itches and bearlike mannerisms intact. Peckinpah’s
directorial flourishes, like having Turk attempt to scratch his back against a
giant saguaro cactus, or having him draped over the leaning trunk of a tree,
reveals an innate talent for exploring Wills’ strengths as a character actor.
“Oskar Homolka had been considered for the role of Turk,” FitzSi-
mons recalled.

But I had always felt that Chill Wills was the undiscovered Wally
Beery. And I felt that this was a Wally Beery role. We discussed Ho-
molka because he was a slightly bigger name at the time, and one of
the problems we faced in obtaining financing was that they did not
feel that Brian Keith had a large enough name. They hadn’t wanted

18
The Deadly Companions Revisited

Brian, and I had to fight to get him. And then when Brian wanted his
own director, it made it tougher still. Sam had virtually nothing to
do with the primary casting, because most of it was already set when
we hired him. However, he did confirm my feelings about Chill Wills,
although I believe he originally wanted R. G. Armstrong. Sam did
suggest first Slim Pickens and then Strother Martin for the role of
the preacher, and of course, I agreed with both of those choices, and
Martin got the role. We had no conflict at all over casting, only in the
interpretation of the script.20

Once filming began, Peckinpah’s instincts as a director, while not wholly


appreciated by FitzSimons, impressed Fleischman: “When I watched Sam
direct on the set of Deadly Companions, it was as if he was inventing it all
on the spot. I mean, we never had a meeting the night before on what the
direction was going to be on the set the next day. So the day would start and
Sam would show up and see several actors milling about and say something
like ‘Why don’t we hang somebody today’ just to get their attention. But Sam
brought something to the film that was extremely spontaneous. It was like
here’s a camera and there are the actors, and he’d simply say to them—show
me something. It was as if there was no one else around. And he’d feed off
that improvisation.”21
An example of this can be seen in the film following the prayer service,
when an unexpected band of outlaws attempt to rob the bank. Ironically,
Yellowleg, Billy, and Turk must take the law into their own hands, shooting
it out with the fleeing robbers. In the course of the shootout, the lead ball
lodged in Yellowleg’s right shoulder causes such pain that he fires wildly,
his stray bullet accidentally killing Mead. Improvising on the fly (which
was his standard method of directing), Peckinpah begins on the boy play-
ing his harmonica. As Mead wanders past the bank, he looks through the
window. Spotting the robbers inside, he turns and runs, then stops to watch
the ensuing gunfight. As the final outlaw spurs his horse in a futile attempt
to escape, Peckinpah has the boy make a dash up a set of stairs. By placing
him higher than the street action, Peckinpah justifies the possibility of Yel-
lowleg’s errant shot striking Mead as it misses the mounted bandit.
After the smoke clears, Yellowleg spots the boy’s body. Going to him,
he picks him up and carries him down, laying him on the boardwalk as
his mother arrives. Though other voices start to suggest that the boy was
killed by the outlaws’ wild gunfire, Yellowleg refuses to allow the lie to stand

19
Garner Simmons

and admits the bullet was his. This moment is in Fleischman’s original
screenplay as well as the book and was no doubt part of what attracted both
Peckinpah and Brian Keith to the project: a moral man who admits to his
own actions, regardless of how repugnant they may be. But as Kit lifts her
son and carries him off in her arms, Peckinpah, improvising once more,
has Clothier’s camera find the harmonica lying in the street, a significant
detail as it, too, has been robbed of life without the boy’s breath to play it.
Later that night, in another unscripted moment, Peckinpah has Yellowleg
spot the harmonica still lying there. As he picks it up, it serves as tangible
evidence of his culpability, an unspoken motivation that will cause Yellowleg
to accompany Kit on her sad journey.
Among the most discussed elements of the film is its central conceit—the
transport of the boy’s dead body across the desert in the heat in order to bury
him beside his father’s grave in the far-off abandoned town of Siringo. In the
novel, Fleischman has the blacksmith tell Yellowleg, “They fixed the body to
travel in the heat, and I heard them nailing the pine box just before you walked
in.”22 But for some reason, this explanation does not exist on film. It is not in
the Script or in the Change Pages. However, during the film’s barroom scene,
in which Turk and Billy play cards while waiting for Yellowleg, a character
does say: “She got Doc [Caxton] to take care of the body,” presumably refer-
ring to some sort of preparation against the desert heat. In reality, nothing
short of mummification would have been effective against the decomposition
of the boy’s corpse. Indeed, in desert communities around the world, bodies
are buried or burned as soon as practicable out of concern for infection and
disease. But since this element was so central to Fleischman’s story—what
FitzSimons referred to as “a morality tale”—they would simply have to take
the license and hope the audience didn’t overthink the point. Unquestionably,
the lack of verisimilitude troubled Peckinpah and was a source of conflict with
FitzSimons. But Peckinpah’s objections, as usual, were quickly dismissed.
Clearly, this matter was not easily dismissed by Peckinpah himself. Though
it would take him a dozen years, he would eventually return to these issues
in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Like The Deadly Companions, Al-
fredo Garcia is a story of revenge. In talking about Peckinpah, Fleischman
remembered on more than one occasion witnessing Peckinpah’s ability to
turn things upside down. “It was a trick Sam had of turning things around,
reversing the order. In doing it, he was sometimes able to discover things
you never expected. For example, on the trail they discover the corpse of a

20
The Deadly Companions Revisited

man who’s been scalped. The traditional way of shooting this is to start on
the actors. You see them react, then you show what it is they’re reacting to.
But Sam did just the opposite. He started on the body and panned up to
their faces. That way it’s the audience that gets hit with the full impact of
the moment.”23 Consequently, while The Deadly Companions is a journey
to bury a boy beside his dead father, Alfredo Garcia is just the reverse—a
journey in which the character of Bennie, played by the exceptional War-
ren Oates, must exhume the head of a dead man and return it to a ruthless
Mexican overlord for enough money to retire in style with the woman he
loves. Where The Deadly Companions uses the transport of the dead boy as
a metaphor for the past that both Yellowleg and Kit must put to rest, Alfredo
Garcia would probe the dark underbelly of such an experience and the toll it
takes on the human soul. In the end, the burial of the boy in Siringo would
be an act of liberation. But in Alfredo Garcia, the personal and emotional
price that Bennie must pay in delivering the severed head leaves him with
nowhere to go. It is no surprise that Peckinpah would end the latter film
with Bennie’s death, essentially an existential choice.
In The Deadly Companions, Yellowleg’s journey of discovery causes him
to recognize that vengeance is a poor substitute for love. However, in Al-
fredo Garcia, Peckinpah takes us on a journey of self-discovery in which
Bennie gambles everything for wealth, only to lose the one thing he truly
values—the life of the woman he loves. Ironically, both men must come to
recognize the redemptive nature of the love of a good woman. Yellowleg
elects to take love over revenge. But Bennie, confronted by the loss of Elita,
chooses to die in a hail of bullets. Clearly, from Peckinpah’s perspective,
the darker of these tales holds closer to the truth.
Another point of friction in The Deadly Companions was the relation-
ship between Peckinpah and Maureen O’Hara. In discussing the film in his
book If They Move—Kill ’Em! The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah, David
Weddle states, “FitzSimons stood beside Peckinpah on the set every day,
telling him how to stage and shoot the scenes, and forbidding him to give
direction to his sister Maureen.”24 However, in discussing this aspect of the
film with Fleischman, the situation appears to be less clear-cut: “The fact
that Maureen chose to underplay her role as Kit is very important because
on the set, she complained to Charles that Peckinpah was not directing her.
He may have done the same thing with Brian Keith, but particularly with
her, he never gave her a clue as to how he wanted the scene played. Now she

21
Garner Simmons

was far more experienced as an actress than Sam was as a director. So it’s
hard to say whether that was the factor or possibly he was more comfortable
directing men at the time. Now someone like Bill Wellman would have had
her tearing her hair out, but Sam just let her do what she wanted to do. In
fact, he paid so little attention to her that there’s a scene where she’s running
away from Billy and she twisted her ankle. But she was such a pro that she
didn’t let it show. But you could tell that something was wrong. And Sam
never even went up to her to ask her if she was all right. He just ignored her.”25
In truth, when it came to dealing with actors, Peckinpah was a master
of mind games. As Strother Martin once remarked, “Sam is like a dirty
psychiatrist—he gets inside your head and probes around with the scal-
pel.”26 Thus, his treatment of Maureen O’Hara would seem to be a classic
case of Peckinpah eliciting a performance through what he liked to refer
to as “indirection.” By ignoring her, Peckinpah would seem to have been
attempting to manufacture the kind of frustration and anger in the actress
that he wanted her character to express toward Yellowleg on-screen. In re-
calling Peckinpah’s directorial style, Fleischman was struck by his taciturn
approach: “I don’t remember him doing a lot of second takes. He got what he
wanted and moved on. Sam had the ability to make others uncomfortable
and thereby get them to do things they might not otherwise do. Which is
frequently a sign of a gifted director.”27
This kind of direction by indirection was something Peckinpah would
employ throughout his career. For example, in his very next film, Ride the
High Country, he would instruct the actors playing the Hammond broth-
ers to distance themselves from everyone else in the cast and crew, with
the result being the kind of realistic clannish behavior that underscores
the intensity of their performance. With Maureen O’Hara, however, this
technique was only partially successful. This was due in great degree to the
fact that she was both the majority stakeholder in the production company
and the sister of the producer, not to mention an established motion picture
star. While Peckinpah had come out of television—a medium that, at the
time, was perceived by many in Hollywood as inferior—O’Hara was part
of a star system that treated leading actors as a kind of royalty. The fact that
Peckinpah lacked the properly deferential attitude toward her no doubt
rankled O’Hara. And while some of this infected her performance, it also
so poisoned her relationship with Peckinpah that her brother actively fought
with him on her behalf throughout the production.

22
The Deadly Companions Revisited

Yet over the course of the film, despite being prevented from rewriting
the material, Peckinpah managed to find ways to embellish it. For example,
when Yellowleg goes to visit Dr. Caxton, the town physician, about removing
the minié ball lodged in his shoulder, Peckinpah has the doctor begin to
prepare for the surgery by offering Yellowleg a couple of shots of “medici-
nal” whiskey, then drinking directly from the decanter himself. None of
this exists in either the book or the Script. As both men drink, Yellowleg
asks how long he’ll be out of action. When he’s told a month (in the Script
it’s a week), he declines the operation, and Peckinpah has the doctor react,
brusquely ad libbing, “Then stop wasting my time.”
Peckinpah’s visual style could be subtle as well. Fleischman recalled: “I
remember one scene that got ruined in the cutting. I think it was the first
time I saw a flash of genius in Sam because I didn’t understand what he
was doing at first. The two bad guys—Chill Wills and Steve Cochran—are
riding along on horseback. And maybe you’d shoot that head-on or from
an angle. But Sam has the camera on their backs as they’re riding side by
side. And I thought, what the hell is he doing? But when I saw the dailies,
I suddenly understood, because what you first see on the screen are two
horse’s asses. But Charles ruined it because he cut that part out, and all
you have are two men riding. But Sam had visually captured in a sly way
the essence of Turkey and Billy in one fleeting image. I actually think Sam
communicated best visually.”28
This is clearly reflected in Peckinpah’s attention to the details that define
each character through wardrobe. Throughout his career, Peckinpah’s vision
of the world would demand a lived-in look. After years of working for him,
his assistant Katy Haber once noted: “Sam is also a stickler for details. . . . If
a wardrobe guy brings Sam a hat, Sam will say: ‘Take it away and jump on it,
puke on it, and piss on it, and then bring it back and show it to me again.”29
In The Deadly Companions, Peckinpah saw to every item from Turk’s ragged
buffalo coat, sweat-stained shirt, and beat-up derby to Yellowleg’s worn
buckskin jacket and frayed cavalry breeches to Billy’s dandified vest and
perfectly blocked Stetson. When it came to Maureen O’Hara, Peckinpah
had the wardrobe department gradually age her dress from starched and
prim to torn and soiled as the trek across the desert takes its toll. One only
needs to compare Peckinpah’s future canon of work to FitzSimons’ televi-
sion productions (Nanny and the Professor; Love, American Style; and so
on) to realize that this touch was Peckinpah’s alone.

23
Garner Simmons

Ever concerned with details, Peckinpah continued to improvise through-


out the shooting to help clarify any point that required it. For example, as
Kit and Yellowleg cross the desert, they witness a mock attack on a stage-
coach by a drunken band of Apaches. Having lost a horse, Yellowleg waits
until nightfall, then sneaks into the Apache camp to steal a replacement.
In doing so, he stampedes the rest of their horses before riding off without
incident. In the screenplay and the book, Fleischman creates a separate soli-
tary Apache, not one of the band, who begins to stalk them. But in the film,
Peckinpah has Yellowleg discovered by one of the Indians who wakes and
tries to stop him. Knocking the Apache out, Yellowleg drives off the other
horses and rides away before the rest of the band realize what’s happening.
This act provides the motivation for this lone Apache, whose loss of face
now demands that he confront Yellowleg and kill him. As a consequence,
the Apache separates from the band and begins dogging Yellowleg and Kit.
This game of cat-and-mouse continues for several days, with the Apache
taunting them, firing arrows that narrowly miss. Meanwhile, both their
remaining horses are killed, one as the result of a broken leg, the other from
an Apache arrow, forcing Yellowleg to realize that he must face the Apache
and finish him one way or the other. Ironically, this, of course, results in
Kit, not Yellowleg, having to finally kill their tormentor.
In the book, Fleischman has the Apache killed by Kit between chapters.
Chapter 20 ends with Kit waiting in a cavern while Yellowleg goes in search
of their tormentor. With the focus on Yellowleg, the last line of the chapter
reads: “And then, from somewhere behind the sun, the blast of a shotgun
rolled out over the haze.”30 Chapter 21 begins on the next page: “Yellowleg
found the Apache almost on his feet, a young giant in bronze and blood,
blown back into the spiked branches of a staghorn cholla and held there
like a grotesque scarecrow.”31
In the screenplay, however, Fleischman gives the Apache a name, Lone
Cloud (which is never spoken on-screen), and stages the moment of death
on camera. Having left Kit in a cavern beneath a massive butte, Yellowleg
goes in search of the Apache:

EXT. GULLY—DAY
Yellowleg on the move, eyes alert.
DISSOLVE TO:
EXT. PATCH OF GROUND
Yellowleg studying [the] ground. He looks off in [the] direction

24
The Deadly Companions Revisited

of [the] butte area in alarm. He begins to run.


INT. CAVERN—KIT
We OPEN on [the] shotgun lying across [the] coffin. The CAM-
ERA PANS to Kit seated against the wall with [her] head in [her]
arms on propped knees. Suddenly her head rises.
REVERSE SHOT—MOUTH OF CAVERN FROM HER POV
Lone Cloud is standing there, an Apache silhouette against the
bright daylight.
INT. CAVERN—KIT
Paralyzed with fear—for an instant. Then she leaps for the shot-
gun.
FULL SHOT—LONE CLOUD
Moving into the cavern.
CLOSE SHOT—KIT
Raising shotgun to [her] shoulder and taking a bead.
FULL SHOT—LONE CLOUD
Suddenly Yellowleg appears behind him in the mouth of the
[cavern].
CLOSE SHOT—KIT WITH SHOTGUN
Seeing Yellowleg behind.

Kit: Drop!

EXT. MOUTH OF [CAVERN]


Yellowleg hits the ground. Instantly—the roar of the shotgun.
Lone Cloud comes spinning out into the sunlight.
CLOSE SHOT—KIT LOWERING THE SHOTGUN
REVERSE SHOT—LOOKING TOWARD THE MOUTH OF
[CAVERN]
Yellowleg rises and walks toward her.
TWO SHOT—KIT AND YELLOWLEG
They stare at each other for a moment.

Yellowleg: Fast thinking.


Kit: If I’d thought a little faster—I’d have kept my mouth shut.

Clearly, Fleischman’s extremely specific camera direction would have


been at the behest of FitzSimons and for the benefit of his sister’s perfor-
mance. From the Fleischman-FitzSimons perspective, the scene is designed

25
Garner Simmons

to show Kit having the opportunity to kill both the Apache and Yellowleg
with a single shotgun blast. By shouting to Yellowleg to drop, she intention-
ally saves his life despite immediately attempting to deny it.
Yet in the finished film, the scene reflects Peckinpah’s touch. First, the
location he selects is a cave with both a mouth and a chimney opening
high above. Next, he sends Yellowleg off while positioning Kit facing the
mouth of the cave, holding the shotgun. Then he stages the action so that
we first glimpse the Apache in the opening above Kit as he slips down into
the cave unnoticed.32 Peckinpah then milks the moment, building the ten-
sion until suddenly the Apache appears in extreme close-up directly before
her—a shock-cut that startles both her and the viewer. Reacting, Kit pulls
the trigger, blowing the Apache away with Yellowleg arriving after the fact.
It is an undeniably powerful scene. Thus, despite O’Hara’s evident dislike
of Peckinpah’s directorial style, he gives her one of the most memorable
moments in the film. And unlike the way it appears in the screenplay, she
does not have to share it with Brian Keith.
With the Apache dead, Yellowleg and Kit must make the final leg of
the journey to the empty ghost town of Siringo on foot, carrying the boy’s
coffin between them. There they finally locate the grave of Kit’s husband.
But before they can bury the boy beside his father, they must confront Turk
and Billy one last time. Here, the Script, the book, and the film all agree on
certain basic elements: After getting the drop on Yellowleg and Kit, Billy
escorts them to what was once the saloon. He then sends Turk to get the
money the two have stolen from the bank back in Gila City. While Turk
is gone, Billy confesses that he really doesn’t want to kill Turk himself but
will give Yellowleg his revolver back on the condition that he kill the old
man for him. Then once Turk is out of the way, Yellowleg and Billy can
settle things between them in the street, with Kit going to the winner. With
cavalier bravado, Billy hands Yellowleg back his gun and turns his back to
leave while grinning at Kit: “The lady’s got to admit I got guts, don’t she?”
From this point, what FitzSimons wanted and what Peckinpah delivered
are decidedly different. As FitzSimons bitterly recalled: “I don’t think Sam
understood, or if he did understand, was not in agreement with, the premise
of the picture: the problem of revenge for a man of moral fiber is the mo-
ment he catches up with it. I don’t really think [Peckinpah] understood the
morality play that was there because . . . what he shot was an ending for the
picture I couldn’t use.”33

26
The Deadly Companions Revisited

In both the book and Script, Fleischman gives Yellowleg two guns. How-
ever, Peckinpah and Keith found this to be too “Hollywood” and simply
had him wear a single holster, just as Keith had done in The Westerner. This
also serves to set him in contrast to Billy, who wears two. Without question,
the reason behind Fleischman’s giving Yellowleg two guns is linked to this
final duel with Billy. Since Yellowleg’s right shoulder is encumbered by the
lead ball still lodged there, he would appear to be handicapped in a gun-
fight, thus raising the stakes. Consequently, as Yellowleg goes after Turk, he
merely wounds him. Billy, emboldened by what he perceives as Yellowleg’s
poor marksmanship, then calls him out from behind. Fleischman’s Script
describes it this way:

Billy: I’m ready any time you turn around.


Yellowleg: You figure you’re good enough?
Billy: There’s only one way to find out.

INT. HOTEL LtOBBY


His leg bloody and stiff, Turk is trying to pull himself back up the
stairs to escape being finished off.
EXT. BOARDWALK—YELLOWLEG AND BILLY
Yellowleg, his back still to Billy . . .

Billy (grinning contempt): Two shots and you ain’t finished him off yet.
Yellowleg (very quietly): I ain’t ready for him to die.

Yellowleg stands tall and straight now. Silent tension begins to


mount. He turns slowly.
Their eyes lock. The thin buzzing of a fly is HEARD.
INSERT—YELLOWLEG’S HAND
So still that fly lands on [the] back of [his] hand.
BACK TO SCENE
The final moments. An instant before the draw, pain catches
Yellowleg’s right shoulder. It’s enough of a movement to force
Billy’s draw. Yellowleg now doesn’t even attempt to grab his
right gun. Instead, he draws only one gun—his left—for the
exchange of shots.
INT. BAR—KIT
Kit reacting to the SOUNDS of GUNFIRE. Then silence.
Then SOUNDS of boots on boardwalk outside bar. Kit’s eyes

27
Garner Simmons

hold on the door.


REVERSE SHOT—BAR DOORWAY
Billy stands in the doorway.
CLOSE ON KIT
Reacting.
FULL SHOT—BILLY
Staring at Kit.

Billy (almost inaudible): Winner take all . . .

He collapses in the doorway.

At this point, Fleischman has Yellowleg continue his pursuit of Turk


despite Kit’s pleas to let him go. As the director, however, Peckinpah had
other considerations. Given that Yellowleg did not carry a double-slung rig,
he obviously had no left-hand gun to draw. Therefore, Peckinpah decided to
simply have Billy step forward in order to block Yellowleg’s path and force
the confrontation. In discussing it with Ernest Callenbach of Film Quarterly,
Peckinpah recalled: “[A]t the end, where Brian Keith is marching to kill
Turkey, the character played by Steve Cochran steps up in front of him with
his particular kind of little boy bravado, which he does quite well, and Brian
pulls his gun and kills him, a brutal, realistic act.”34 When FitzSimons saw
this in the dailies, it was the last straw: “The way Peckinpah shot it, he had
the Brian Keith character walk right up to Cochran saying, ‘Get out of my
way, Billy. I don’t have any quarrel with you.’ And before Cochran could get
his gun out of his holster, Brian shoots him in the belly. Well, now you take
ninety minutes of a movie and you flush it down the toilet. So the only way
I was able to overcome that situation was to have Turk, from the top of the
old mission, appear to shoot Billy in the back. Which was in keeping with
Turk’s character. So in other words, I had to come up with another ending,
which wasn’t the true ending of the true drama we were striving for. But at
least it was not contrary to the drama of the picture.”35
Without question, Peckinpah and FitzSimons were at odds over how this
gunfight should play out. But despite FitzSimons’ claim that Peckinpah had
failed to grasp the dramatic significance of this climactic moment in the
story, it is clear that Peckinpah had a logic of his own. As Jim Kitses wrote
in Horizons West: “As Kit had laid Yellowleg’s ghost to rest, blasting down
the lone Apache when he wriggles into the cave to stand above her like a

28
The Deadly Companions Revisited

primeval spirit, so internal logic demands that Yellowleg destroy Billy, a


meaningful symmetry that is absurdly withheld in the final cut.”36
Ironically, the film still works for the viewer who is unaware of the dispute
between director and producer. Early on as they approach Gila City, Yel-
lowleg rides ahead and Turk urges Billy to shoot him in the back, to which
Billy replies: “Ain’t my style.” When Turk presses him to do it anyway, Billy
shakes his head and notes: “Any man that’d turn his back on you is just a
dad-blame fool.” In light of the ultimate outcome, this exchange becomes
unintentionally prophetic, a foreshadowing of the events to come.
Following Billy’s death, Yellowleg is forced to confront his own demons as
he continues to pursue Turk, despite Kit’s fierce objection that his action may
cost him her love. Having lived with the desire to make the drunken Rebel
who scalped him on the battlefield suffer the same fate, he now takes it to the
very edge. With a fistful of Turk’s hair in one hand and the same knife that
Turk had used in trying to scalp him in the other, Yellowleg reaches the mo-
ment of revenge, then pulls back. By sparing Turk, he indeed spares himself.
As Bernard F. Dukore notes, Yellowleg’s inability to consummate his
revenge contains an echo of Hamlet.37 Like his Shakespearean counterpart,
Yellowleg finds himself unable to act. Having finally found the man who
attempted to kill and scalp him, he fails to carry out his revenge time and
again despite numerous opportunities. While Hamlet’s reluctance comes
from a much more complex series of concerns, Yellowleg’s delay is due first
to his physical impairment (the minié ball lodged in his shoulder) and then
to his sense of guilt and commitment to help Kit transport her son’s body
across the desert in order to find her husband’s grave and bury the boy
beside it. Yet, in the end, Hamlet acts. Yellowleg does not.
While Peckinpah never would have admitted to such an interpretation, it
is really the reenactment of civilization’s defining moment. If Yellowleg does
to Turk what Turk has done to him, he effectively enacts the ancient code of
justice as described in the Bible: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But
by stopping himself and allowing Turk to be turned over to the posse and
returned for trial, he is essentially reaffirming the tale told by Aeschylus in
the conclusion of Eumenides. There Orestes, pursued by the Furies, turns his
fate over to Athena, who orders that twelve citizens hear his case and decide
his fate. Thus, by stopping his own hand, Yellowleg ends the cycle of violence
and retribution. As Dukore notes, Peckinpah, whose master’s degree from the
University of Southern California was in drama, would have been familiar

29
Garner Simmons

with Greek tragedy. And by his own admission, FitzSimons saw The Deadly
Companions as a morality tale. However, the fact is that the story originates
neither with Peckinpah nor with FitzSimons but with Fleischman, whose
original screenplay is the source from which the film has evolved.
Turning then to the final scene in the film, there is one last discrepancy
that demands our attention. The finished screenplay titled Yellowleg is 115
pages and ends with the scene between Yellowleg and the posse that has
ridden all the way to Siringo in pursuit of Turk and Billy, after they robbed
the Gila City Bank:

Seeing Billy lying dead on the boardwalk.

Mayor (no pause): Looks like we found ’em.


Yellowleg: They figured you didn’t have guts enough to come to Siringo.
Mayor: We don’t as a rule. (with a certain mild contempt) But you know
how folks are. If it’s their money, the gates of Hell wouldn’t stop ’em.
Yellowleg (to Parson): You’re the Parson, ain’t you?
Bartender: Says he is.
Yellowleg (to Parson): Mead’s lying next to his paw waitin’ for the
right kind of words.

All eyes turn on Kit. A look of guilt.

Parson (seriously): I’ll scratch up a right fine prayer. Come on.

And the group starts off.


FADE OUT.
THE END

However, the Thermofax Change Pages do not stop there. They continue on,
ending on page 116. Instead of “fade out” at this point, the transition reads:

DISSOLVE TO:
EXT. GRAVESIDE
The posse, Kit and Yellowleg standing at [the] graveside. The par-
son removes his hat as a cue to the others. The men take off their
headgear—all but Yellowleg. Kit’s eyes turn slowly to him. And he
removes his hat. [We] see a faint scar running along the right side.

Parson: We are gathered here together in the sight of The Lord to deliver
unto him . . .

30
The Deadly Companions Revisited

DISSOLVE TO:
EXT. MAIN STREET—DAY
The posse, mounted, stands together, ready to leave. Turk with
his hands tied behind him. We have a glimpse of Kit as the posse
starts off back to Gila City. They go 50 feet before stopping. They
turn to look back.
WHAT THEY SEE
Yellowleg standing at the starting point. He has remained there
on his horse. Kit sees him there and it’s clear enough that he has
changed his mind about returning to Gila City with her. She
leaves the posse and rides back to him.
We HOLD them in LONG SHOT as they talk for a moment.
We hear none of their conversation. After a few moments, their
horses part. Kit rides back to [the] posse, trying to appear self-
contained—but she is torn apart inside. Yellowleg rides away in
[the] opposite direction, toward California.
As Kit rejoins the posse, they ride out past CAMERA leaving an
angle on [the] empty street with Yellowleg disappearing.
Then CAMERA PULLS BACK, finally revealing [the] old sign we
have seen before.
WELCOME TO
SIRINGO
Pop. 873
FADE OUT.
THE END

What is truly intriguing, however, is that the film ends differently than
either of these versions, with the posse escorting Turk off (presumably back
to Gila City to stand trial), while Kit and Yellowleg ride off together in the
opposite direction. When I interviewed FitzSimons back in 1974, he made the
following statement: “So we went ahead and we made the picture according
to the original script without any of Peckinpah’s changes. And as he would
try to change things during shooting, we would again lock horns. When it
came to the editing of the picture, of course, he wanted it edited from the
material he had shot from his point of view, and I wanted it edited from
the material that I had him shoot from my point of view. And being the
producer of the picture and having the right to predominate, I won out.”38

31
Garner Simmons

Turk riding out at the end of The Deadly Companions. Yellowleg is in the
background.

In commenting on his experience on The Deadly Companions to Callen-


bach, Sam Peckinpah lamented, “The whole point of the story was screwed
up by the cutting . . . which changed the whole focus of the thing—we really
had everyone riding off into the sunset, which wasn’t my touch.”39
Given both FitzSimons’ and Peckinpah’s remarks here, it would seem that
the ending that appears in the finished film is what FitzSimons wanted: Yel-
lowleg and Kit riding off together, in Peckinpah’s words, “into the sunset,” a
truly “Hollywood ending.” But that still does not explain the ending contained
on page 116 of the Thermofax changes. Since this alternative ending concludes
on a bittersweet note with Kit returning to Gila City with the posse while
Yellowleg rides off alone in the other direction, it would seem to be much
more in keeping with something Peckinpah might have instigated. Yet when
I asked Fleischman about it, he replied: “[Charles] never once invited me into
the cutting room to see what mischief he was up to. At the same time, I really
don’t remember writing a major change, such as a full scene, at Sam’s urging.”40
Nevertheless, the Change Pages exist only because Fleischman held onto
them all these years and allowed me to examine them along with a copy of
his screenplay. Since, by all accounts, he was the only writer on the project,
these pages, including page 116, must have been generated by him. Now, a
half-century later, it should not come as a surprise that he could not recall

32
The Deadly Companions Revisited

the genesis of this final page. But it remains proof positive that an alternative
ending was at least seriously considered.
Perhaps the key lies in FitzSimons’ account of how the final picture was
cut. If we assume then that the final film that exists today represents FitzSi-
mons’ view, then the ending is his. But if, as he claims, Peckinpah also shot
material he disagreed with, it is possible that page 116 is, in fact, a version
of the ending that Peckinpah shot as well. Since under Directors Guild of
America rules, Peckinpah was allowed a director’s cut, this ending, along
with his version of the final shoot-out with Billy, would have been included,
only to be rejected by FitzSimons out of hand.
Unfortunately, since Peckinpah’s cut of the film did not survive, all this can
be nothing more than conjecture, however tantalizing it might seem. Never-
theless, when compared to the body of Peckinpah’s work to follow—films filled
with irony and lost love, violence and passion, missed moments and endings
that fly in the face of Hollywood convention—it is a case worth making.
One final thought. When I first wrote about The Deadly Companions and
the conflict that arose between Peckinpah and FitzSimons, I was clearly biased.
Fresh out of film school and filled with notions about the director as auteur,
I had a lot to learn about actual filmmaking. While I still find it remarkable
how much Sam Peckinpah’s touch is visible in the finished film, I need to say
in fairness that, having now spent most of my professional life as a writer
and producer and sometime director in this business, I find myself much
more sympathetic toward FitzSimons and Fleischman, who labored long
and hard to bring their vision of the picture to the screen. It should come as
no surprise that following this film, FitzSimons would turn his producing
talents to television, which is indeed a producer’s medium. As for Fleischman,
a member of the Writers Guild of America since 1954, he began writing his
first book of juvenile fiction, By the Great Horn Spoon, during the twenty-week
Writers Guild strike of 1960. Published in 1963, it launched a stellar career
that would bring him, among other things, the prestigious Newbery Medal
for children’s literature. But of all those involved in the filming of The Deadly
Companions, only Sam Peckinpah would establish himself on the world stage
as a filmmaker of significant note. Although Peckinpah denounced the film
as impossibly flawed, it nevertheless revealed that he was capable of greater
things to come. Thus when the opportunity to direct Ride the High Country
would present itself within the year, Peckinpah was ready. Battle-tested and
self-assured, he would accept the assignment and never look back.

33
Garner Simmons

Notes
1. Though done for television, his adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s Noon Wine
deserves to be added to this list despite the unavailability of a decent print. And more
recently, both Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Cross of Iron are justifiably at-
tracting serious revisionist criticism as well.
2. The original wide-screen version (available from Lakeshore in PAL Region 2
format) is far superior to the NTSC version that has been cropped and scanned for
television.
3. This edition is a Gold Medal Original (a subsidiary of Fawcett) and cost twenty-
five cents new in 1960.
4. It is worth noting that the director of photography on Blood Alley was William
Clothier, a connection that would cause Fleischman to recommend him to FitzSimons
for The Deadly Companions as well.
5. Born Maureen FitzSimons, she had taken the stage name of O’Hara to capitalize
on the popularity of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
6. The Deadly Companions would be FitzSimons’ first and only feature as producer
on his way to a long career in television; prior to this, he had been an associate producer
for Edward L. Alperson on three B pictures: The Restless Breed, The Courage of Black
Beauty, and Mohawk.
7. Charles B. FitzSimons, telephone interview with the author, Los Angeles, Cali-
fornia, June 13, 1974.
8. Sid Fleischman, interview with the author, Los Angeles, California, April 15, 2009.
9. Ibid.
10. FitzSimons interview.
11. According to David Weddle in his biography of Peckinpah, If They Move—Kill
’Em! The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah, 198, the final budget for the film was actually
$530,000, still extremely low by studio standards.
12. Fleischman interview.
13. FitzSimons interview.
14. Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration, 34.
15. The original screenplay for The Deadly Companions by A. S. Fleischman. All
quoted material cited comes from this screenplay or the Change Pages attached to it.
16. Fleischman has since donated both the screenplay and the Change Pages to the
permanent collection at the Writers Guild Foundation Shavelson-Webb Library in
Los Angeles.
17. Fleischman interview.
18. FitzSimons interview.
19. Fleischman, Yellowleg, 6.
20. FitzSimons interview.
21. Fleischman interview.
22. Fleischman, Yellowleg, 45.
23. Fleischman interview.
24. Weddle, If They Move—Kill ’Em! 198.
25. Fleischman interview.
26. Qtd. in Simmons, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage, 90.
27. Fleischman interview.
28. Ibid.

34
The Deadly Companions Revisited

29. Qtd. in Simmons, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage, 131.


30. Fleischman, Yellowleg, 123.
31. Ibid., 124.
32. In order to fully appreciate what Peckinpah intended, it is critical that the film
be viewed in the widescreen version currently found on the PAL Region 2 DVD.
33. FitzSimons interview.
34. Callenbach, “Conversation with Sam Peckinpah,” 5.
35. FitzSimons interview.
36. Kitses, Horizons West, 154.
37. Bernard F. Dukore, Sam Peckinpah’s Feature Films (Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 1999), 154.
38. FitzSimons interview.
39. Callenbach, “Conversation with Sam Peckinpah,” 5.
40. Fleischman interview.

35
Martyred Slaves of Time: Age, Regret, and
Transcendence in The Wild Bunch
Michael Bliss

Thou shouldst not have been old before thou hadst been wise.
—The Fool, King Lear, act I, scene 5

If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weigh you down and
crush you to the Earth . . .
If you would not be martyred slaves of time,
Be drunken, continually. Drunken with what?
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue as you will.
—Charles Baudelaire, “Be Drunken”

S am Peckinpah once said, “Men who have lived out of their times—that’s
a thing that ends with me with Cable Hogue.”1 But the director could
no more abjure that concern than he could change his artistic orientation.
Growing up in the high country, surrounded by a family steeped in the
traditions of California, the values of the Old West, and biblical precepts,
Peckinpah could not be anyone but who he was: a man deeply appreciative
of history, place, and notions involving honor, integrity, and redemption.
But he could also not avoid realizing that he was committed to a series of
values that seemed inextricably linked to a period in the nation’s history
during which the frontier (with its supposedly limitless possibilities) still
existed and in which the corollaries of these ideas were also beginning to
assert themselves: the disappearance of the frontier and the attendant nar-
rowing of possibilities.
When, in a different interview, Peckinpah stated that “the western is a
universal frame within which it is possible to comment on today,”2 he drew
attention to how a genre traditionally associated with the past can affect
how one views events in the present. And in no film of the director’s is the
focus on time as pronounced as it is in The Wild Bunch.

36
Martyred Slaves of Time

The film isn’t merely about anachronism, about (to quote text from the
film’s poster) “unchanged men in a changing land.” Certainly this is one of
the film’s themes, which we see in the many references to the closing down
of the Old West and the advent of new technologies (for example, the au-
tomobile and the machine gun) that will change the way that outlaws such
as the Bunch do business. These are aspects of the film worthy of discus-
sion. What I want to concern myself with here, though, is the personal and
teleological level on which the passage of time is experienced, chiefly by the
Bunch, especially by Pike and Thornton.
The Bunch spans three generations. The eldest are Sykes, Thornton, Pike,
and Dutch. Debility is a prevalent issue among these men. Sykes is some-
times inept (as when he inadvertently crosses some horses’ reins, causing
the animals and the Bunch to tumble down a sand dune). Sykes’ ragged
clothes, nicotine-stained teeth and beard, and cracked voice3 all attest to his
advanced age. When we first see Thornton, he seems old: asleep, dozing in
the sun on a rooftop. Pike expresses concern about physical ailments. “Ain’t
getting around any better,” he tells Dutch. As for Dutch, Pike repeatedly, yet
playfully, taunts him with moving too slowly (“Come on, you lazy bastard!”).
One of Pike’s greatest deficiencies is his inability to anticipate problems.
Lyle points out that Pike should have known that the Starbuck job might
have been a trap into which the Bunch would fall (“How the hell come you
didn’t know that?” he asks). For all of Pike’s talk about the need for a new
way of doing business (“We’ve gotta start thinking beyond our guns”), he
still operates as he always has. Granted, his planning and organization of the
train heist is impressive (as was true of the Starbuck robbery), yet the fact is
that the motivations behind both of the film’s set pieces are wrongheaded:
despite their triumphant physicality, the first scene’s action is prompted by
greed, the second’s is in the service of Mapache (“just another bandit grab-
bing all that he can for himself,” as Dutch says of the self-styled “general”).
Because he occupies more screen time than Thornton and is involved in
more of the film’s action, there may be a tendency to regard Pike as the film’s
main character. Yet Pike would have nowhere near the psychological depth
that he does were it not for the way that he treated Thornton in the past, a
form of reckless behavior that is a predictor of so many of his future actions.
This is not to say, of course, that Thornton is a saint. He’s a robber just
as Pike is, but he’s more cautious, more thoughtful, and carries a greater
burden than does his former partner. He’s been jailed and whipped, is

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Michael Bliss

being blackmailed by railroad agent Harrigan, and is saddled with a bunch


of incompetent sidekicks. Pike may be fatally enclosed by his lack of options,
but Thornton’s limitations are far more painful and profound.
At some point, everyone is faced with a significant choice: personal com-
fort or an ethical life (the two realms often seem to be mutually exclusive,
though they certainly needn’t always be). The conflict between these realms
is dramatized in The Wild Bunch’s steam bath “debate.” Angel wants to
give his people guns. Pike and Dutch offer him money. “Buy ’em a ranch.
Move ’em a thousand miles,” Pike says in a statement that misses the point.
Angel doesn’t want to hide from the difficulties of a political struggle. He
wants what is right for his people. What Angel desires, and what he and
Sykes (chronological antipodes) represent, is a strain of high-mindedness
that seems to have skipped the Gorches’ generation. It’s almost as though
in the film, only the very young or the very old have ideas about loyalty
and principles. And yet . . . there’s Pike’s “stick together” speech, which sits
at the film’s ethical center and to which (via action) the film returns at its
end. “When you side with a man you stay with him, and if you can’t do that
you’re finished. We’re finished. All of us.” This speech testifies to the fact
that at heart, Pike, too, is an idealist but one who, over time, has adopted a
hardened attitude. When we see Pike as a younger man—smooth-shaven,
unwrinkled brow, bearing flowers and gifts for Aurora, looking for all the
world like a silly schoolboy—we see a vulnerability whose loss must seem
ever-present to his older self.
When one has reached bottom, as has Pike in the Agua Verde adobe
scene toward the film’s end, what else is there to do but avail yourself of the
only option that time has left you, the one last opportunity to do the right
thing—in this case, to go back for Angel? Not to save him, of course—that
would be impossible, the odds against the Bunch being too great—but to
go out in a blaze of glory, to put a fine end to a life that for too many years
has already been finished, all for the sake of an idea.
Underlying this grand gesture is the need to address a deeply existential
despair. Yet as philosopher Søren Kierkegaard points out in The Sickness
unto Death, despair is not the solution to a feeling of hopelessness.

However thoroughly it eludes the attention of the despairer, and how-


ever thoroughly the despairer may succeed . . . in losing himself en-
tirely, and losing himself in such a way that it is not noticed in the
least—eternity nevertheless will make it manifest that his situation was

38
Martyred Slaves of Time

despair, and it will so nail him to himself that the torment nevertheless
remains that he cannot get rid of himself, and it becomes manifest
that he was deluded in thinking that he succeeded.4

If there’s anything characteristic of Pike, it’s that he’s “nailed” to his tor-
ment over past mistakes and that try as he may (via robberies, drinking,
or dalliances with women), he cannot forget how he feels about his wasted
past, his diminished present, and what doubtless appears to him to be his
pointless future.
Kierkegaard says elsewhere in the same book that the self must be
“grounded transparently in the Power which constituted it.”5 One would
be hard pressed to find this kind of spiritual awareness in most of The Wild
Bunch. True, Pike and Thornton realize that they are in despair, that they
are bound to, and carry regrets from, a past from which they constantly
struggle to break free. Until the film’s end, though, they’re lost men, unable
to find the device that will free them.
Kierkegaard goes on to say, “And thus it is eternity must act, because to
have a self, to be a self, is the greatest concession made to man, but at the
same time it is eternity’s demand upon him.”6 In a Kierkegaardian sense,
“eternity” for Pike and Thornton means the realm of the universal: of God,
of ethics, of the divine. Pike cannot respond to the demands that eternity
places upon him in a way of which Kierkegaard would approve because Pike
does not believe that he has access to a god, the kind of God that is the rock
and fortress of a man such as Ride the High Country’s Steve Judd. What Pike
does have available to him is the redemption of the warrior: action (thus
the repeated line “Let’s go”). Redemption through conflict is the credo by
which Pike chooses to live, all other forms of comfort (meaningful female
companionship, family) having been forsaken by him.
One would like to believe that Pike and Thornton could learn to live with
their limitations, that they could achieve a form of resigned, passive dimin-
ishment and accept their present situations. Theologian Pierre Teilhard de
Chardin has written,

God . . . has already transfigured our sufferings by making them serve
our conscious fulfillment. In His hands the forces of diminishment
have perceptibly become the instrument that cuts, carves, and polishes
within us the stone which is destined to occupy a specific place in the
heavenly Jerusalem. . . . The progressive destruction of our egoism by

39
Michael Bliss

means of the “automatic” broadening of our human perspectives . . .


when linked to the gradual spiritualization of our desires and ambi-
tions under the action of certain setbacks are no doubt very real forms
of that ecstasy which is to tear us from ourselves so as to subordinate
us to God.7
The problem is, Pike and Thornton don’t have a spiritual context within
which to situate their infirmities. And yet, Peckinpah emphasizes that both
men’s agonies are necessary antecedents to their redemption. The only other
author that for me gives rise to this kind of spiritual intensity is Flannery
O’Connor, who, not coincidentally, was also deeply concerned with suffer-
ing, confusion, regret, uncertainty, and damaged, tormented characters and
who, like Peckinpah, all the while placed at the center of her work an urge
toward deliverance and forgiveness that refuses to be denied, even if this
impulse is often resisted by her stories’ central characters. What O’Connor
once said of Hazel Motes, the Jesus-haunted protagonist of her novel Wise
Blood, might equally be said of Pike and Thornton.
That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been
a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter
of no great consequence. For them Hazel Motes’ integrity lies in his
trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from
tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author, Hazel’s integrity
lies in his not being able to. Does one’s integrity ever lie in what one is
not able to do? I think that usually it does, for free will does not mean
one will, but many wills conflicting in one man.8
Just as Motes cannot rid himself of “the ragged figure,” Pike and Thornton
can escape neither the workings of a fate that draws them toward redemption
nor the always nagging feeling that they fall short of what they know to be
right. And while these former friends’ obsessions are not positioned in the
same Christian context within which O’Connor’s characters move, their
integrity is nonetheless defined by what they are ultimately unable to do:
deny the friendship between them and, in Pike’s case, overcome the anxiety
that he feels because one more abandonment is one too many.
If The Ballad of Cable Hogue is not only about a man who finds water but
also about God,9 then we can say that The Wild Bunch is about two parched
lives that are redeemed by two deeply spiritual moments: Thornton’s joining
up with Sykes and the Puro Indians, and the Bunch’s image hovering over

40
Martyred Slaves of Time

what amounts to a new, and perhaps better, Bunch. Even though The Wild
Bunch (unlike Ride the High Country and Cable Hogue) is not peppered
with biblical references (Mayor Wainscoat’s preaching is obviously being
satirized), what it nonetheless achieves at its end is the same thing that
these other two films do: a transfiguration of characters who are neither
(to paraphrase a line from Cable Hogue) “put down too deep nor raised too
high.” In this sense, if the Bunch do not subordinate themselves to God,
they do what amounts to the next best thing. They sacrifice themselves for
an ideal: showing a friend that what he means to them is more important
than their lives.
After the Starbuck job, Pike and Dutch have a discussion about whether
they can learn from the mistakes in planning that they made in Starbuck.
Dutch asks, “How about us, Pike? You reckon we learned, being wrong
today?” Pike replies, “I sure hope to God we did.” It’s one of many inter-
changes in a film that, devoted as it may be to action, is equally devoted
to contemplative moments. What’s remarkable about these scenes is that
they do not impede the film’s progress. They merely shift it to a different
form of movement, in this case, a reaching for insight that begs to be put
into practice.
The fact that Dutch has to ask if they learned anything hints at the distinct
possibility that they haven’t, that for all of their shortcomings, the Bunch
will continue to operate as they always have. The irony, of course, is that
despite his thoughtful moments, Pike doesn’t change his behavior—that is,
until he has run out of options. But perhaps this is the direction in which
forces that Pike can’t see have been leading him all along: to rise up out of
the depths of hopelessness and perform a grand, altruistic gesture. Pike
finally comes to an essential truth: talk about sticking together is trumped
by acting on this notion, even if it means that by so doing one loses one’s
life. One could say that the phrase “greater love hath no man than this, that
a man lay down his life for his friends”10 applies here, but that would be to
imply that Pike achieves some form of insight when, indeed, his motive
in returning for Angel is born less of thought than of an impulse that is
firmly wedded to a spiritual sensibility he doesn’t know he has, but which
the director most certainly knew was there.
In The Wild Bunch, there’s no way to separate the sense of time’s en-
croachments from the oppressiveness of certain physical spaces. Images such
as those of the ants and scorpions in their straw cage, of the Bunch when

41
Michael Bliss

they enter Starbuck, and of the Bunch again when they walk into the center
of Agua Verde for the last time suggest that a sense of entrapment—physical,
emotional, temporal, and spiritual—weighs heavily in this film. Entrapment
motifs coincide with notions of cul-de-sacs and lost possibilities—an ironic
situation given that so much of the film takes place in wide-open areas. The
Wild Bunch often asserts a parallelism between diminishing options (“Back
off to what?”) and diminishing (and sometimes metaphoric) space (“Those
days are closing fast”). And yet, working against these ideas is the film’s
end, in which the possibility of renewal rising out of the ashes of violence
is held out as a promise, chiefly through the elegiac, celebratory tone that
Peckinpah invokes.
The Wild Bunch is the cornerstone of Peckinpah’s moralistic universe. It
doesn’t flinch from portraying betrayals and compromises and deceits, but
it also arcs toward hope (albeit a hope that is not of this world). It’s a film
about the wish that, even if they’re not forgiven, all of one’s deficiencies and
mistakes ultimately don’t matter in one’s life if at its end you finally redeem
yourself. By the film’s conclusion, the Bunch have become spirits, shadow
figures—laughing, yes, but no longer part of this world. Yet in spite of this
sad fact, The Wild Bunch’s end triumphantly elevates us.
In a scene just before the Bunch go back to reclaim Angel, Pike is in
a room with a woman from Agua Verde. Lying on an adjacent bed is the
woman’s infant. Through Pike’s tired eyes, we see how little he really has: no
home, no wife, no children. What is left, then, but some meaningful action?
Yet even action has its limits unless it is tied to some laudable purpose. When
the Bunch initially returned for Angel, Pike tried to buy him back with gold.

Regret

42
Martyred Slaves of Time

Transcendence

But Mapache is holding onto Angel not for ransom but as recompense for
what he finds extremely offensive: the idea that one of his own country-
men betrayed him. The second time, the Bunch buy back Angel with their
lives—and they do so for friendship, for solidarity, to put into practice the
principle behind Pike’s speech about group cohesion. In other words, they
go back for Angel to not only act on but also, through this action, reclaim a
set of values allied with fidelity that they recognize are fast disappearing.11
Acting for the sake of a golden ideal instead of gold lifts the Bunch out of
the rigors of time and into a different region, legend, in which the passage
of years does not detract but enhances. Martyring themselves, the Bunch
throw off their slavery to time and become free.
It’s quite appropriate that the image of the Bunch, seen from behind,
walking back into the center of Agua Verde for Angel, virtually duplicates
one of the shots of them riding out of Angel’s village after the fiesta (the
image with which Peckinpah ends the film). In each case, what’s being
invoked is a melancholic sense of both exultation and regret: joy deriving
from generosity of spirit, sadness at the thought that there’s a leave-taking
going on. The liberation of the Bunch, evidenced in the ethereal images of
them at the film’s end, really begins when they move toward Bloody Porch.
Having left behind all earthly encumbrances, they sacrifice themselves for
an idea, thereby passing “out of nature,”12 beyond both material and tempo-
ral limitations. The film’s previous compactness yields to the physical and
spiritual expansiveness of the Bunch’s images in the open, not only outside
of Agua Verde’s confines but outside those of the world as well. By invoking

43
Michael Bliss

the Bunch in this way, Peckinpah turns their reappearance and the film in
which it occurs into cinematic paeans that not only bring together “what is
past, or passing, or to come” but also transcend the burdens of time, becom-
ing at last timeless artifacts—evocative, melodic, mnemonic—that are “set
upon a golden bough to sing.”

Notes
1. Qtd. in Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration, 255.
2. Qtd. in Jenson, “Stella and Sam,” 75.
3. This aspect of Sykes is clearly an affectation, since it disappears when he comments
on Thornton being one of the Starbuck bounty hunters.
4. Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, 154.
5. Ibid., 182.
6. Ibid., 154.
7. Teilhard de Chardin, Divine Milieu, 60.
8. O’Connor, author’s note to the second edition of Wise Blood.
9. Peckinpah qtd. in Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration, 214.
10. John 15:13 (KJV).
11. One could, I suppose, contend that the only reason that the Bunch go back for
Angel is because they’re left with no other alternative, that their “Why not?” is an
expression of nihilistic futility. In fact, though, the question expresses the hope that
there is a slim possibility that they can finally, at the end of their lives, do what they
intuitively know is right. Nonetheless, we can’t ignore the fact that the Bunch had op-
portunities before the film’s end to act in a way that wasn’t self-serving or destructive,
the key one being when they encounter the Puro Indians. Peckinpah gives them the
chance to fight against tyrants, but they pass. They’re too focused on delivering their
loot and getting paid to consider that not just two cases of rifles but all of the weapons
and ammunition that they’ve stolen should be handed over to Angel’s people. In this
regard, Angel’s speech about “my people, my country, Mexico” shows a sense of tradi-
tion and consciousness of nationality that, with the exception of Dutch’s “hitting pretty
close to home” remark, simply isn’t part of these men’s awareness.
12. This and the following quotations are from William Butler Yeats’ poem “Sailing
to Byzantium.”

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The Ballad of Divine Retribution
Steven Lloyd

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath:
for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if
thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing
thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
—Romans 12:19–20 (KJV)

But affection and confidence once wounded, gratitude disappears through


the wound, and the pain that remains is a severe and rigorous judge.
—Alexandre Dumas (père), Georges

R evenge sells. Such tales have enjoyed broad popularity almost since the
origins of storytelling. Perceived indignities within daily life mount
and unanswered insults accumulate, priming us to take pleasure in practi-
cally anyone else who wrests from his or her transgressors a satisfaction
that we ourselves were denied. The standard revenge story operates by ful-
filling the bloodlust of its vendetta-driven protagonist—encouraging, then
gratifying its audience’s investment in base hatreds. This typical approach
to vengeance plots can be viewed, in biblical terms, as pursuing an Old
Testament stance: “an eye for an eye.”1
For decades, the global appeal of Western fiction and films was possibly
tied as much to plots involving grim, bereaved westerners seeking their own
justice for the murder of a loved one/relative/partner as to the enduring
American love of gunplay. Sadly, for so many viewers (and especially non-
viewers), the enduring reputation of Sam Peckinpah’s art is linked to his par-
ticular way with gunplay. In a laser disc rental store a few years after the di-
rector’s death, I once overheard another customer tell someone, “That’s why
The Wild Bunch is great. It’s about getting revenge . . . and kicking aaassss!”
(Exposure to such remarks is a cross that Peckinpah buffs have to bear.)

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Though the eye-for-an-eye angle is common for revenge plots, Peckin-


pah almost never settled for creating mere common entertainments. This
gifted writer/director consistently applied his beautiful crafts to the service
of higher ideals: most often, morality plays examining personal values and
integrity yet repeatedly criticizing the pursuit of revenge. Even his first pro-
duced television script—the 1955 Gunsmoke episode “The Queue,” adapted
from series creator John Meston’s original radio version—has Dodge City
marshal Matt Dillon struggling to deter a non-stereotype Chinese immi-
grant from avenging himself upon two recognizably redneck peckerwoods
who severed and stole his traditional pigtail as an insult. By the time Peck-
inpah graduated from TV to theatrical features, it often would become a
female character’s purpose to dissuade a male lead from his destructive
quest for vengeance. This is a frequent key to survival in the Peckinpah
universe, as almost invariably the men who will neither forget nor forgive
their grievances earn the grave.
Five of Sam Peckinpah’s fourteen features center on quests for revenge.
If we include secondary characters or subplots, the count rises to nine: The
Deadly Companions (1961), Major Dundee (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969),
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), The Getaway (1972), Bring Me the Head of
Alfredo Garcia (1974), The Killer Elite (1975), Cross of Iron (1976), and The Oster-
man Weekend (1983). But because nearly all Peckinpah films focus on charac-
ter—and his stories are usually determined by characters’ specific emotional
journeys—his revenge narratives pay less attention to the mechanics of get-
ting even than to the interior pain of betrayal, remorse, or sometimes both.
Amy Sumner in Straw Dogs (1971), for example, never forgives her husband
David’s perceived betrayal in not directly confronting the likely killers of her
cat, while in The Deadly Companions, Yellowleg’s guilt over his accidental
shooting of Kit’s son overrides for a time his obsession with revenge against
Turkey. And it is Pike Bishop’s tremendous burden of accumulated remorse
(and not “kicking aaassss”) that is central to The Wild Bunch.
Something less often noted about Peckinpah’s greatest film, though, is
how Pike, despite his flaws, refuses to seek or endorse revenge. While he tells
Dutch how not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about tracking and killing
the man who long ago wounded him and murdered his lover (the other man’s
abandoned wife), he also never did it, proving that this wish was plainly
less important to him than making his one good score and backing off.
When Thornton’s bounty hunters ambush Sykes, Pike declines to retaliate

46
The Ballad of Divine Retribution

despite being urged to do so by some of his remaining men. And earlier,


when Angel had twice expressed interest in finding his father’s killer, Pike
tells him sternly, “Either you learn to live with it, or we’ll leave you here.”
Had Angel learned to live with things as Pike had done, or if Pike had cut
that tie right there, scores of deaths within the film could have had been
prevented. But then, we also would have been shy one film masterpiece.
However, Peckinpah followed one masterpiece with another, produced
back to back, which could hardly be less like the other in scale, tone, or
focus; yet they complement each other beautifully as companion pieces.
The director raised the stakes beyond his other on-screen explorations of
mankind and revenge by injecting God Himself into The Ballad of Cable
Hogue to assert His authority.
For a filmmaker identified with a genre so drenched with vigilante wish
fulfillment as the Western, what explains his apparent aversion to conven-
tional revenge fantasy? During a 1972 interview, Peckinpah discussed George
Bernard Shaw’s play The Devil’s Disciple, in which “a preacher discovers his
true nature, which is that of a man of action, a man of violence, and the man
of action discovers he’s really a preacher.” When Peckinpah asked whether
that suggested something to the interviewer, the latter replied, “That maybe
you’re a bit of a preacher yourself.” “Right on,” Peckinpah agreed. “Some-
thing to do with my background, maybe.”2
In Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration (still the single
greatest book about this artist), Paul Seydor offers the following:

Peckinpah’s relationship to religion is as conflicted as his relationships


to most things he felt strongly about, and mapping its exact contours
might easily warrant an essay of its own. Aggressively anti-doctrinaire
and anti-ideological, he was hostile to its organized manifestations
and ridiculed most forms of Puritanical thinking. But he also said
that Ride the High Country is about salvation and The Ballad of Cable
Hogue is about God. One of the things he admired about his father
was that he was “deeply religious”; and one of the things he valued
from his youth was his biblical upbringing, which he never disowned.
Indeed, Peckinpah often carried a Bible with him. At a gathering in the
late seventies, for example, he emptied his bag in search of a cigarette.
Out tumbled a script, a pen and notes, loose change, some personal
items, and a very well-thumbed Bible. . . . His films suggest he was

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religious in one of the few ways a thinking person can be religious in


the second half of the twentieth century: he had an unshakable belief
in something beyond the solitary and isolate individual, from which
the individual takes his meaning and to which he is answerable.3

Peckinpah’s films suggest to me the presence of an omnipotent, cognizant


God, alternately pleased and troubled by humans’ deeds for and unto each
other. In its story of one mortal negligent toward the source of his bounty,
The Ballad of Cable Hogue in particular depicts the Almighty at His most be-
nevolent. Peckinpah’s resentment of abuses in the name of religion shouldn’t
be mistaken for actual irreverence. While Seydor describes Cable Hogue as
“a rather free rendition of the Job story” (mentioning also that this was the
favorite biblical book of Peckinpah’s father),4 Hogue is actually more an
inversion of Job—with additional biblical allusions blended in by a scholar.
Most serious students of Sam Peckinpah are already aware of how the
director’s extensive dialogue rewrite for Ride the High Country memorably
deepened character relationships and senses of both period and Western
flavor. Veteran viewers must also recognize his hand in the memorable use of
scripture in dialogue written for Peckinpah’s favorite actor for religious zealot
roles, R. G. Armstrong (in High Country, Major Dundee, and Pat Garrett and
Billy the Kid—tellingly cast quite differently in Cable Hogue). Before explor-
ing some of Peckinpah’s uncredited though likely contributions to the Cable
Hogue screenplay, let’s examine an instance of actual Peckinpah dialogue.
In “Home Ranch” (1958), the second episode of the TV series The Rifle-
man, Lucas McCain and his young son, Mark, barely set foot on their newly
bought property before a neighboring cattle baron’s two henchmen have
dragged McCain through sagebrush, burned down his house, and stolen his
prized rifle—all because the powerful neighbor is used to unfettered access
to what is now McCain’s land. After a discouraged and self-pitying Mark
observes that “the Lord must be dead set against [them],” McCain readies
a horse for pursuit as he tells his son the following story.
A long time ago, in a country so far West it’s almost due East of here,
there lived a big stockman with a beard so long it reached down to his
belly button. His name was Job.
Now Job had seven sons and seven daughters and over seven thou-
sand head of fine cattle and sheep, not to mention a considerable
number of camels. Now Job was top dog with the Lord, because he

48
The Ballad of Divine Retribution

was so hard-working and righteous. And the Lord had never lost a
chance to brag on him and made a point of telling the devil about
the old man: about how he hated evil, fought temptation, and most
important . . . how he never lost his faith in God.
Well, the devil switched his tail and laughed, and he allowed that
Job was such a good man because everything was going his way. Just
give him some trouble, and he’d switch sides in a hurry! Well, the Lord
thought this over; and then He said He’d give the devil a hog dollar
against a penny worth of brimstone that Job would keep the faith with
his Maker, no matter what trials were put upon him.
Well, the devil set some rustlers onto the old man’s stock, and then he
called up a big wind that knocked down his house and killed all his chil-
dren. The old man’s beard turned white with grief, but he held steadfast.
So the devil reared back and saddled him all over with festering boils.
Mark, Job was as miserable as a man could be. He got himself a
piece of broken jug and sat out in the corral, doctoring his boils and
shaking ashes over his head and bewailing his fate, wondering why
the Lord had forsaken him, until finally three of his friends came
up—and they told Job that wailing about the situation only made it
worse; and it looked to them like he’d sinned, somewhere along the
line, and why didn’t he repent?
Huh! Job jumped right back at them. He said he’d repent when he
had something to repent about! He knew he’d been good, and righ-
teous, and while he might complain about his lot, he’d not lost faith
with the Lord. “O that my words were now written and printed in a
book, graven with chisel and granite rock forever. For I know that my
Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand beside me later on.” That’s
how the old man put it.
Well, Mark, the devil was plumb wore out, so he just tossed in his
chips and quit the game. And the Lord was so proud of Job that He
restored all the old man’s children and his house, and his camels and
sheep, and He gave him over twice as many cattle as he had before.
And Job lived a hundred and forty years, happy as a bird dog—and
finally died, being old and full of days.5

That recitation does not become static despite its length because actor
Chuck Connors delivers it (with moving conviction) while executing the

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Steven Lloyd

rigors of bridling and saddling a horse, periodically addressing signifi-


cant thoughts directly to the son. The language of that beautiful speech,
however, demonstrates precisely why producers Charles Marquis Warren
(Gunsmoke) and Richard Lyons (Ride the High Country) could remain so
impressed years later by what Warren called the “real authentic feel” of
Peckinpah’s Western dialogue.6 Whether the frontier phrases and bunk-
house similes were recalled from his youth spent around those aging ranch
hands whose company he sought out or were Peckinpah inventions (or
were even reconstructed from the version originally told him by his own
father), what matters is that the viewer appreciates McCain’s effectiveness
at conveying the story of Job in terms a ten-year-old boy of that era, raised
around livestock, could relate to easily. A modern, urban viewer may not
be amused by that father’s mention of the devil switching his tail as he
laughs; but a cutaway to actor Johnny Crawford’s big grin as Mark hears
Satan being likened to a steer still works as surrogate comic relief within
a long scene.
Dramatically, Peckinpah gave McCain three internal motives in that
Job anecdote: (1) to teach the boy to resist the trap of self-pity (because
circumstances might always be worse than they are); (2) to make the son
see that his father, in the hour of trial, retained a strong faith in the justice
and deliverance of God; and (3) to ensure that Mark internalizes the legacy
of McCain’s own belief in God’s ultimate reward to the faithful, in case he
will not survive his coming conflict. (The boy pleases his father by his re-
sponse: “Makes our troubles look kind of piddling, don’t it?”) Screenwriting
currently is seldom so layered. If this script were filmed today, that whole
speech would probably be dropped and replaced with some song.
Interviews and biographies demonstrate that Peckinpah loved his father
for more reasons than his religious conviction. For the rest of us, David
Peckinpah’s most valuable legacy to David Samuel Peckinpah may have been
that particular biblical upbringing that, while it didn’t successfully steer
the son toward a life of pious, quiet sobriety, still seems to have enriched
his art in ways for which Peckinpah viewers should be grateful. We have
benefited by the idealized McCain father-son relationship in the director’s
six early Rifleman episodes (all still emotionally touching after fifty years),
the inspired re-imagining of Ride the High Country’s Steve Judd, and, in
The Ballad of Cable Hogue, one of the screen’s most determined conceptions
ever of God’s generosity to humanity.

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The Ballad of Divine Retribution

The Rifleman dialogue quoted above was transcribed from the soundtrack,
as there is no access to a script for that episode. However, this discussion of
Cable Hogue will specify certain major differences among the finished film
and two different drafts of the screenplay, one of which might or might not
contain changes ordered by Peckinpah and a later one that plainly does.
The director found elements of revenge, religion, and humor in the original
authors’ script, but what he read initially was still as far away from what
Peckinpah would realize on-screen as Deaddog, Nevada, lies from the un-
seen town of Gila.
Prospector Cable Hogue is robbed and left to die in the Nevada desert
wilderness by his partners Taggart and Bowen because “there’s water enough
for two but not for three.” They heighten their treachery by improvising a
mocking song about Hogue being “yellow” as they leave with everything.
Mortally offended by their betrayal and insults, Hogue swears revenge and
stalks off in a different direction. Three times he prays to God (with amusing
insolence) for water; after four days of thirst and exposure he collapses, at
last completely submissive to the Lord’s will and resigned to death. Follow-
ing that final prayer, the man notices mud on one shoe, retraces his last few
footsteps, and discovers damp sand. But Hogue deliriously credits himself
with finding the water, thinking next about his treacherous partners and
thoughtlessly sparing no gratitude for God.
Still, miracles overrun Hogue’s life: the waterhole turns out to be sub-
stantial and near a stagecoach route. He quickly bonds with the crew of the
first coach to come along, learning that he is midway between towns forty
miles apart—and that the stagecoach line could use a rest stop, but water
has never been found within that distance. The pilgrim decides to go into
business there, selling drinking water to passersby. Stubbornly sure that
his partners will appear someday, he keeps his mind on vengeance rather
than appreciation.
Hogue is next befriended by the Reverend Joshua Duncan Sloane, a
lecherous sham preacher and charming drinking companion who irritates
Cable nearly as often as he speaks personal truth to him, and Hildy, the
scorned prostitute with whom Cable falls in love in the town of Deaddog
and who moves in with him briefly after the town kicks her out. Hogue
develops “Cable Springs” into a lucrative endeavor after he receives a bank
loan nearly three times the amount he had sought. (What greater proof of
divine intervention is needed?)

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The hypocrite and the whore try separately to steer Hogue away from
his course of vengeance; Hildy even tries to talk him into leaving with her
for San Francisco. But the hardened heart will not yield. Hogue eventually
poisons his well of blessings by driving away both Josh and Hildy on the
same day. Having made his choice, after three years Hogue is granted his
revenge—but with an outcome and consequences that he never expected.
Actor Warren Oates, a favored and prominent member of Peckinpah’s
stock company, first brought the screenplay to Peckinpah to read. Years later,
Peckinpah told Garner Simmons that Oates “wanted the part of Cable and
L. Q. Jones wanted Joshua, but I couldn’t cast them in it. I had to go with
who I thought was right.”7 That showed notable nerve on the director’s part,
because not only was he friends with both actors, but Jones owned the script
for a time. Then again, the film proved Peckinpah’s decisions correct. Oates
would have been excellent for the gritty, scowling, sometimes hot-tempered
desert-rat aspects of Cable Hogue; his later performance in the director’s
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia proves that he could convey hidden
romantic tenderness within a seedy lowlife. But could he have summoned
the personal charm and innocence necessary to persuade audiences that
Hogue was a human favored by the Almighty? An even more practical is-
sue, beyond respective box-office stature, is how Warren Oates might have
fared performing his end of the “Butterfly Mornin’s” duet.
No, as nearly always, Peckinpah’s casting for Cable Hogue was perfect.
Among the principals, Jason Robards, a resourceful, gifted actor of remark-
able emotional depth, delivers a performance so vibrant and intimate as
to make Hogue seem plausibly the most lovable man on Earth, deserving
of God’s favor and intervention. (In addition, his skill and experience on
the stage serve especially well during Hogue’s three excited rants during
the film.) Stella Stevens’ portrayal is extremely well shaded. Her Hildy, the
hard-bitten, ostracized prostitute in a puritanical frontier town, blooms
radiantly in measured stages throughout her relationship with Hogue, from
the first spark of a hesitant, unfamiliar trust to her memorable silent grief
behind a sheer black veil. Arguably the most difficult role is David War-
ner’s Joshua, requiring religious hypocrisy, exploitation of the bereaved, and
the displayed willingness to seduce even a good friend’s love, just because
she’s there—all the while remaining not only sympathetic but amusing.
Peckinpah went with a wonderfully crazy inspiration to drop into the Ne-
vada desert a charlatan who’s unaccountably British; but that might be the

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The Ballad of Divine Retribution

very touch that keeps Josh appealing enough (for most viewers) to spare
him our judgment before he has earned our affection.
While it’s interesting to envision L. Q. Jones as the Reverend Sloane, it’s
also undeniable that he and Strother Martin so embody the prairie scum
extraordinaire within the Peckinpah world that a sense of lost opportunity
would hang above any Western by that director who used them separately.
Martin’s performance as Bowen, however, is among the richest of his long
career: a vile, taunting betrayer who successively earns hatred, mercy, and
then tenderness from a betrayed friend as well as from audiences. Work-
ing against his usual pattern for casting actor R. G. Armstrong, Peckinpah
had the fire-and-brimstone actor essay the role of Quittner, a hard-nosed
stage-line manager who stands out in harsh contrast to the religious hypo-
crites around him. Actor Peter Whitney got typecast as tall, barrel-shaped
buffoons wearing suspenders (in Budd Boetticher’s Buchanan Rides Alone
[1958], multiple non-Peckinpah Rifleman episodes, and even in Peckinpah’s
1962 TV adaptation of “Pericles on 31st Street” for The Dick Powell Show).
But he gave the director an understated, beautiful gravity as the banker
Cushing, making the brief role one of the film’s most endearing.
Final mention is saved for two performers whose work in this film sel-
dom gets much discussion in Sam Peckinpah literature: Slim Pickens and
Max Evans as stagecoach driver Ben Fairchild and Webb Seeley, his shotgun
guard. With his long track record of excellent character work, Pickens is one
of those predominantly Western actors whose cozy, twangy amiability got
taken for granted in Hollywood, though people should not forget the con-
trast of his sinister, more volatile performances in One-Eyed Jacks (1961) and
The Flim-Flam Man (1967) or as a particularly belligerent cook in the “Line
Camp” episode of Peckinpah’s TV series The Westerner (1960). Seated beside
Pickens on that Cable Hogue stagecoach, however, is a man with no other
acting credits whose presence still reminds us of Peckinpah’s sense for film.
Max Evans is not an actor but a prolific and wonderful author, primarily
about the twentieth-century West (The Rounders, The Hi-Lo Country), who
was also a longtime friend of Sam Peckinpah’s. When I saw Cable Hogue in
1970, I had no idea who Evans was (though I correctly guessed that he wasn’t a
professional actor); but I loved the sense of connection he projected while low-
ering a whiskey bottle from his lips and smiling in Jason Robards’ face. What
Peckinpah wanted of Evans was just what I personally appreciated in that
moment: a beacon of genuine Western warmth toward the desolate Hogue.8

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The original story was the work of two men about whom I’ve unearthed
little information. John Crawford (not to be confused with juvenile Johnny
Crawford from the Rifleman series) is a screen actor whose credits, go-
ing back to 1944, include episodes of the TV series The Twilight Zone (“A
Hundred Yards Over the Rim” [1961]) and Star Trek (“The Galileo Seven”
[1967]), a recurring role in The Waltons (1972–81) as the sheriff, and features
including director Ralph Nelson’s Duel at Diablo (1966). Of Edmund Pen-
ney there’s even less known, except for his having a handful of mainly TV
acting credits and his codirecting Walls of Fire (1971), an Academy Award
nominee and Golden Globe award winner as Best Documentary feature.
Though he collaborated with the actor Alejandro Rey (best known for the
TV series The Flying Nun) on an unproduced script entitled 30–30, there
is no evidence of other writing projects with Crawford. Penney died on
September 11, 2008, from head injuries received falling down stairs in his
home at age eighty-two.
Crawford and Penney’s story was originally titled The Eye of the Gecko. A
script treatment from Penney’s estate has the title crossed out, and in long-
hand is written the new title Survival. The treatment is close to an undated
script draft, also credited solely to Crawford/Penney, bearing the Gecko title
with The Ballad of Cable Hogue below it in parentheses (so whether the final
title is theirs, Peckinpah’s, or someone else’s, I cannot say). Yet another pre-
production script under the Ballad title, dated October 24, 1968, and marked
“final” (though they never are), is credited to “John Crawford & Edmund
Penney and Gordon Dawson, based on a story by John Crawford & Edmund
Penney.” Writers Guild of America convention dictates that an ampersand
joins the names of authors who literally collaborated while the word “and”
indicates someone having rewritten someone else’s work. Dawson was a
Peckinpah associate (sharing with him screenplay credit for Bring Me the
Head of Alfredo Garcia) and has said that for Cable Hogue, Peckinpah “would
go over what I had written and change it wherever he thought it needed it.”9
Due to the long history of abuses in Hollywood, WGA rules determining
writing credits are so fiercely protective (and based on measured percentages
of final material) that Dawson’s contributions to Cable Hogue ultimately
went uncredited—as did Peckinpah’s own to all of his features as a director
except for Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, and Alfredo Garcia.
If the undated draft was not already partly rewritten by Dawson or Peck-
inpah, then all of the originators’ best dialogue reached the screen intact

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The Ballad of Divine Retribution

or only mildly altered. Crawford and Penney’s original story was engaging,
although their central character is less appealing than he would become.
For one thing, their Hogue is more cowardly, retaining much more fear of
Taggart and Bowen (to the extent of waking from nightmares and literally
running about, begging them not to kill him).10 He even confesses as much
to Hildy on her first evening at Cable Springs.11 Other points well-deleted
from the original include the authors’ letting Hogue’s first customer ride off
alive, sulkily accepting a broken penknife and two rabbit pelts in trade for
the rifle that Hogue helps himself to12 (the man is too rude to pay Hogue a
dime for a drink in the desert but civil enough to accept that he deserved
being robbed of his own rifle and threatened with it?); making Hogue an
actual thief, alarming horses on the road with noisy booby traps so he can
steal items like bales of hay off a passing wagon while the distracted driver
regains control of his team;13 and a far less original or satisfying resolution
to the revenge plot. (Hogue shoots Taggart multiple times though the man
has no weapon but a rock, and he later taunts a thirsty Bowen with a canteen
before putting a pistol to his head and letting the hammer fall on an empty
chamber.14 That was not a character worthy of God’s favor, as Peckinpah
must have agreed. As for Hogue actually stealing, that seems to explain the
reference to “gouging” that remains in Joshua’s eulogy.)
Before we go through Cable Hogue once more to discuss major script
revisions and certain visual aspects of the film, I wish to mention one of the
picture’s most beautiful qualities, its music: not just Richard Gillis’ songs but
Jerry Goldsmith’s instrumental underscore—regrettably, this composer’s
only Peckinpah collaboration.
Original orchestral music is traditionally the unnoticed element of a film’s
dramatic effect. Generally, people (casual viewers and professional critics)
take more notice of songs in a film than orchestral underscore because songs
are popular music: what more of them listen to more often than instrumental
music. Of the three prominent songs heard in The Ballad of Cable Hogue,
“Butterfly Mornin’s” and “Wait for Me, Sunrise” were written by Gillis, a bar-
room singer/songwriter whom Peckinpah heard and hired, along with those
two songs, for his upcoming film. The other song, “Tomorrow Is the Song I
Sing,” features a lyric written and sung by Gillis to a melody by Goldsmith.
Never a household name, Jerry Goldsmith was one of the best screen com-
posers both musically and dramatically, excelling in virtually every genre.15
Musically, the screen world of Sam Peckinpah is more closely identified with

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the tense, often ominous music of Jerry Fielding (which was appropriate to
most of the Peckinpah films he scored: The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, Junior
Bonner [1972], Alfredo Garcia, Killer Elite). But as effective a composer as Field-
ing was, it’s difficult to imagine from his other work that he could (or would
have chosen to) create the graceful, comic, sometimes appropriately heavenly
tenderness that Hogue received. In addition to providing his own original
music, Goldsmith enhances the Gillis tunes with some skilled, highly effective
adaptations. Space doesn’t permit here the discussion that Goldsmith’s score
deserves, but you are urged to give it more attention on your next viewing.
Peckinpah’s fifth feature was his first to be filmed open-matte (full-frame),
not in anamorphic Panavision (2.35:1 aspect ratio) as were his first four,
and ultimately nine of his fourteen. His mastery of wide-screen framing
is already discussed in print too widely to require more here. But though I
have not read any published remark from the director about this issue, my
personal opinion is that he consciously avoided the wide screen for Straw
Dogs, Alfredo Garcia, Cross of Iron, and The Osterman Weekend in order
to enhance the claustrophobic tension within those narratives, while for
Cable Hogue, the great exception of Peckinpah’s feature career, the aim
was intimacy. Another point is that this film is rather unusual as a “ground
level” Western—containing a limited number of crane shots throughout,
each seemingly referencing God’s attention to narrative events.
Our first image is of a lizard sunning itself on a desert rock, its repose
disturbed by the shadow of a man approaching from off screen. “Sorry, old
timer,” the man tells the lizard softly in close-up, “but you’re only part poi-
son, and I’m hungry for meat. Thirsty, too.” Peckinpah is establishing the
situation in progress, as well as a central character innately gentle enough
to apologize in hunger to the creature whose life he must take to sustain
his own. (Crawford/Penney’s undated draft contains no dialogue before the
lizard is killed.)16 But in a medium two-shot of kneeling man and lizard,
Peckinpah shows the character draw his knife from a sheath hanging on
his hip, just where the typical Western character would wear a gun belt (as
both Taggart and Bowen do). Cable Hogue will demonstrate proficiency
with rifles, but killing men is not a way of life for him, and throughout this
film, Hogue significantly will never touch a pistol (except in one sequence
to be discussed later, which Peckinpah shot but was right to eliminate).
For all the recurrence of Peckinpah protagonists suffering betrayals, none
of his other films actually begins with such an event, which makes the

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The Ballad of Divine Retribution

marvelous Cable Hogue main-title sequence even more striking for its con-
text. The director spins us unprepared from Hogue’s anguish into a delight-
ful, visually clever split-screen montage, with the image frequently dividing
into halves (horizontal or vertical), quadrants, and other fractions equal or
unequal, depicting Hogue’s desert ordeal in multiple simultaneous images
while saving or creating one blank screen area at a time to display credits.
After the bleak opening, the entry of an upbeat song on the soundtrack is
almost never expected (despite the film’s title containing the word “Ballad”).
But with the delayed main title and split-screens begins “Tomorrow Is the
Song I Sing,” an anthem of optimism and perseverance that will become the
film’s musical theme. Jerry Goldsmith’s beautiful melody complements the
cheerful lyric (and robust vocal) by Gillis, with toe-tapping accompaniment
featuring guitar, autoharp, and upright bass with tambourine strikes in be-
tween. The singing pauses only a minute in for Cable Hogue, in full-screen
close-up, to offer his first prayer: “Ain’t had no water since yesterday, Lord;
gettin’ a little thirsty. Just thought I’d mention it. Amen.” The mood of this
song combines with the spirit of the sequence to increase the appeal of both
the character and the film for us, creating completely different expectations
from the way the story had begun.
After the song ends and toward the close of the title sequence comes
Hogue’s collapse, followed by his delayed prayer of submission (“You call
it, Lord . . . I’m just plain done in”) and the film’s single most essential shot:
the steep-angle crane shot peering down through the sandstorm tempest at
the exhausted mortal sprawled below as he croaks “Amen.” A viewer who
misses seeing those seventy-seven frames, or fails to link them to the subse-
quent close-up of Hogue noticing the (off-screen) mud on his shoe, cannot
appreciate that nothing is ambiguous, coincidental, or random about the
character’s rescue. This first crane shot indicates the will of God to respond
to Hogue’s earnest prayer with water. Whether that water had been there
from the Beginning or if Hogue truly “found it where it wasn’t” is left to
mystery. But each subsequent crane shot will tie the Lord’s presence—or
intervention—to on-screen action.
The main titles end with a dissolve to Peckinpah’s credit next to a sleep-
ing Hogue, awakened in the desert morning when his hand slips into his
cradled waterhole, before he discovers the road nearby. The gentle Goldsmith
music cue moves from solo guitar to a harmonica melody, giving way to
strings over a warm bed of violas and cellos, all providing a sense of Hogue’s

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In crisis, a chat with God. The Ballad of Cable Hogue

delivery into paradise on Earth. Yet he still thinks of revenge. (“I whipped
them bastards. Now all I gotta do is wait.”)
The second crane shot—a high-angle view of Hogue waving down the ap-
proaching stagecoach—announces the Divine Plan still at work on Hogue’s
behalf, despite the man’s neglect of God, by sending driver Ben and shotgun
guard Webb. This shot opens the first sequence that was substantially rewrit-
ten by Dawson/Peckinpah. Cable’s reply to the offer of a ride to town at a
discount (“Well, if sugar were two cents a barrel, I couldn’t afford a pinch
of salt and an egg to put it on”) is the sort of Peckinpah-flavored line that
appears nowhere in the undated draft. The director cuts from that line to
a two-shot of a charmed Webb quickly turning his head to Ben, who, eyes
still on Hogue with a half-smile, chuckles an appreciative, one-note “Huh.”
That is a beautiful handling of actors, a single shot economically conveying
birth of a believable bond: two easygoing men of the trail wordlessly and
mutually accepting a stranger as a new friend.
Crawford and Penney’s undated draft gives the stagecoach passengers
only brief, perfunctory dialogue, leaving them essentially mere witnesses
to the scene between Hogue and the drivers.17 (The writers’ treatment does
not even mention passengers.)18 The Dawson rewrite draft makes the scene
a real contest, adding the banter between the passengers;19 the film contains

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The Ballad of Divine Retribution

even more of it, running beneath or interrupting the exchanges between


Cable and the crew. Mr. Jensen moves quickly from Christian charity to
being the type of judgmental, self-righteous religious snob that Peckinpah
often targeted. At hearing of Hogue’s robbery, Jensen declares, “You’ve fallen
among good hands, my friend. The Gospel says, ‘Do unto others—’” but he
is visibly put out when Ben cuts off Jensen’s display of generosity by telling
Hogue to climb on top and ride for free. Apparently accustomed to having
his Good Samaritan nature praised, he quickly announces that the ragged
Hogue can ride inside with them—adding “Matthew, chapter 2 verse 3” to
his earlier citation. In a wonderful touch, Mrs. Jensen asks, “Daniel, are
you sure?” Her husband swiftly rebukes her: “I told you never to question
my judgment. ‘As I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just.’ John, chapter 5
verse 30.” The beauty of this line is that it shows us Jensen waving his true
colors as the kind who uses religion, and his chapter-and-verse command
of the Bible, to serve his own ego (flaunting his “judgments”) rather than
the Lord or his fellow man. And while Mrs. Jensen likely was questioning
her husband’s judgment about allowing the ragged, dusty Hogue inside the
coach with them, she also might have been challenging his biblical accu-
racy. (Jensen was wrong about what he had just cited as “Matthew, chapter
2 verse 3,” as Peckinpah no doubt knew. As filmed, the scene includes even
more scriptural quotes and citations—probably added personally by the
director—than the Dawson-credited rewrite draft does.)
By the end of this sequence, as the coachmen leave Hogue the balance of
their whiskey as well as their friendship, the pilgrim himself will be openly
touched by their generosity (even before they get back at the irritating, threat-
ening Jensens by dumping their luggage for him). Ben and Webb—among
the few characters to whom Hogue will never raise his voice—are a divine
gift: new friends and a balm for the malevolent Taggart and Bowen’s betrayal.
As discussed, Crawford and Penney originally had Hogue’s anonymous
first customer willing to be ordered away without fight or comment. Per-
haps they felt (especially combined with their Hogue’s fear of Taggart and
Bowen) that they were creating more suspense about Hogue’s ability to
defend himself; but their version of the climactic confrontation with the
former partners is weak. Dawson’s rewrite is more believable by having
Hogue shoot the Stranger who vindictively returns overnight to ambush
him,20 but what Peckinpah filmed is best in every sense: instinctual, more
dramatic, and without narrative delay.

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Joshua and Cable’s meeting in the undated draft is close to the filmed ver-
sion,21 though Dawson (probably meaning Peckinpah) added more biblical
references to Josh’s dialogue.22 Character names originated predominantly
with Crawford and Penney. Others have already noted the likely contraction
of Cain and Abel into “Cable” for a character who slays one of his two enemies
and forgives the other.23 For the record, during the Old Testament’s exodus of
the Jews from Egypt under Moses, the only two members of that generation
ultimately permitted to enter the Promised Land were Joshua—and Caleb.
The fourth music cue heard in the film, for the second major character to
be introduced, is Goldsmith’s presentation of the melody of Richard Gillis’
song “Wait for Me, Sunrise,” which will become Joshua’s theme. The notes of
the main melodic line are picked individually on solo guitar as the Reverend
Sloane introduces himself to his desert host. To Hogue calling him “a sorry
preacher . . . and a hell of a sneak,” Joshua replies, “In my case, sir, those thus
attributed often go hand in hand. And speaking of such, here is mine in all
good fellowship.” As Josh extends his hand and the prickly Hogue reluctantly
takes it, Goldsmith brings in rich, soothing strings; after Cable introduces
himself, Josh’s melody repeats an octave higher, the guitar now doubled by
what might be a celesta (this is written by an enthusiast, not a musician) with
strings harmonizing beneath. The end of the cue adds enchanting warmth
to the identifiably Peckinpah rear two-shot of these future friends walking
together for the first time—a new Joshua and Caleb taking in the Promised
Land (here christened Cable Springs). Hogue is blessed to inhabit a corner
of the Peckinpah universe where multiple friendships spring unexpectedly
to last the rest of a man’s life.
No discrepancy between the film and the undated draft can be reported
about Hogue meeting Hildy, as page 31 unfortunately is missing from the
available copy of this draft. We can, however, enjoy one stage direction from
the Dawson rewrite: “Hogue starts for the door, gaining momentum as he
goes, and as he passes her, she gets a sniff of him, reacts: IT’S ENOUGH
TO GAG A DOG OFF A GUT WAGON.”24 Whether Dawson or Peckinpah,
someone enjoyed placing an inside-joke reference to Billy Hammond’s line
from Ride the High Country: “I’d hate to get married with one of my brothers
smelling bad enough to gag a dog off a gut wagon.” But somewhere between
script and set, the phrase made the leap into Hildy’s actual dialogue.
Two more quick points before leaving the town of Deaddog: (1) The un-
dated draft names “Bringing in the Sheaves”25 as the overheard revival-

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meeting hymn that ruins Hogue’s mood with Hildy, while the Dawson
draft makes it “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”26 (sung by the Ham-
mond clan before the wedding in High Country). The director, of course,
ultimately went with the hymn of choice for every Peckinpah fan since
The Wild Bunch, “Shall We Gather at the River?” (2) Neither script draft
includes anything of the revival meeting’s memorable sermon, which likely
was written by Peckinpah. Actor James Anderson uses an amusingly severe,
almost monotone delivery for brief material that not only includes subtle
foreshadowing (“The devil seeks to destroy you with . . . machines!”) but
also claims for this preacher the status of first-name terms with God. The
last we see or hear of him, he is standing alone near the shambles of his col-
lapsed tent, muttering of Hogue, “You son of a bitch!” (Likely the offering
plate had not yet been collected.) So this anonymous preacher is one more
figure on the frontier practicing religion at least partly for the sake of his
status in other people’s eyes.

Crawford and Penney may be completely off the hook for possibly the film’s
most problematic scene, Joshua’s attempt to seduce the bereaved young wife,
Claudia. Though alluded to, she doesn’t appear until the Dawson draft.27
Many viewers never will be dissuaded from perceiving the sequence as of-
fensive and cruel, charging blasphemy, misogyny, or both. There are replies
to make toward both views.
Peckinpah believed that “action is character.” The Reverend Sloane is
too important a player in this story to let him spend the whole film only
standing around talking with Hogue, no matter how florid his oratory. To
establish his lecherous nature but never show him exercising it (beyond his
spontaneous try for Hildy) would have diminished Joshua’s vitality as a
character. That also would have diluted one of Peckinpah’s intentions for the
film: disparaging those who abuse religion. One dramatic flaw in Crawford
and Penney’s original was to show the vindictive pursuing husband but not
Joshua’s trespass itself. The director managed to improve on both script
versions anyway—with valuable help from his composer.
The Dawson version has Joshua walking past a house, hearing a woman
crying inside, and knocking at the door as he rotates his reversible clerical
collar. When she answers the door, she’s clutching “a tear-soaked telegram.”
Peckinpah, more plausibly, has the predator spot the intended victim as she
steps out of a storefront, opens and reads a telegram by lamplight, and starts

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to cry. Joshua then rotates his collar and follows her home. Yes, it’s played for
a cruel, very black humor, but it is frankly less difficult to bear on repeat view-
ings, once we know that the serpent will not actually taste the fruit. (Not that
night, anyway.) Claudia is neither stupid nor a slut, but she is young, reeling in
grief from just learning of her brother’s death, and she’s serious enough about
the church to be receptive (and vulnerable) to what she interprets as a visit of
comfort from a minister. Joshua’s manipulative skill brings her successfully
to religious rapture, which his pattern is to stoke in order to exploit physically.
This amorous conquest by a snake in the cloth completes the film’s pattern
of the pious who put their own mortal agendas in front of God’s moral ones.
But it is a failed conquest. This sequence’s intended comedy, based on
dialogue of consolation incongruent with the seduction in progress, is outra-
geous (in more recent years, “edgy”) to some, hateful or irreverent to many.
The latter might consider these few points before judging it completely of-
fensive: (1) the situation requires us to remember that we know Joshua is a
fraud, even though Claudia does not; (2) the abrupt return home of Claudia’s
husband, Clete (such a wonderfully intimidating name, especially as Joshua
pronounces it before he accelerates to under-cranked motion), prevents the
actual event; (3) the innocence of Claudia’s line, “Would you console Clete
the way you did me? They were very close,” should absolve her of complicity
or even full awareness of what almost just happened to her; and 4) Clete’s
own surprised grief reminds us that with all this horseplay, there has been
a death in this family. The sequence ends not humorously but poignantly.
Goldsmith’s music, which aided (for us) the seduction attempt by simulat-
ing a hymn on a pump organ (with occasional ascendant strings reflecting
Josh’s anticipation), tells us by the end of the cue that although Joshua came
to play, he’ll now have to stay to perform the Lord’s work.
The aftermath of that sequence is at Cable Springs (probably the following
day). As they unload lumber off a wagon, Josh rhapsodizes about Claudia,
the “wanton angel” whom he met. Cable curtly points out, “Yer cup run
dry, preacher. A man’s a poor sport when it comes to another pleasurin’
his woman.” Even if the barely literate Hogue came stumbling out of the
wilderness and was born nobody knows when or where, somehow he can
still allude to the Twenty-Third Psalm.28 (Or at least he could by the time of
the Dawson draft, when this scene debuted.)29
We now have neglected the revenge plot for an extended time—ap-
propriately, since the film does as well. One of Peckinpah’s real narrative

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The Ballad of Divine Retribution

accomplishments is to captivate us so thoroughly with Cable Hogue’s char-


acter and charmed life that viewers so often are surprised to be reminded,
halfway through, that despite his blessings, Hogue still wants blood.
More crane shots not yet detailed are Hogue and Joshua reaching Deaddog
at night, now drinking buddies (where it pleases God to let Hogue forge his
bond with Hildy, as she is to become another of His voices in Cable’s ear); and
the Lord looking on as Hogue lowers his flag one sunset, when Hildy is guided
to continue efforts to urge Hogue to accompany her to San Francisco and walk
away from his revenge. By this point, the idyll is almost over, for Hogue is run-
ning out of time in which to accept that vengeance is not within his purview.
The film’s short sequence wherein Cable hides Joshua from Claudia’s
jealous husband, Clete, ends curiously with a stretch-printed shot (not true
slow-motion, but individual frames optically repeated to simulate slowed
action) of Clete riding away shouting, with nonsynchronized dialogue: a
rough solution that Peckinpah clearly adopted to remove the balance of a
sequence that was always the worst in the script. Originally, Hogue resorted
to a comic fistfight with the rough Clete (which escalated to shovel versus
sledgehammer) to prevent the husband from searching for Joshua inside the
shack. Despite no aid other than Joshua cheering him on with scriptural
quotes, Cable at last prevailed with a shovel to Clete’s head—after which the
husband was thrown unconscious over his horse’s saddle and sent back to
Deaddog. This action was present in the treatment and remained through
the Dawson rewrite.30 Surviving stills suggest the scene was filmed, but it
probably was never any more successful than it reads on the page.31
Peckinpah’s next crane shot has the Lord looking down on Joshua’s de-
parture from Cable Springs after Hogue has relinquished his last chance
to choose Hildy over hatred. This shot leads to the double-exposure mon-
tage with a desolate Hogue again alone, shouting defiance to the empty
desert and to God. The next two crane shots are nearer together than in any
other two sequences. Since Hogue would not be turned aside, the Almighty
watches as He sends Taggart and Bowen back to the Springs on horseback.
Later, He peers down at them in the pit of revenge, which Hogue prepared
but should have left finally for the Lord to execute.
Tragically, Cable is willing to settle for more lenient revenge than he had
threatened. Having Taggart and Bowen strip to their underwear and then
walk a distance into the desert while staying off the road is less extreme
than the treatment he had suffered at their hands. (Whereas Hogue had

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Steven Lloyd

been stranded and lost for four days, the two betrayers face walking only
twenty miles to the same town where they had acquired their horses, with
permission to travel parallel to an existing road.) But when Taggart balks
and moves slowly for his gun, the tragedy dawns in Hogue’s eyes: he truly
didn’t intend to kill them. If he never realized that before, he understands
it too well now. The last time, Hogue waited just too long to stop believing
that his partners weren’t just cutting their humor a mite thin, so he’ll not
repeat that mistake. He fires; Taggart gapes in a moment’s disbelief before
he drops to the sand. But as Hogue stares helplessly at the corpse of this
man he’s hated for three and a half years, we know that he is seeing other
memories we cannot. He also feels (as he could not from acting earlier
in reflexive self-defense against the Stranger) the ambivalence of having
spilled blood when he could have avoided it. He seems to hear the whisper
of Vengeance is mine . . . only when at last it is too late.
God beset Job with troubles to prove to the devil the strength of man’s faith,
even under challenge. Cable Hogue suffered, though for a much shorter time
and less deeply than Job did; yet by his faith and honest submission to God’s
will (“You call it, Lord”) instead of his defiance of but a minute before, God
was moved to save him from death. However, because Cable never thought
to be properly grateful to his deliverer (confusing a miracle with his personal
self-reliance) and insisted on usurping the justice that his faith should have
left to the Lord, God’s decision was to let Hogue’s cup run clear over. Unlike
Job, this man was granted enough good fortune and free will to hang himself.
Crawford and Penney conceived a beautiful ending for their story. Even
their script treatment (which typically includes limited actual dialogue)
contains some lines in the funeral oration that Peckinpah would film ver-
batim;32 but significant, welcome revisions that lift the end result to sheer
resplendence were yet to come.
First, not until the Dawson rewrite did Hildy return.33 Crawford/Penney
had the same car seen earlier return without passengers to Cable Springs. In
their treatment, the driver seeks help with a flat tire, while in the undated
draft he needs water for the radiator.34 Both versions get the vehicle up an
incline precariously. The treatment has the car slip off an unstable mound
of rocks and twigs, while their script draft describes an insert of the car’s
emergency brake releasing itself, an apparent act of God.
Ignoring momentarily the barrenness of The Ballad of Cable Hogue end-
ing without Hildy, most viewers should appreciate how diminished the

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The Ballad of Divine Retribution

Crawford/Penney version of the film would have been, lacking the symmetry
that either of those two resolutions would have cost it. In each, Hogue still
dies saving Bowen; but a slipping rock feels so arbitrary, and an invisible
hand releasing the brake just seems so unresourceful for the Designer of the
universe. We are far better off in the care of a Creator possessing the poetry
to steer a Cable Hogue—a man proud of himself but shy before civilization;
fatally self-reliant; able to build his own flagpole, his own home in the wil-
derness, his own empire; Lord, a man—to die so originally by his own hand.
It isn’t suicide, but Peckinpah surely appreciated the irony of a man who
can’t recognize his debts to God also setting in motion his own destruction.
Cable Hogue must pay for falling short on gratitude—and for ignoring
the friends granted him along the way to persuade him that vengeance is the
Lord’s claimed right. But Peckinpah believed in God as wise and merciful.
Hogue took a life in defiance of the ancient law regarding revenge; the hope
of mercy because the Almighty understands the pain of men’s betrayal on
Earth is a thin one. Yet Hogue also showed mercy in sparing a life, reminding
us soon after of another relevant truth: Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.35 Cable’s capacity for forgiveness
surprised him, but not his Maker. He dies as he had lived: overestimating
his own powers in trying to stop an automobile, yet saving the life of the
enemy he no longer wished to kill.

“No trouble, just dying.”

65
Steven Lloyd

Hogue’s death, tied to that greatest love, is what earned him from God
the rapturous farewell that Peckinpah staged, realizing, as Crawford and
Penney had not, that Cable’s triumph would be hollow (for audiences, too)
were he to die surrounded by everyone he loved except Hildy. And while
the originating authors wrote much of Reverend Sloane’s eulogy, it must be
the Sam Peckinpah of that biblical upbringing that he never disowned who
heightened that sermon further toward its close. With two exceptions, the
following italicized text does not appear in either of the available scripts:

Now the sand he fought and loved so long has covered him at last. Now
he has gone into the whole torrent of the years, of the souls that pass
and never stop. In some ways he was Your dim reflection, Lord, and
right or wrong I feel he is worth consideration. But if You feel he is not,
You should know that Hogue lived and died here in the desert, and I’m
sure Hell will never be too hot for him.
He never went to church. He didn’t need to. The whole desert was
his cathedral. Hogue loved the desert. Loved it deeper than he’d ever
say. He built his empire but was man enough to give it up for love,
when the time came.
Lord, as the day draws toward evening, this life grows to an end for
us all. We say adieu to our friend. Take him, Lord. But knowing Cable,
I suggest You do not take him lightly. Amen.36

In the penultimate paragraph, the words “He didn’t need to” and “for
love” don’t appear until the Dawson rewrite—after Hildy is added for the
first time to the conclusion. And since the final paragraph (except “Amen”)
is read entirely off-camera, that perfection of rhetoric may very well have
been added only in postproduction.
Peckinpah’s blocking of the funeral is sublime, with mourners leaving
individually in intersecting diagonals. Bowen, shovel in hand, walks away
first, followed by Quittner (who has the least emotional investment); Cush-
ing (to the end, granting Hogue enough dignity not to be first to leave his
funeral); Ben and Webb (seconds apart, but in the same direction); Joshua;
and finally Hildy, her opulence now replaced by the somber, veiled black of
a widow. The men except for Joshua and Cushing (on horseback) head for
the stagecoach, all sharply silhouetted against the overcast, darkening sky.
(The famous location weather problems that this production suffered paid
off dramatically for this sequence.) Bowen jostles back on-screen, climbing

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The Ballad of Divine Retribution

into the coach and haughtily announcing that he’s “coming in tonight.” This
vocal inflection irritates us until Peckinpah gives us a final close-up of Bowen
through a coach window, showing us the agony of his coals of fire heaped
on his head,37 as Josh closes his beautiful appeal for the soul of his friend.
Our final shot begins with a coyote furtively approaching the waterhole
for a drink; it walks on refreshed, leaving this cactus Eden in the steward-
ship of nature, as the film began. The camera slowly zooms out, widening
to grant us our last sight of Cable Springs, for a time heaven in the desert,
with its proud American flag now at half-staff. This is the final crane shot:
closing on the Lord’s view of the place Cable Hogue made, its former care-
taker now loosed in song.
We will see what tomorrow will bring.

Notes
1. Exodus 21:24; see also Matthew 5:38 (all scripture references are to the King James
Version).
2. Murray, “Playboy Interview,” 70.
3. Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration, 337–38n.
4. Ibid., 223–24, 224n.
5. The Rifleman, season 1, episode 2, “Home Ranch” (1958), Four Star Productions.
6. Qtd. in Weddle, If They Move—Kill ’Em! 129.
7. Qtd. in Simmons, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage, 109.
8. I have been even surer of this since Evans told me in 1988 that Peckinpah gave
him no direction throughout the shoot. For more on this close friendship as well as
a unique account of the filming of The Ballad of Cable Hogue, see Evans’ book Sam
Peckinpah—Master of Violence. It was published in an edition of 1,500 copies and has
been out of print since shortly after its 1972 publication. It’s worth the hunt, especially
if that’s your introduction to Evans’ literature.
9. Qtd. in Simmons, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage, 109.
10. John Crawford & Edmund Penney, The Eye of the Gecko undated script draft, 10
(hereafter, “undated draft”).
11. Ibid., 85–86.
12. Ibid., 22.
13. Crawford & Penney, Eye of the Gecko undated draft, 75–78.
14. Ibid., 130–31.
15. Goldsmith’s extensive credits include Lonely Are the Brave (1962), A Patch of
Blue (1965), The Sand Pebbles (1966), Planet of the Apes (1968), Patton (1970), Chinatown
(1974), The Omen (1976), Poltergeist (1982), Under Fire (1983), Basic Instinct (1992), and
L.A. Confidential (1997).
16. Crawford & Penney, Eye of the Gecko/Survival script treatment, 1 (hereafter re-
ferred to as “treatment”).
17. Crawford & Penney, undated draft, 13–18.
18. Crawford & Penney, treatment, 3.

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Steven Lloyd

19. John Crawford & Edmund Penney and Gordon Dawson, The Ballad of Cable
Hogue script (Warner Bros. Final 10/24/68), 11–18 (hereafter referred to as “Dawson
draft”).
20. Dawson draft, 21.
21. Crawford & Penney, undated draft, 22–30.
22. Dawson draft, 22–29.
23. See, for example, McKinney, Sam Peckinpah, 112.
24. Dawson draft, 46.
25. Crawford & Penney, undated draft, 53.
26. Dawson draft, 49.
27. Ibid., 59–63.
28. Psalm 23:5: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
29. Dawson draft, 64–65.
30. Crawford & Penney, treatment, 10–11; Dawson draft, 87–97.
31. A legacy of this abandoned sequence is seemingly less reason for Cable to appear
quite so angry at Joshua during the dinner sequence. When he rises from the table, origi-
nally Hogue was able to plead ruined appetite from having been punched in the stomach.
The deleted scene also showed the only time that Hogue picks up a handgun: Clete’s.
32. Crawford & Penney, treatment, 14–15.
33. Dawson draft, 125.
34. Crawford & Penney, treatment, 13–14; Crawford & Penney, undated draft, 137–140.
35. John 15:13.
36. Nonitalicized text from Crawford & Penney, undated draft, 148–49, and Dawson
draft, 137; balance from film soundtrack.
37. Romans 12:20.

68
From The Siege of Trencher’s Farm to Straw Dogs:
The Narrative Brilliance of Sam Peckinpah
Michael Sragow

S am Peckinpah clawed his way into movie history as a multileveled visual


poet, an instinctive trailblazer, and the last great filmmaker to bring di-
rect knowledge of the Old West to the Western genre. Yet beyond his revolu-
tionary editing techniques and sensuous slow-motion violence, beyond even
his gifts for elegy and a unique, turbulent pastorale, his greatest achievement
was imbuing classical Hollywood narrative with a modernist sensibility. No
Hollywood filmmaker suffused traditional storytelling with more ambiva-
lence and gallows humor, defiance and despair. And his accomplishment
was never more audacious or complete than it was in Straw Dogs. It may be
Peckinpah’s most adult work. I could appreciate Ride the High Country and
The Wild Bunch as a teenager, but only in my forties could I fully reckon with
Straw Dogs. It doesn’t just compel you to get to know its characters in action;
it asks you to question every choice they make about matters of life and death
and love and sex. Probably no Peckinpah movie started with more off-putting
source material: Gordon M. Williams’ novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, a
melodrama at once trite and pretentious. And for that reason, probably no
Peckinpah movie better illustrates his storytelling genius. Outraged by the
critical reaction to his risky, self-revealing film, Peckinpah, in a notorious
Playboy interview, exclaimed to William Murray, “Jesus! Read the goddamn
book. You’ll die gagging in your own vomit.” Peckinpah ridiculed his critics
by asking, “Look, what if they’d given me War and Peace to do instead of
Trencher’s Farm? I’m reasonably sure I’d have made a different picture.”1 But
he was proud of what he accomplished in Straw Dogs.
Pauline Kael famously described the movie in reductive terms. She
dubbed it “a male fantasy about a mathematics professor’s hot young wife

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Michael Sragow

(Susan George) who wants to be raped and gets sodomized, which is more
than she bargained for, and the timid cuckold/mathematician (Dustin Hoff-
man), who turns into a man when he learns to fight like an animal.”2 It was
galling for Peckinpah to have Kael, his frequent critical champion, not just
misrepresent the picture but also call it “a fascist work of art.”3 Peckinpah,
in Playboy, responded perceptively, speaking of sexual politics in a distinctly
non-fascist way. He said, “In marriage, so often, especially if the man is
lonely, he will clothe [a woman] in the vestments of his own needs—and
if she’s very young, she’ll do the same thing to him. They don’t really look
at what the other person is but at what they want that person to be. All of
a sudden the illusion wears off and they really see each other and they say,
‘Hey, what’s all this about?’”4
That’s the relationship Peckinpah thought he poured into the red-hot
center of Straw Dogs, transforming its pulp heroics with observations about
men, women, and intellectuals that are both utterly of its early 1970s moment
and timeless. “Once I’m handed something to do, then I take the material
and try to work something out of it and, not to sound too goddamn pomp-
ous about it, what I put into it is what I see, how I feel about how things are
or the way they’re going. But I try to tell a story, above all, in terms of the
material I’ve been given.”5
Peckinpah biographer David Weddle correctly noted that Williams’
worm-turning plot “had been told in hundreds of westerns, gangster and
boxing pictures, even by comedians like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and
Harry Langdon.”6 Even the fact that the protagonist is an American professor
taking his sabbatical in a forbiddingly remote and ingrown Cornwall town,
hoping for peace and quiet, recalled fish-out-of-water comedies (say, Ruggles
of Red Gap in reverse). Peckinpah said that he and his cowriter, David Zelag
Goodman, “tried to make something of validity out of this rotten book.
We did. The only thing we kept was the siege itself.”7 Actually, Peckinpah
took a lot more than that, including his basic structure and many themes,
motifs, and settings. But it was his protean talent and unifying vision that
enabled him to generate a movie comparable in intensity and complexity
to Bergman’s Shame or The Passion of Anna.
It’s become a cliché to say that “action is character.” In Straw Dogs, though,
the two cannot be separated. The movie doesn’t contain one “idea” that isn’t
dramatized in flesh and blood. It’s remarkable, then, that the film emerged
from a novel in which everything is explained, repeatedly, from the start,

70
From The Siege of Trencher’s Farm to Straw Dogs

often without any dramatization at all. This is the first sentence of The
Siege of Trencher’s Farm: “In the same year that Man first flew to the Moon
and the last American soldier left Vietnam [sic], there were still corners of
England where lived men and women who had never traveled more than
fifteen miles from their own homes.”8
The whole first chapter merely elaborates how in the Cornwall parishes
of Dando and Compton Wakley, where the action takes place, “in the same
generation that produced men who looked back at earth from the blackness
of outer space, existed Englishmen to whom the two hundred miles journey
to London was an almost legendary experience, something that might hap-
pen once in a lifetime, if at all.”9 By the end of the chapter, Williams has laid
it all out for us: “Dando marries its own,” he emphasizes. And Dando takes
cares of its own, too, even if that means “a soldier’s head was hacked from
his body by a hedge-cutter’s billhook.”10
In Williams’ novel, the American is not a mathematician but an English
professor, completing a study of a bawdy eighteenth-century British diarist.
His wife is British but at least a dozen years older than the wife in the movie
and, unlike her, not a native of the town. Williams’ couple, not Peckinpah’s,
have an eight-year-old daughter who is such a nonentity that she functions
mostly to ratchet up a reader’s anxiety level at moments of tension or un-
certainty. The wife worries that the “fearsome villagers” won’t be able to
relate to her husband: “To them a Londoner was a foreigner—an American
might as well be from outer space.”11 Sure enough, the denizens of Dando’s
working-class pub, and notably a bellicose patriarch named Tom Hedden,
resent the way “they’m Yanks be takin’ over the whole world.”12 The mar-
riage is rocky, too. The husband has begun “to wonder constantly if a man
could exist purely within the society of his own family. . . . They had been
married for nine years and the time for mutual exploration by conversation
(or anything else) was past.”13 Later on, he worries that he has made his wife
more of a man and she has made him more of a woman. He has also begun
to indulge his American Western fantasies: “Well, countless men had lived
like this in the frontier days. A man and his wife alone in a brutal unknown
world, living on their own resources. A man who’d come to a virgin valley
and carved out a piece of land and fought off Indians and survived drought
and ploughed and reaped and lived through hunger and blizzards and . . .”14
It’s as if the expository promo copy on the book-flap has somehow been
embedded in the book. Meanwhile, the wife has begun cataloging her

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Michael Sragow

irritations with her spouse’s Americanisms, including his fastidious hy-


giene. He keeps himself trim, but she prefers Englishmen who are at ease
with their appetites; her one extramarital fling was with a squat, rumpled,
drunken Dylan Thomas–like poet. The most solid description in the novel
is of Trencher’s Farm itself, a house built to withstand “the worst winds and
snow the Moor could hurl down at the two parishes.”15
Yet one can see why movie executives and producers as smart as David
Susskind, Martin Baum, and Daniel Melnick would want to develop a script
from Williams’ book. While the novelist hammers home his big ideas, he
also drops in elements of terrors that operate like time bombs. For example,
the husband finds the family’s housecat strangled in a snowdrift. And even
if there’s no erotic zing to Williams’ prose, he fills his story with salacious
content. Many characters have sex on the brain, including the married male
head nurse at the region’s asylum for the criminally insane. He must take the
convicted pedophile and child-killer Henry Niles in an ambulance for an
injection once a week. The male nurse gladly takes the job so he can court
the single female head nurse at the country hospital. Sexual attraction and
betrayal are constants in this book.
You can also see why, having optioned the book, producers would think
of Peckinpah to adapt and perfect it. Williams’ academic fantasizes about
Cornwall as his own southwestern frontier. He is also a memory-collector
of Hollywood character actors. “Westerns were his specialisation. He re-
membered the plots of innumerable sage-brush sagas starring Roy Rogers
(with Dale Evans). He was a connoisseur of second-grade cowboy actors.
Rod Cameron. John Payne. Randolph Scott.”16 Peckinpah had made one
great Western with Randolph Scott (Ride the High Country) and another
great Western (The Wild Bunch) with a roster of superb character actors.
Williams’ novel provided Peckinpah and Goodman with troves of mate-
rial from which to draw, from tiny bits of action to the epochal final set piece.
If you’ve seen the film first, reading the novel messes with your memory.
Many incidents are literally identical yet psychologically, spiritually, and
aesthetically distant from their counterparts in Peckinpah’s film. The magni-
tude of their transformation is astounding. Prosaic setups turn lyrical; showy
touches acquire depth. Shallow confrontations become moments of truth.
The central changes are bold, incisive, inspired. The wife, here named
Amy Sumner, is now a native of Compton Wakley. Trencher’s Farm is her
father’s house, and local workman Charlie Venner (Del Henney) had been

72
From The Siege of Trencher’s Farm to Straw Dogs

her lover. Peckinpah doesn’t state any of this with a printed legend or intro-
ductory voiceover or even with expository dialogue. It’s all embedded in the
movements of the characters. He even conveys the perverse, ingrown vitality
of the town in the opening credit shots. Like a gothic impressionist, he paints
hazy, scampering figures—a hive—slowly coming into focus. As he sharpens
his gaze, we see that this insect-like scurrying is made up of kids at play in
the village graveyard, forming circles of life that caper around gravestones.
A small group encircles a pretty white terrier. This image resonates oddly
later, when the husband, now an American mathematician named David
Sumner, discovers his wife’s cat hanging in his bedroom closet.
The novel starts in medias res but is so clotted with asides that it barely
attains a sense of present-tense action until the onset of the siege. The movie
starts in multi-medias res. Each character is fully formed yet also volatile.
Their tensions are already set in motion. Any collision can ignite calam-
ity. Critics like Kael often charged that David and Amy as a couple made
no sense: that Peckinpah had in effect staged a shotgun marriage to make
his story work. But Amy’s entrance into the film suggests one reason why
this sensual, feisty woman would have married a successful if constipated
academic. As she marches through the narrow, winding street, breasts first,
braless under a tight sweater, she’s putting herself on parade, not merely as a
sex object but also as a small-town girl made good. Her sexuality is part of
her identity; she may flaunt it foolishly, but it’s a mistake for critics to think
she is going to give anything away. She is a woman of the world circa 1972,
returning to a hamlet that hasn’t changed much since 1672.
Mini-skirted, nubile Janice Hedden (Sallie Thomsett) and her Beatles-cut
brother Bobby (Len Jones) march purposefully behind her, carrying Amy’s
birthday present for David: a mantrap, once used for catching game poach-
ers, soon to be used for catching sexual poachers. Amy considers it a proper
decoration for a mantelpiece, but it is this film’s equivalent of Chekhov’s
Gun. (“If in Act 1 you have a pistol on the wall, then it must fire in the last
act.”)17 The sexually curious Janice mimics Amy’s I-am-woman stride, but
she really has her eyes on David, because (we later learn) she thinks he’s
“cute” (as Amy probably did when she first saw him). David, at that mo-
ment, doesn’t have eyes for anybody: he’s squinting without his glasses,
carrying a boxful of groceries to their ostentatious white sports car. (This
couple is made up of opposites in every way: he’s far-sighted, but Amy needs
reading glasses.) Venner, ominously, only has eyes for Amy. When he sees her

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Michael Sragow

Left to right: David, Charlie, and Amy toward the beginning of Straw Dogs. The
mantrap is between them.

with that mantrap in tow, he’s “struck by the thunderbolt” the way Michael
Corleone was at the first sight of his future Sicilian bride in The Godfather.
Peckinpah fixes our attention on each character’s gaze. The film turns on
how men and women see and misperceive each other. Sensing the sexual
tension between Amy and Venner, David asserts his husbandly power by
turning his back on them and striding off discourteously to buy some ciga-
rettes at the pub. He experiences his full distance from town life almost
immediately, as that demon-eyed patriarch Tom Hedden (Peter Vaughn),
the father of Janice and Bobby, crushes a glass with the publican’s hand
when the gent won’t pour him another drink. As this tumult comes to a
head, David peers outside and watches Venner cozy up to Amy; he can’t
tell from the window of the pub that Amy is coldly rebuffing her old beau.
But David must know that Amy is as alienated from their marriage as he
is from this parish.
The movie conjures an electric aura and ignites a remarkable visceral
charge despite its restricted scope and chilly content. Peckinpah proves that
even in the popular art of the movies, what you see under a microscope can
be just as thrilling as what you see through a telescope. His artistry in Straw
Dogs awakens the senses without the benefit of action sweeping across a
super-wide screen (the aspect ratio of this movie is a modest 1:78 to 1). From
the opening sequence on, Peckinpah challenges viewers to stay tuned to the

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From The Siege of Trencher’s Farm to Straw Dogs

slightest feint or prolongation of a glance. He summons an erotic aura from


sexually frustrated or conflicted characters moving across cool autumnal
scenes. He can achieve this because he has mastered all the dramatic and
visual components of narrative moviemaking. Unlike Williams, he knows
just where and how to start the story and how to convey its themes through
the characters. The class biases that frustrate Hedden and his friends, which
Williams spells out in sentence after sentence, Peckinpah gets across in the
simple way the magistrate, Major Scott (T. P. McKenna), reins in blustery
old Tom after he creates a ruckus at the bar to quaff an extra pint. There’s
sensuality here, too, in the way Tom exults in his role as elder statesman of
the bad boys and even in the way Scott quietly exerts his command, man
to man. David has intruded upon relationships that appear to be rooted
in the ancient stony ground and weather-beaten, centuries-old buildings.
Peckinpah never denigrates David’s ambition as a mathematician working
on an astral physics project, but he does despise David’s smugness toward
everyone else, especially Amy, and his inability to balance his personal and
professional life. In Straw Dogs, Peckinpah unites his job as professional
storyteller with his total erotic awareness of life.
Peckinpah puts the emotional weight of the drama where it should be—in
the marriage—and he conveys its anguish and monstrosity not in bland
thought balloons as in the novel but in matters of life and love and sex and
death. From the beginning, just as tense as the question of whether the
town can survive this Yankee’s alien intrusion is the question of whether
his marriage will hold (and if so, what glues it together). Amy and David’s
daily life has become a pattern of cruel teasing interspersed with childish
byplay and sex. David instigates this silliness as much as Amy does, as a
way of consolidating his position of pseudo-maturity and mastery: in a
queasy-comical scene, he starts out berating her for acting like a fourteen-
year-old and ends up joking that he freaks out for eight-year-olds. He is, in
a way, the bigger child, selfish and sullen. (It’s no accident that Peckinpah
lets us see that the chalkboard on which he scrawls his equations once
belonged to the town’s primary school.) Even with a partner as voluptuous
and enthusiastic as Amy, David wants to be in control, tamping down his
passion until he can skip rope, remove his watch, and set his alarm clock.
With this high-handedness in the bedroom and condescension toward her
intellect everywhere, no wonder Amy taunts him with his inability to fix
a toaster or put a new roof on their garage. His lack of skills requires them

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Michael Sragow

to bring handymen onto their property who are more interested in ogling
Amy than in laying tile or catching rats. Amy may become petulant or
even selfish when she’s wronged, and when she gums up his equations on
the chalkboard or actually sticks a piece of gum on it, she is both pathetic
and appalling. But she is rooted. She fears that David won’t “commit” to his
marriage any more than he could to any political faction on campus back
in the States. He says that he moved them to Trencher’s Farm because she
once told him they could be happier there, but she sees that he really just
wanted to escape the pressures of American life in the Vietnam-Watergate
era. If T. S. Eliot showed us “fear in a handful of dust,”18 Peckinpah shows
us existential anguish in a nostrilful of chalk dust.
In the book, the strangled cat is merely a portent of things to come. But
the feline corpse is the pivot of the movie. Before it disappears, David hates
the cat. He casually bombards it with fruit in the kitchen while Amy is wait-
ing for him in the bedroom. So it’s poetic justice that after David finds the
cat strangled in the closet, he’s unable to confront the men Amy fingers as
the likely villains: slackers Norman Scutt (Ken Hutchison) and Chris Cawsey
(Jim Norton). They’ve been doing such a lousy job of fixing the garage at
Trencher’s Farm that David has had to hire Venner and his cousin to help
out. Amy is furious when David invites the workmen inside, then fails to
call them out on the cat. So she sets her dead cat’s milk bowl on the drink
tray. She thinks it will rattle the culprits and shame David into action. But
the handymen just ignore it, and it makes David, as he later explains, feel
“pushed.” Partly to spite Amy and partly to act like a man among men, he
agrees to go bird hunting with this foul crew. That’s how great this movie
is: a milk bowl becomes a devastating dramatic and visual symbol of a fail-
ing marriage and a world gone awry. It’s entirely a Peckinpah-Goodman
invention. The director was working at peak form. He knew he was making
his own Scenes from a Marriage.
The sequence that follows—which includes the double rape—has no
equivalent in the book and, for complexity and power, no rival in any other
enactment of sexual violence in any American movie. First Venner isolates
David on the moor by instructing him to stay put while his hunting bud-
dies drive the birds his way. Then Venner knocks on the door of Trencher’s
Farm. Sore at David and furious over the cat, Amy lets Venner in to accuse
him and/or his buddies of killing her pet. Venner reveals nothing. Instead,
he grabs and kisses her. When she resists and slaps him, he returns the slap

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From The Siege of Trencher’s Farm to Straw Dogs

with a vengeance. Peckinpah shoots that slap in slow motion. The device
captures both the twisted passion of the man and the shock and agony of the
woman. Amy shivers with fear and confusion. Venner was her hometown
sweetheart; he probably still understands her in ways that David can’t. His
attitude may be similar to that of Paul Newman’s Hud, who tells the woman
he’s just drunkenly assaulted that he couldn’t have been the first man “to
put a foot in your door.” Venner tells Amy that he doesn’t want to “reave”
her, but he will reave her if she makes him. He obviously, stupidly, thinks
that if he can get her to stop struggling, any sexual contact they have will
not be rape. With excruciating slowness, she does stop struggling; through
a complicated and persuasive series of intimate touches and signals, she
gentles him. But even when they’re at an improbable peak of tenderness, a
grieving tear streams down her cheek. Then, in moments of spellbinding
horror, a second rapist, Scutt, holding a double-barreled rifle, shows himself
first to Venner, then to Amy. In an act made clear only in the full 118-minute
version, recently released on DVD, Venner holds her down so Scutt can enter
her from behind. (For what it’s worth, Peckinpah always described the deed
as rear entry, not sodomy.)
During the first rape, Peckinpah uses flash-cuts of Amy remembering
lovemaking with David, making her inner turmoil immediate. The match-
ing shots of David and Venner shedding their shirts, or of their long faces
looming over her, are dizzyingly upsetting. This emotion-charged editing
contrasts with the pathetic cuts to David on the moor, waiting for the birds
to be driven to him before he realizes he’s been duped. He finally drops some
game himself—and, when he collects his kill, he feels like a wretched fool as
he gently flips the bird’s lifeless neck. (Peckinpah echoes this action when
Niles inadvertently strangles Janice Hedden and sensitively sets her down.)
In the next episode, Peckinpah uses flash-cuts to the rape when Amy, at
a church social, sees the men who raped her. (Nicolas Roeg was acclaimed
for using a similar device after the genuinely amorous sex scene in Don’t
Look Now, over a year later. Roeg emphasized the playfulness of a loving
couple’s sex, so his emotional content was the opposite of Peckinpah’s. But
his technique was influenced by Peckinpah’s and his general psychologi-
cal intention was identical: to convey the afterlife of intimacy.) The church
episode does derive from a Christmas celebration in the book, but its impact
is entirely different. In Straw Dogs, it’s as if the wife’s village has turned into
an alternate-world Brigadoon, in which the townspeople stuck in time have

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Michael Sragow

Amy’s flash-frame flashback of the rape in Straw Dogs

punished her for marrying outside it and becoming a modern woman. In the
book, Janice Hedden (there a mentally-afflicted eight-year-old) disappears
from the church social; at the same time, word seeps out that Henry Niles
has escaped from custody in a road accident. But in the movie, everything
seems more authentic. Henry isn’t a jailed killer but the town simpleton
with a reputation for child molestation. (His brother John has been keep-
ing him in line.) Janice is a teenager who is aching to experiment sexually,
even if—or because—it will upset her father, Tom. After her brother sees
Janice leading Niles out of the church hall (she’s the one who starts their
kiss), Tom raises a hue and cry—and Niles, in a panic, strangles her. (Niles
doesn’t touch the book’s Janice.) Peckinpah’s command of each aspect of his
story is so complete that when David, driving Amy away from the church
in a rare moment of kindness and grace, accidentally hits Niles with his car,
the moment is as perfect as a turnaround coincidence in a Thomas Hardy
novel. David, a civilized man, takes Niles into his home and shelters him
there until help arrives. In the movie, not the book, he already knows the
identity of this childlike person.
Peckinpah has fundamentally altered the turns they’ve all taken to reach
this crossroads. With his storytelling genius, he’s made something organic out
of Williams’ depiction of the village as a fiercely independent and atavistic

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From The Siege of Trencher’s Farm to Straw Dogs

community. In the movie, the village men “taking care of their own” doesn’t
extend just to protecting their families and meting out what they see as
rough justice. It also means bringing wanderers like Amy back into the fold,
albeit in the worst possible way. From the moment Hedden, Venner, Scutt,
Cawsey, and their pal and driver, Phil Riddaway, crash into Trencher’s Farm,
demanding that Niles be punished for raping or killing Janice (though she
hasn’t been found and Niles denies any wrongdoing), the action is virtually
the same in the book and the movie. But Amy’s exhaustion and distress over
her rape (which she hasn’t disclosed to her husband) and her disillusion-
ment with him as a man and a mate render her unable to help David, even
when he is behaving impeccably. Unlike her counterpart in the book, who
finds herself irritated, then immobilized by a vague, cumulative “grudge,”19
Amy truly and utterly wants to be rid of anything to do with David. And by
removing the daughter from the film, Peckinpah keeps the focus straight
on Amy’s turmoil. The director allows us to see both points of view in this
awful partnership. We may agree in principle that David should protect a
terribly vulnerable man from a small mob. But Peckinpah fills the air with
ironies. When David says, “This is my house, this is me, this is who I am,”
you can’t help thinking, no, this is Amy’s house (earlier in the film she had
sneered, “Every chair is my daddy’s chair”).
During the siege, the action within the house is every bit as fraught with
uncertainty as the action outside the house. Peckinpah takes nerve-wracking
care in calibrating the relative drunkenness, giddiness, and shock of the
gang, who can’t think on their feet, as well as the quickening responsiveness
of David, who is fighting not for his manhood but for survival. Amy is the
wild card in the conflict not because she’s a woman but because David and
Venner have tested and broken her affections. When David slaps her and
grabs her by the hair to keep her from joining Venner, his actions swing
jarringly close to those of the rapists. Throughout the siege, David moves in
flickering arcs of ingenuity, wiring Scutt’s hands to a window latch (his neck
resting on jagged glass), throwing boiling water on Hedden and Venner, and
swiping at Hedden’s rifle, which ends up blowing off the attacker’s own foot.
But after he beats Chris Cawsey to death with a poker, he’s spent physically
and emotionally. As Peckinpah told William Murray, “There’s a point in the
middle of the siege when David almost throws up, he’s so sick, and he says
[to Venner] ‘Go ahead, pull the trigger.’ He’s sick of it, sick of himself, sick
of the violence that he recognizes in himself. I can’t believe anyone can miss

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Michael Sragow

this point in the movie. He’s just used a poker to kill a man who’s just tried
to kill him. He looks at what he’s done with despair and absolute horror and
he doesn’t care at that moment whether he lives or dies.”20
In the book, the protagonist really is a hero who can brag “I got them all”
without the author undercutting him.21 In the film, even before David utters
this “Mission Accomplished” line, Venner shoots Scutt—and after David
delivers the line, his wife shoots Riddaway. Williams’ bookish killer does
have a post-massacre moment, when he wonders whether his alien presence
set off the carnage. Within a page he dispels that thought—and his marital
problems, too. His wife apologizes for not helping him more and for that
affair with the drunken poet. And “it was the first time in his life that he
was able to make love to a woman with the lights on. He didn’t have room
in his head for thoughts. He had won. The man who had won. The man
who knew.”22 In retrospect, it’s amazing: Williams delivers the triumphal
sort of machismo that Peckinpah was inaccurately criticized for in Straw
Dogs. Maybe Peckinpah’s revulsion at Williams’ vulgarity is what triggered
an inspired ad-lib in rehearsal. When David Warner, as Niles, improvised
the line, “I don’t know my way home,” Peckinpah told Hoffman, as David,
“And you don’t either, and that’s the whole point of the picture.”23 In the
film, David shepherds Niles past his traumatized wife, asking her only if
she’s “OK.” As the forlorn little white sports car makes its way through the
fog and Niles says, “I don’t know my way home,” David says, “That’s OK,
I don’t either.”
In The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, Williams’ protagonist feels “as if he’d
been catapulted from a seat in the movies into the movie itself.”24 But that
movie would have been nothing like Straw Dogs. Peckinpah refuses to revel
in revenge or primordial triumph. He wasn’t kidding when he said, “I’m a
great believer in catharsis. . . . Look, the old basis of catharsis was a purging
of the emotions through pity and fear. People used to go and see the plays
of Euripides and Sophocles and those other Greek cats. The players acted it
out and the audience got in there and kind of lived it with them.”25 That’s
how Straw Dogs operates with moviegoers. It purges our emotions through
pity and fear. What’s astonishing about Peckinpah as a storyteller here is not
how much of Williams’ novel he leaves out but how much of it he is able to
retain and purify. He wanted us to trust only in the tale: a tale of sound and
fury, to be sure, but one that, in his hands, signifies everything.

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From The Siege of Trencher’s Farm to Straw Dogs

Notes
1. Murray, “Playboy Interview,” 66.
2. Kael, For Keeps, 422.
3. Ibid., 426.
4. Murray, “Playboy Interview,” 70.
5. Ibid., 66–68.
6. Weddle, If They Move—Kill ’Em! 393.
7. Murray, “Playboy Interview,” 68.
8. Williams, Siege of Trencher’s Farm, 5.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid., 8.
11. Ibid., 15–16.
12. Ibid., 17.
13. Ibid., 16.
14. Ibid., 17.
15. Ibid., 13.
16. Ibid., 64.
17. Rayfield, Anton Chekhov, 203.
18. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (New York: Norton, 2001), line 30.
19. Williams, Siege of Trencher’s Farm, 146.
20. Murray, “Playboy Interview,” 68.
21. Williams, Siege of Trencher’s Farm, 205.
22. Ibid., 217–19.
23. Murray, “Playboy Interview,” 68.
24. Williams, Siege at Trencher’s Farm, 216.
25. Murray, “Playboy Interview,” 68.

81
The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid:
Ethical Problems in Film Restoration
Stephen Prince

S am Peckinpah knew about outside editors coming in at the behest of


studios to work changes on his films. Columbia Pictures reedited Major
Dundee (1965), removing copious amounts of Peckinpah’s footage. Warner
Bros. removed the flashback sequences and other material from The Wild
Bunch for its release in 1969. MGM chopped eighteen minutes out of Pat
Garrett and Billy the Kid for its 1973 release. In all these instances, the edit-
ing was done against Peckinpah’s expressed wishes and resulted in films
that he bitterly denounced. Happily, The Wild Bunch has been restored to
its former glory, and Peckinpah’s preferred cut of Pat Garrett surfaced at
a University of Southern California screening in 1986 and was shown on
cable television’s Z Channel in 1989. It was released by Ted Turner to the
home video market on VHS tape and laser disc.
During the past quarter century, the restoration of neglected, incomplete,
or formerly lost films has become a vital part of archival practice and of con-
temporary film culture. With very old titles that have circulated in altered
versions, scholarship as well as fortuitous accidents have disclosed the most
complete extant prints and aided restorers in reconstructing an approxima-
tion of the original from the surviving materials. Impressive examples in
recent years include restorations done for the Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau
Foundation of Nosferatu (1922) and The Last Laugh (1924), for Deutsche
Kinemathek of Battleship Potemkin (1925), and for the Danske Filmmuseum
and the Cinémathèque Française of The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).
The ancillary market of home video has helped to foster popular affec-
tion for “director’s cuts” of films that were released amid acrimonious or
contentious circumstances. The revenue stream this market generates also

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The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

furnishes an important incentive to organizations in undertaking restora-


tions of older pictures. In some cases, the director may authorize the resto-
ration, as Ridley Scott has been doing with his evolving iterations of Blade
Runner over the years. In some situations where a filmmaker no longer lives
but has left detailed instructions behind, these can guide a posthumous
reconstruction of a lost or contentiously altered film. Walter Murch’s re-
construction of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), for example, was based
on copious editing instructions left by Welles.
In 2005, Warner Bros. reissued Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in a new
edition that featured a reedit by Paul Seydor of the existing versions of the
film. At first glance, the Touch of Evil and Pat Garrett reissues seem like
parallel cases. Welles and Peckinpah both had been locked out of the editing
room by studio executives who didn’t like what they were seeing and who
were interested only in marketing conventional, easily exploitable films, not
the moody and unusual works that the directors were creating. Universal
Pictures’ officials were chagrined by the novel camera setups that Welles
had employed, by his unconventional editing approach, and by his bold and
aggressive use of audio elements. They wanted a simple crime film, a formu-
laic B movie that could be put together quickly and released in short order.
To get this, Welles was taken off the project. Analogously, the executives
at MGM cared little for the meandering, atmospheric cut that Peckinpah
prepared. The studio’s chief, James Aubrey, wanted product moving quickly
to theaters because MGM had to recoup revenues that were being plowed
into hotel construction. Aubrey demanded that Peckinpah’s two-hour-plus
film be reduced to a conventional run time, and he didn’t care whether the
film suffered from this radical surgery. Peckinpah was removed from the
editing room, and Aubrey worked on the picture with Roger Spottiswoode
and Robert Wolfe, editors whom Peckinpah had employed.
An additional parallel between the cases lies in the fact that the contempo-
rary reissues of these films were prepared by professional Hollywood editors
who had great regard for the films and their directors. Walter Murch admired
Welles, and in American Graffiti (1973) and The Conversation (1974), two of
the films that he edited, he worked out many of the same methods for creating
complex montages of audio sources that Welles had planned for Touch of Evil.1
Paul Seydor, who recut Pat Garrett, started out as an academic, an assistant
professor who published a well-regarded book on Peckinpah and who then
changed career paths to work in the industry as a feature film editor.

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Stephen Prince

But here is where the parallels between the two cases end. The new cut
of Touch of Evil provides a good example of how one successfully may ap-
proach the restoration of an older film that was edited against its filmmaker’s
intentions. It is difficult to reach a similar conclusion about the new version
of Pat Garrett. The Welles restoration follows a written blueprint that the
director himself provided but was never able to carry out. By contrast, the
new edition of Pat Garrett redesigns a film that Peckinpah never finished
and that existed in numerous versions throughout postproduction. Unlike
The Wild Bunch, no definitive, final cut of Pat Garrett was ever completed.
New attempts to “complete” it, therefore, are akin to remaking it, to creat-
ing a new version. Such actions raise important ethical dilemmas, ones of
which most film restorationists are acutely aware.
When Warner Bros. released the new cut of Peckinpah’s film as a “Spe-
cial Edition” in 2005, the studio described the new version as being the
one that the director originally intended to make. The blurb on the DVD
package states that the film is “now restored to its intended glory. For the
first time since it left the cutting room, the film has the balance of action
and character development Peckinpah wanted.” At festivals and film soci-
eties, when Pat Garrett screened, it was the 2005 cut that was shown, not
the 124-minute version that Peckinpah had refused to edit further, and the
screenings promoted the idea that this new version was the closest to Peck-
inpah’s wishes and intentions. In January 2009, the British Film Institute,
for example, celebrated Peckinpah with a retrospective of his work. Pat
Garrett was represented by the 2005 cut, which the BFI described as “now
re-edited in close accord with Peckinpah’s original intentions.”2 One of the
most questionable things about the reissue is this claim that the new cut is
closer to what Peckinpah wanted.
Was a new version necessary at all? Peckinpah delivered a 124-minute cut
for two preview screenings, as per his contract, after which the studio took
the film away from him and reduced its run time to 106 minutes without
Peckinpah’s participation. The longer version has come to be known as the
preview version, since Peckinpah had prepared it for early preview and it had
never gone into distribution. Actually, the preview version has never been
publicly available. The Turner version, which used this source, inexplicably
left out a brief scene showing Garrett (James Coburn) quarreling with his
wife (Aurora Clavell). Thus, the Turner cut ran 122 minutes and represented
Peckinpah’s preview cut minus this single scene. The best and most sensible

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The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

thing for Warner Bros. to have done, therefore, in bringing a new edition
of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid to market would have been to restore the
Turner edition by putting back in the scene with Garrett’s wife and releasing
this version to the DVD market. A nice double disk set could have been de-
signed to showcase the preview cut along with the original theatrical release.
These are the only two versions of the film that have any claim to historical
validity, and an informative, original documentary could have explicated
the differences between them and the respective merits of each. Instead,
Warner’s new two-disk edition showcases the Seydor recut on the first and
main platter and the Turner preview edition on the second and subsidiary
platter. The Seydor cut has been digitally buffed; the Turner edition has not,
nor has the scene with Garrett’s wife been put back into the Turner version.
The original MGM theatrical cut, prepared under Aubrey’s supervision, has
for now vanished. It is unavailable on DVD. Peckinpah’s preview cut is also
unavailable, since the Turner version continues to lack a key scene.
Enno Patalas, the film historian and restorer responsible for authoritative
versions of Metropolis (1927) and Battleship Potemkin, emphasizes that film
restoration is a creative act, but the restorer must act as a careful historian.
“Each restoration is an interpretation, a translation, an explanation, a per-
formance. If restorator and programmer act as historians, they can resurrect
a film in a genuine, truthful way.”3 Thus, in assessing the new version, we
should ask whether this edition of Pat Garrett offers an empirical corrective
to a known history that has hitherto been unavailable. Unlike the situation
with Touch of Evil, wherein Welles’ fifty-eight-page memo with additional
notes on sound described in minute detail how he would redress problems
in the studio edit of his film, Peckinpah left no such expansive instructions.
To be sure, there are extant editing and script notes housed in the Peckinpah
Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles. The notes can
furnish suggestions for new interventions into the existing versions of the
film. Moreover, as a Peckinpah scholar and working editor, Paul Seydor
has come to know the film’s surviving editors and other members of the
production crew and in conversation has gleaned from them their senses
of what Peckinpah might have done with the film.
But it is important to stress might have because the film was never fin-
ished. Peckinpah’s involvement in the picture’s late stages was erratic, and
then he was fired. The unfinished nature of the film presents a formidable
obstacle to efforts to reconstruct it in a manner that is true to Peckinpah’s

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Stephen Prince

unrealized intentions. Those intentions cannot now be known in a definitive


way. Information gleaned from surviving crew members or from scattered
notes in the archive do not move things empirically much beyond “what
might have been” speculations. In contrast, the directives that Welles pre-
pared for the Universal executives are specific and focused and provide clear
guidelines about the recutting that he—as the film’s director—was propos-
ing. Walter Murch had a playbook to follow that validated the changes and
guided the choices that he made. Peckinpah’s methods of working were
more scattered and inchoate. Peckinpah scribbled garbled instructions to
his editors on the backs and margins of script pages or ordinary notepaper.
His style was epigrammatic rather than essayistic—the ideas were distilled
to a kernel that was itself sometimes hard to decipher. And the paper trail,
such as it existed, is spotty, full of gaps, terse rather than expansive in the
Welles manner.
How did the Paul Seydor cut arise and on what is it based? With Warner
Home Video preparing new DVD editions of Peckinpah’s Westerns, Seydor
may have proposed to company officials—or the idea perhaps was floated to
him as a working editor in the industry and an authority on Peckinpah—
that a new presentation of Pat Garrett be created. The main question that we
must ask of those who undertook this new version is whether it developed
in ways that were consistent with accepted principles of film restoration.
(To be precise, the new version of Pat Garrett qualifies as a restoration
only if the original camera negative or surviving elements were restored. If
the negative or other elements were untouched and the film’s images were
processed as electronic signals using only digital tools, as seems likely, then
this reissue is not a true restoration.) As restorations have become more fre-
quent during the past twenty-five years, archivists and curators have grown
more self-conscious about the ethical and aesthetic implications of their
work. Organizations like the International Federation of Film Archives have
sponsored debates and publications focusing on best practices in this field.
A fundamental principle is that “every alteration to a film, whether textual
or technical, must be considered in relation to the definition of the version
that the restorer is going to restore.”4 Numerous versions of a film often exist,
and numerous outcomes of the restoration process may be conceptualized.
Potential versions of a film that a restorer might produce include the film
as it presently exists, as it was seen by its first audiences, as it was seen by
later audiences, or as it was intended by its makers; a version meant to be

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The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

seen by a modern audience; a version for commercial exploitation; or a ver-


sion that is “a reworking of the original version through a contemporary
artist.”5 The Seydor cut seems to exemplify the last three categories—its
tighter rhythms are aimed at a modern audience, it has been commercially
exploited, and it creatively reworks the original version. Giorgio Moroder’s
presentation of Metropolis, scored with a rock soundtrack, is probably the
clearest contemporary example of the reworking of an original version by
another artist. Moroder was a producer of synth-rock music, and he bent
the film to this design, with songs by Pat Benatar and Queen. But no one
mistook Moroder’s version for Fritz Lang’s original, nor was there an effort
to pass it off as being closer to Lang’s original vision. In contrast, promo-
tion and publicity for the new Pat Garrett blurs the differences between
Peckinpah’s original work and Seydor’s reimagining of it.
This is a very important point. If Warner Bros. had publicized the new
version as an interpretation by Paul Seydor of how the film might have
turned out under more ideal production circumstances, and if Seydor had
described his own work more tentatively in this way, then I don’t believe
that anyone could have a quarrel with the results. It would be clear that
the new cut was a reenvisioning of the work by another artist rather than
a movie to be attributed in some measure to Peckinpah himself. But the
new version is being presented as a truer incarnation of what Peckinpah
wanted and would have done with the film had it been finished. Herein lies
the rub. Now there is a “ghost” version of the film in circulation, one that
is being promoted, viewed, and potentially understood by new generations
of viewers as more authentic than the extant versions that Peckinpah and
his editors actually worked on.
Although Seydor’s cut of the film is a new version, such an outcome
need not be inconsistent with the principles of restoration. Enno Patalas
undertook the restoration of Battleship Potemkin by incorporating miss-
ing shots deleted over the years and that could be found in various extant
prints. He wrote, “Our version now comprises 1,378 shots, of which 39 are
missing from the silent Gosfilmofond print, 27 are missing from the MOMA
version of 1939, and 15 are missing from the ‘jubilee’ sound version of 1976,
which had until this time been the most complete.”6 A key innovation of
the restoration was the incorporation of the Edmund Meisel score that
director Sergei Eisenstein had personally approved. Meisel’s music, how-
ever, had accompanied only the reedited 1926 German version of the film,

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a version that Eisenstein otherwise had repudiated. Because of the different


run times of each version, the score had to be specially adapted for the newly
restored Patalas-Eisenstein version of the picture. In this way, the end result
was a new product—Eisenstein’s complete version of the film accompanied
by Meisel’s music. In another context, Patalas wrote, “The print and the
performance [of the adapted score] did not reproduce any past event, but
presented a new montage of different attractions, picture and sound, all of
them, in one way or another, authentic in accordance with the intentions
of the author, but not a reproduction.”7
Restoration of Max Ophuls’ Lola Montes (1955) aimed to reproduce the
multilingual scenes in German, English, and French that existed in Ophuls’
original version. Ophuls had actors speaking different languages in the
same scene at numerous places in the movie. After its disastrous premiere,
the film was cut down and issued in separate language versions. Restor-
ers made the decision to combine select scenes from surviving German
and French versions. The objective was “to restore the multilinguality of
the film. Yet, one must bear in mind that this will lead to a new version, a
construct combining material from two differently shot language versions
which represents but an approximation of the original.”8
Why do these examples represent different cases from the new cut of
Pat Garrett? They do so because with regard to the former films, a finished,
originary work existed and the restorers acted as historians, relying on
documentation to ascertain the multilingual structure of Lola Montes and
Eisenstein’s relationship with Meisel and his score. In both cases, the objec-
tive was to draw as close in the restoration to the author’s original film and
documented preferences as possible. This cannot be accomplished in the case
of Pat Garrett since a lost, originary version does not exist and never did.
Another example will clarify when a new version violates the ethics of
restoration and reconstruction. Cecil Hepworth filmed Rescued by Rover
(1905) three times because the film was so popular that the negative was
worn out by printing. Reshooting the film meant that a new negative was
available to make more prints, although his young actress was visibly older
each time. As Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer write, “If one wants to restore
Rescued by Rover, it is necessary to decide first of all which of the three ver-
sions is to be worked on.” Simply intercutting the best material from them
would not work. “Mixing shots from the various editions would create a film
that, in fact, never existed.”9 Patalas’ intercutting of material from various

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The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

editions of Battleship Potemkin did not create a film that never existed in this
manner, which is precisely what the new cut of Pat Garrett accomplishes.

Throughout Paul Seydor’s audio commentary on the new DVD, he explains


in detail the reasons for his editing decisions. His discussion is very articu-
late, and he cares passionately about the film. But as he talks about what he
did, it becomes clear that he often allowed his personal preferences about
the material—his own taste and evaluative judgments about what things
worked and what didn’t—to influence his decisions. The ethical issues of
film restoration are compounded in the digital era because electronic tools
make it easy to work extensive changes on an original work, as YouTube
video mash-ups readily demonstrate. Thus, a best practice of film restoration
includes this injunction on the restorator, which the digital era has made
more urgent: “Obviously he can not be allowed to make changes according
to his own taste or judgment.”10
Based on his remarks on the DVD audio commentary, Seydor seemed
to dislike many things about Peckinpah’s preview cut. And to justify his
decisions, Seydor constructs two highly questionable propositions. The first
proposition is that the 124-minute preview cut wasn’t substantively the final
form that Peckinpah intended the film to take. If it was, of course, or if only
minor changes would have been authorized by Peckinpah following the pre-
views, then there would be little or no justification for recutting the movie.
By questioning the aesthetic merits of the preview cut, Seydor produces a
rationale for his own undertaking. Thus, in the commentary he criticizes
the structure of numerous episodes. He doesn’t like the ordering of scenes,
the way they build, or particular lines of dialogue. He considers the long
cut of the film to have been a provisional work, one that would have been
significantly cut down in a routine postproduction process. But Peckinpah
refused to cut any further. According to David Weddle’s biography of the
director, Peckinpah considered the long version as his final cut,11 and even
Seydor concedes in the commentary that to the end of his life Peckinpah
showed and spoke about the long version unapologetically.
So, the first proposition is that the preview cut is really just a rough
cut. Seydor’s second claim is that the MGM studio cut, carried out under
Aubrey’s orders, is a better cut than the longer version. It is tighter, Seydor
contends, and generates more narrative tension and momentum, and the
scenes build and end more naturally than do their attenuated counterparts

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in the longer version. In his commentary, Seydor says: “I have always main-
tained that his artistry as an editor . . . was always best illustrated in the
theatrical version because that represents the fine cutting that he and his
principal editors [did]. . . . The scenes the two versions have in common,
I’ve always maintained, are far better cut and timed and tuned and so forth
than they are in the preview version.”
This second premise contains a surprising component. Seydor suggests
that the studio cut, in fact, represents Peckinpah’s own work. As his re-
marks excerpted here indicate, and as he asserts again and again in his
commentary, Seydor describes the Aubrey-mandated short version as one
that Peckinpah and his editors created and the one that reflects Peckinpah’s
mature editing style, which Seydor believes the preview cut does not. This
contention is contradicted by the production history of the film. Peckinpah
did not work on the picture beyond the preview cut. If he did, and Paul
Seydor has direct evidence of this, it would be helpful for him to share it
because it would change our understanding of the two versions. According
to Weddle’s biography, Aubrey brought in his own editors to slice and dice
the movie, and in order to prevent wholesale butchery, Spottiswoode and
Wolfe agreed to work with Aubrey and to negotiate the material that would
be removed and that which would be retained. There is no indication that
Peckinpah participated in this negotiation. His participation would have
enraged Aubrey, who by this point had a strong antipathy for the filmmaker.
More telling is Peckinpah’s own reaction. He felt that his editors had be-
trayed him, and he broke with Wolfe because of it. Although it is true that
Peckinpah’s editors worked on what became the theatrical version, they
did not do so in an unconstrained fashion. Aubrey forced their hand, and
it was Aubrey’s wishes, not Peckinpah’s, that compelled preparation of the
short version. Weddle reports Peckinpah saying, “They’ve taken the film
away from me,” after the second preview screening, and it was at this point
that the preview cut was spirited off the MGM lot by Peckinpah’s friends,
to safeguard it and to retain it for personal and historical reasons.12 Peck-
inpah also filed suit against MGM over the recutting of the film. If Seydor’s
revisionist account is correct, then Peckinpah would have had no reason to
retain the longer cut or file suit or complain in any way.
Seydor’s new edition combines the existing versions in ways that bring the
final product closer to the studio cut. When faced with editing choices, Sey-
dor’s overall preferences went toward the Aubrey-MGM theatrical version.

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The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

He has augmented that version with scenes and snippets from the preview
cut. In doing so, he has imposed a conventional notion of tight narrative
structure upon a filmmaker who never made fast-paced movies. Pat Garrett
and Billy the Kid really is a hopeless case if one seeks to measure it in terms
of conventional narrative continuity, structure, tension, and suspense. It’s
a clunky movie, composed of long scenes that have little connective tissue
conjoining them and supporting the whole. After the prologue depicting
Garrett’s death, the opening scenes show Garrett ambushing Billy (Kris
Kristofferson) at Stinking Springs, Garrett holding him in his jail, and then
Billy escaping. How did Garrett know Billy was at Stinking Springs? Who
are all the guys he rounds up as deputies to ambush Billy? In every other
scene, the film shows Garrett as a solitary and isolated figure. Where did
all these deputies come from? Where are the details about Billy’s trial? At
the jail, everyone expects him to be hung. He finds a gun in the outhouse
and uses it to escape. Who placed the gun there? I raise these questions not
because I care about any of them but to show that this movie treats the details
of narrative continuity in a sloppy and indifferent fashion. This is probably
due to Peckinpah’s lack of focus during production. Weddle provides an
honest and sympathetic but unsentimental account of the production in
his biography, and he notes that Peckinpah, on a good day, was capable of
about four hours of concentrated work, after which he was a mess due to
his drinking. The wonderful things about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid lie
in the texture Peckinpah gave this recreation of the West, the atmosphere
of despair and lassitude that inflects the narrative, the visual design, and,
yes, the editing. The film is about two dying men, Garrett and Billy, and the
film’s formal structure, with its gaps, its slackness, its evasions of dramatic
and narrative focus, in ways that Peckinpah may not have intended always,
conveys the spiritual defeat haunting the main characters, the center of the
movie’s emotional core. No one who likes this movie likes it because it has
a tight or conventional narrative focus. It doesn’t have one and never did.
That’s the wrong yardstick to calibrate the worth of the studio cut. Tighter
isn’t better because tighter isn’t what this movie is about.
Seydor is an editor of mainstream, commercial movies who has worked
frequently with director Ron Shelton (Hollywood Homicide [2003], Tin Cup
[1996], White Men Can’t Jump [1992]) and on light comedies (This Christmas
[2007], Barbershop 2 [2004], Turner and Hooch [1989]). His preference for the
studio cut of Peckinpah’s work suggests a fondness for more conventional

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continuity editing than what the preview cut delivered, and in crafting
the new edition of Pat Garrett he has brought the film more in line with
the tight editing rhythms of the pictures that he is familiar with. Consider
the opening sequence. Seydor has shortened it, introduced the characters
more quickly, and gotten the story off to a faster start, all laudable qualities
from the standpoint of commercial moviemaking, but they work significant
changes upon the preview version.
The preview version’s opening sequence, introducing and intercutting the
two time frames of the narrative—Garrett’s death as an old man in 1909 and
his meeting with Billy at Old Fort Sumner in 1881—contains one of Peck-
inpah’s most elaborate and magisterial montages. The studio cut dropped
the montage, eliminating the prologue entirely. The preview cut generated
excitement when it surfaced because, at last, viewers were seeing the film’s
elaborate opening sequence. One of its key ingredients is a kaleidoscopic
fracturing of time and space. In this case, as the old Garrett is gunned down
by Poe (John Beck) and his gang, Peckinpah intercuts a scene from the past
of Billy and his men shooting the heads off some chickens. They are joined
by a younger Garrett inside this earlier time frame. The intercutting shows
Billy and his gang shooting at the older Garrett in the later time frame, and
then Garrett, from the past, shooting at himself. The metaphor is a psycho-
logically powerful one—by going after the Kid, Garrett has sealed his own
doom, his past actions leading directly to his present downfall.
In Peckinpah’s version, the two time frames are elegantly introduced,
and the intercutting is lengthy, inviting the viewer to inhabit the poetic
space set up by the editing and to reflect upon its meanings. The pacing in
Peckinpah’s version is unhurried. In his redo, Seydor has trimmed back
the overall length of the sequence and moved the establishing shot at Fort
Sumner that introduced the earlier time frame to a position later in the
sequence. He also dropped other establishing shots that Peckinpah pro-
vided to orient the viewer inside the early time frame prior to the montage
that blends the two frames. Moving and eliminating the establishing mate-
rial enables Seydor to introduce Billy suddenly, abruptly firing at Garrett
from out of the past. It’s a more contemporary kind of shock cut than what
Peckinpah had constructed. Getting the movie started more quickly also
meant dropping some wonderful details, such the audio overlay in which
one of Billy’s men says, “Goddamn near perfect,” about one of the shots at
the chickens. As heard, though, the line accompanies imagery of the older

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The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Garrett taking a bullet, giving the dialogue an extra resonance. Seydor cut
this out and some of the shots of the chickens twitching after their heads are
blown off; he also trimmed other small details away. The result is a sequence
that feels hurried and abrupt.
Seydor also eliminated the film’s opening credits that appeared during
the montage and continued into the cantina scene at Fort Sumner that fol-
lowed. In their place, he resurrected the credit sequence from the studio
cut, which employs a series of grainy, de-focused still frames pulled from
throughout the upcoming narrative. One of his major reasons for doing so
seemed to be that he really liked the studio credits. On the commentary
track, he says enthusiastically, “There is something so magical about this
sequence. It addresses all of Sam’s themes about a kind of patina over the Old
West that the movie almost religiously scrapes away. It really is a sequence
that I’ve always loved.”
The cantina scene, in which Garrett meets with Billy and warns him to
get out of the territory, is substantially shortened in the new version. Nick
Redman, the moderator of the commentary track, tells Seydor that this is
one of the biggest changes that he (Seydor) made. In response, Seydor claims
that he made no changes here, merely chose the theatrical cut of the scene,
ending where the short version always ended. But of course he did make
changes because he created a novel, synthetic version of the movie by picking
and choosing material from the two existing versions. Seydor’s and Aubrey’s
versions of the scene end with Billy saying about Garrett, “He’s my friend,”
whereas Peckinpah’s cut goes on longer with additional dialogue. Seydor
felt that Billy’s line is the proper climax of the scene. “You go out when the
scene peaks,” Seydor says. “Here is where the scene naturally peaks.” He’s
right, in terms of the standard provided by conventional continuity edit-
ing in which everything serves the narrative. Lost, however, are details of
texture, nuance, and atmosphere.
Just as Seydor altered the beginning of the film, he changed its ending. In
the finale of Peckinpah’s preview cut, the film returns to the framing story of
Garrett’s assassination and reprises the action of Garrett being shot by Poe
and his men and by Billy from out of the past. Garrett falls out of a buggy and
mostly out of frame as the action freezes and the end credits roll. Seydor de-
leted this epilogue in favor of retaining the end of the theatrical cut in which
the younger Garrett simply rides off into the distance after having killed Billy.
There is no return to the later story frame. Seydor speaks enthusiastically

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From the Turner cut of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

about how lovely the ending in the theatrical version is (apart from the final
reprise shot of a smiling Garrett and Billy), and he complains about the look
of the final shot in the preview version. He doesn’t like the wagon wheel that
fills the frame while the credits roll, and he also complains that the epilogue
is overly obvious and literal. He feels that once was enough—Garrett being
killed in the prologue ought to tell the viewer everything necessary to know.
The new version eliminates the circular structure that Peckinpah gave to the
narrative and has turned the body of the film into a simple flashback. The
circularity of Peckinpah’s version provided a structure for dramatizing the
crushing, preordained nature of Garrett’s defeat. Seydor makes the film into
a linear narrative that simply moves backward in time, whereas Peckinpah’s
circular design is about despair and loss of choice, an emotion and an idea
that are muted in the recut.
A caveat is in order here. Because Peckinpah’s focus was erratic and he
was incapable of working a full day during postproduction, his editors argu-
ably had considerable leeway to structure the film and to fashion sequences.
The opening and closing montages, for example, are classic examples of
how filmmakers in the editing typically go beyond the material as scripted
to create new cinematic designs, new inflections, and structuring of story
material. It would be auteurist folly to assert that Peckinpah was the “author”
of everything that made it into the film, especially in light of his excessive
drinking and his absences from the editing bays and the preview screenings.
But this is precisely why the preview cut ought to stand as the most reliably
complete extant version of the film that we have and why attempts at a new
version must remain speculative and interpretive.

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The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Seydor retains the Bob Dylan vocal performance of “Knockin’ on Heav-


en’s Door” that appeared in the theatrical cut during the scene showing the
death of Sheriff Baker (Slim Pickens). The Turner version used an instru-
mental version of Dylan’s song. Viewers of the film have different opinions
about this music: some people like the vocal rendition of the song, while
others find it trite and prefer the instrumental version used in the Turner
cut. Seydor in his commentary claims that most people prefer the vocal and
thus he included it, despite admitting in the commentary that there is no
shred of evidence that Peckinpah ever wanted it in the movie.
In justifying other cuts and trims, Seydor claims that Peckinpah actu-
ally made these same cuts in the studio release, or would have made them.
Take, for example, the trim that Seydor made in the saloon scene featuring
Chill Wills as the most depraved barkeep west of the Mississippi. Wills
tells a joke about a whore named Bertha wanting to give cowboys a good,
warm, two-dollar place to shit. In cutting the joke from his new version of
the film, Seydor follows the Aubrey theatrical release, which also removed
this material. It appears only in Peckinpah’s preview cut. In justifying his
choice, Seydor asserts that the reason the joke doesn’t appear in the studio
version is because Peckinpah took it out. “I’m convinced Sam and his crew
cut that out,” he says. As I noted earlier, in his commentary Seydor implies
that Peckinpah worked on the studio release, making cuts and trims and
fine-tuning in ways that were fully consistent with his artistic vision and
that simultaneously served Aubrey’s interests in getting a shorter film into
theaters. For Seydor, if something isn’t in the studio cut, it’s often because
Peckinpah opted to take it out. This is a vision of auteurist control that
contravenes all existing accounts of the film’s postproduction.
Seydor has resequenced the placement of the raft scene, in which Garrett
exchanges shots with a man leading his family downriver on a dilapidated
houseboat. The scene is a stand-alone piece of business, with no narrative
connection to anything else in the story, and in the preview cut, it appears
very late in the film. Seydor moves it to an earlier position, reflecting the
sequencing in the studio version, placing it just prior to Poe’s entrance at
Garrett’s campfire. Again Seydor attributes the sequencing in the theatri-
cal version to the hand of Peckinpah. “Sam” knew, Seydor says, that the
sequencing of the scene late in the preview cut impeded the tension during
the climax of the film. Seydor also feels that it plays better in the studio
cut, and while he may be correct, the alteration is valid only if it is based on

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From the raft sequence in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

documentation or other evidence establishing clearly that this resequencing


reflects Peckinpah’s wishes.
The roadhouse scene late in the film, in which Poe beats information
about Billy’s whereabouts out of a drifter played by Dub Taylor, is gone.
Seydor never liked the scene or its positioning in the narrative, and he’s
convinced that Peckinpah would agree with him. “I maintain that for any
number of reasons that the scene in the outpost would have been dropped
anyway because it seems to me to break the structural spine of the film.”
Garrett’s line near the end of the film—“What you want and what you get
are two different things”—is gone, too. Garrett says this to Poe after he’s
killed Billy. He kicks Poe in the face and hisses the line because Poe has tried
to cut off Billy’s trigger finger as a trophy. Seydor hated Garrett’s line pas-
sionately, calling it “egregious” and “something I have the strongest feelings
about in the world.” This, of course, is a purely personal judgment. So the
dialogue is gone. Seydor felt that the line was too obvious, that the senti-
ment was already expressed in Garrett’s kicking of Poe. But his application
of this yardstick is inconsistent. The most literal-minded and obvious line
in the entire film is spoken by Garrett’s wife, who tells him, “You are dead
inside,” in the scene that was never included in the Turner version. Seydor
retained the line, despite its thudding obviousness.
Seydor followed the theatrical cut in removing most of Sam Peckin-
pah’s scene, where he appears as Will, a coffin-maker, to curse Garrett and
urge him on to his rendezvous with destiny, that is, his killing of Billy.
Peckinpah’s appearance is one of the extraordinary things in the movie
because, in the long version of the preview cut, it is much more than a simple

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The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

director’s cameo. As Will, Peckinpah delivers significant expressions of


spite and antipathy for Garrett, calling the character “a chicken-shit, badge-
wearing son-of-a-bitch.” He heaps scorn on the character, and yet Garrett is
the individual around whom he has built the film and for whom he has great
regard and empathy. The scene, thus, is about Peckinpah’s self-loathing. As
Will, he pisses on Garrett for many of the personal failings that he under-
stood only too well. To call this confrontation between the director and his
central character Brechtian is merely to state what is already clear—namely,
as in the opening and closing montages, the present contains all the sins of
the past. Peckinpah’s haunted collision with Garrett crystallizes the film’s
core themes and traumas, which involve the splintering of the self, a failure
of psychic and moral integration. In the truncated version, all we have is an
ordinary director’s cameo, something trivial, a momentary piece of effluvia,
instead of a riveting and climactic moment.
Seydor says that because the scene was trimmed in the theatrical version,
it must have been Peckinpah’s decision to do so. He says that Peckinpah’s
editors working on the studio cut wouldn’t have taken his appearance out of
the film without his consent. “I cannot imagine that they would take it upon
themselves to do that without Sam’s approval,” he concludes. But then, in
one of the rare moments on the commentary track where someone expresses
a dissenting point of view, David Weddle says that he cannot agree with
the proposition that the deletions to the scene were made because Peckin-
pah wanted them made. As Peckinpah’s biographer, he stresses what the
historical record suggests, namely, that Aubrey was demanding cuts to the
film and that the editors had little authority to contravene these demands,
being forced to bargain and negotiate. Weddle says that under those circum-
stances, they wouldn’t have hesitated to shorten scenes. But Seydor insists
in the commentary that the scene was shortened with Peckinpah’s blessing.
Then he adds this remark—“But obviously we have no way of knowing that.”
Garner Simmons, another Peckinpah scholar and commentary participant,
adds, “It’s all a conjecture.”
When a film historian undertakes a restoration, often there may be am-
biguities about a filmmaker’s original intentions and about how to fill in
missing material. Recall Patalas’ observation that every restoration is an
interpretation. Historical documentation, though, and the testimony of
those involved in a production provide the empirical constraints that the
interpretive components of restoration require. Without these constraints,

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conjecture and personal taste risk taking over. A few examples from other
cases can clarify this point. On the Touch of Evil restoration, Welles’ notes
stipulated that he wanted the studio’s cut to incorporate a more complex
use of sound. Walter Murch said, “I had to interpret what Welles might
have wanted. He’d said he wanted . . . ‘a complex montage of source cues,’
but obviously how complex, and which source cues, and how to use them
were never specified.”13 And in terms of Welles’ memo, Murch wrote, “Much
of the memo, in fact, has a certain ambiguity to it; there are few editorial
instructions that do not require a degree of interpretation.”14 But the memo
and the sound notes provided a template organizing Murch’s work on the
film. And he felt that Welles’ presence and thought processes were manifest
in the written notes.
When Robert Harris and James Katz undertook the restoration of Vertigo
(1958), they redid the Foley and effects track to cover holes in the soundtrack
where room tone was missing and dead sound was apparent. The original
three-track magnetic studio recordings of Bernard Herrmann’s music had
survived, but all other sound elements were available only as optical tracks
on used 35mm prints. The question became whether to digitally stitch to-
gether a soundtrack from the optical elements or to create a stereo track
showcasing the magnetic recordings of Herrmann’s music. This was a major
decision point in the restoration process, and it involved an interpretation
about how Hitchcock’s film ought to be presented. They did not make the
decision based on their own preferences. They consulted with the film’s
producer, Herbert Coleman, and with Pat Hitchcock, Alfred’s daughter, both
of whom recommended creating a stereo soundtrack. Doing so necessitated
a redo of the Foley and effects work, with new cues added—wind noises,
bird songs—to cover areas of dead sound. The new Foley has more punch
than sound effects typically did in films of that period, and measured in
those terms it constitutes a novel addition to the film and one atypical for
the time. In a similar way, the six-channel Dolby Digital recordings of new
performances of the original music scores for the restorations of Nosferatu,
The Last Laugh, and Battleship Potemkin offer a modern, multidirectional
audio experience.
In the case of a film’s musical soundtrack, though, it’s not always the per-
formance but often the composition that warrants preservation, and these
multichannel performances breathe new life into the original compositions.
In terms of the sound elements on Vertigo, the decision was to give emphasis

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The Recutting of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

to the stereo recording of Herrmann’s music since the audiotapes sounded


so extraordinary and since Herrmann was so important to Hitchcock’s
creative work and his contribution to the film was so vital. And as Harris
said, justifying the direction they took on this restoration, “We preserved
what existed.”15
Can the same be said about the new edition of Pat Garrett and Billy the
Kid? The ideal methodology for a restoration or reconstruction involves
collaborative historiographic work. Art history provides an impressive, if
extreme, example. As Meyer writes, “A scientific approach is the big differ-
ence between film restoration today and the restoration practice in other
arts.” He points out that recent restorations of Vermeer paintings have been
accomplished through “a dialogue with a committee of internationally re-
nowned restorers and art historians, but also with institutes for atomic and
molecular physics, with chemical research laboratories, with institutes for
X-ray photography.”16
Film restoration and reconstruction is beholden to ethical issues that
arise when working with cinema history. An informed respect for the past,
for the need to document an artist’s intentions, and for the ways that the
surviving condition of a film instantiates those intentions are among the
most important. A first principle would prohibit imposing changes on works
of the past, unless empirical reasons can be advanced for doing so, as in the
cases of Lola Montes, Battleship Potemkin, Vertigo, and Touch of Evil. Per-
sonal conjecture and individual subjective preferences do not count unless
what is being produced aims explicitly to be an interpretive reimagining
of an earlier work. The new version of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid differs
from the restorations of Battleship Potemkin, Nosferatu, and The Passion of
Joan of Arc, films that after Eisenstein, Murnau, and Dreyer were done with
them were cut into many versions for export or for political or censorship
reasons. In those cases, restoration aimed to discover the director’s authoriz-
ing cut. And the work of restoration often entailed putting footage back into
the surviving prints rather than taking it out. In the case of Pat Garrett, we
cannot ever truly know what Peckinpah may have wanted to create had he
finished the film. While we perhaps do not have a director’s cut, Peckinpah
did seem to regard the preview version as his last word on the subject. In
light of this, further modifications of that version become intrusive.
Why was a new version commissioned? Perhaps a new version lent itself
to marketing and promotion in ways that may have been more exciting for

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Warner Bros. than simply dusting off the existing editions of the movie.
The new cut is neither the theatrical version nor the preview cut but a novel
compendium made from pieces of each. With this film’s history of problems,
the last thing needed was another version. Now we have a ghost, and viewers
coming anew to Peckinpah and his work will have the task of disentangling
the historical versions of Pat Garrett from this new specter and its claims
of legitimacy.

Notes
1. Tully, “Sounds of Evil.”
2. See http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/pat_garrett_billy_the_kid.
3. Patalas, “On ‘Wild’ Film Restoration,” 37.
4. Read and Meyer, Restoration of Motion Picture Film, 70–71.
5. Ibid., 71.
6. Patalas, “Odyssey of the Battleship,” 39.
7. Patalas, “On ‘Wild’ Film Restoration,” 37.
8. Droessler, “Reconstructing the German Version of Lola Montes,” 15.
9. Read and Meyer, Restoration of Motion Picture Film, 71.
10. Meyer, “Ethics of Archive Film Restoration,” 12.
11. Weddle, If They Move—Kill ’Em! 482.
12. Ibid., 484.
13. Tully, “Sounds of Evil.”
14. Murch, “Restoring the Touch of Genius to a Classic.”
15. Robert Harris interview.
16. Meyer, “Ethics of Archive Film Restoration,” 12.

100
The Authentic Death and Contentious Afterlife
of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid: The Several
Versions of Peckinpah’s Last Western
Paul Seydor

I t began inconspicuously over thirty years ago:

Three cut scenes—Garrett with his wife, Garrett and Chisum, and
Billy courting Maria—and several minor excisions were restored to
the version on television. . . . Unfortunately, the frame story is still
missing, and so much else is either altered or missing . . . that the only
way to see an approximation of Peckinpah’s original is try to watch
the film on television and at a theatre within the same short period
of time, then edit the two together in the mind’s eye.”1

Tucked away in a footnote in the first edition of my critical study of Sam


Peckinpah’s Western films (Peckinpah: The Western Films), this seemed the
most innocent of observations, hardly practical yet all the times allowed: the
longer preview version of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid would not become
available for another eight years; meanwhile, so much violence and nudity
had been expurgated for television that in order to fill two hours of prime
time, some material that had been lifted from the theatrical release had to
be put back. My little armchair editing exercise was thus the only way to
“construct,” as it were, a version that brought us closer, if only in the theaters
of our imaginations, to the film the director might have had in mind but
was never able to persuade the studio to release.
Little did I imagine that a quarter century and a different career later,
long after I had left academia and become a film editor, I would be given the
opportunity to make something very like that imaginary version come true.
If the germ of what became the Special Edition of Pat Garrett originated in
that footnote, the idea of actually doing it originated with Nick Redman,

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the producer of my documentary on The Wild Bunch.2 In my Peckinpah: The


Western Films—A Reconsideration (that is, the second edition of my book),
published in 1997, I reviewed the extant versions of the film and suggested
that none of them can in any sense be considered final or definitive.3 There
were two preview versions, close but not identical, the first of which was
released on laser disc in 1990 by Turner (which then owned the MGM li-
brary). Between them and the theatrical release, there is no ideal choice. The
previews, too loose and unwieldy to be considered fine cuts or even to play
optimally, were conceptually and practically never finished. They contain,
however, several significant scenes that make for a richer film.
For the theatrical release, the studio demanded these scenes be removed
and the overall pace tightened, reducing character and stressing action. The
theatrical is thus thematically somewhat diminished, eliminates at least
two secondary but significant characters (Garrett’s wife, Ida, and the cattle
baron Chisum), and reduces the ironies substantially. However, and it is a big
“however,” as regards all the scenes it shares in common with the previews,
which is most of them, it is better edited, shaped, and paced. In a word, it
plays better. It was also actually finished.
My conclusion was that the previews compromise Peckinpah’s artistry
and style, the theatrical his vision, yet at the time it never occurred to me
that it might be possible to put the missing scenes back into the theatrical.
But my argument, Nick told me, is what gave him the idea to pitch a special
edition to Warner Bros. that would do just that. This was in 2002, and the
timing couldn’t have been better, he said. Having acquired the MGM library
from Turner some years earlier, Warner Home Video, thanks in no small
part to Nick’s urging, was at last planning a boxed DVD set of the four
Peckinpah Westerns the studio now owned, the two for MGM (Ride the High
Country and Pat Garrett) and the two for Warners (The Wild Bunch and
The Ballad of Cable Hogue). Nick eventually became the de facto producer
of the set. Would I agree to be the consulting editor on a new version of Pat
Garrett that would (here he handed my own words back to me) at last join
Peckinpah’s vision to his artistry—for as little cash as possible, of course,
which was to say none? (Not Nick’s condition this last, but Warner’s: I had
already made the Wild Bunch documentary for free—once they know you’ll
work for love rather than money . . .)
I eagerly accepted but had three conditions of my own. The first and most
important was that whatever form a special edition eventually took, it would

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never, ever be used to supplant the Turner Preview, only to supplement it. My
reservations about the previews are several and substantial; that Peckinpah left
before finishing them is a matter of fact beyond denial. Nevertheless, the one
Turner released remains the only version we have that Peckinpah personally
worked on, for which reason alone it must be accorded respect and be always
available. The second condition was that I would not touch the Turner; it
would be left exactly as Peckinpah left it. The third was that I would not in
any sense recut the theatrical either in whole or in detail, except for the bare
minimum necessary to fit the lifted material back into the places where it had
been removed. (The one exception to this is the prologue, which I take up later.)
Warners readily agreed to all three conditions, the job was done, and
the box set was released, with two versions of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,
to which the studio even assigned subtitles: 2005 Special Edition and 1988
Turner Preview Version. (The date in the latter is somewhat misleading, re-
ferring not to the year of the preview in May 1973 but to the year it was first
resurrected for airing on Jerry Harvey’s fabled Z Channel.) The reception
to the set was gratifyingly enthusiastic from legitimate print and Internet
reviewers, an enthusiasm that extended in more temperate but still quite
real form to the “new” Pat Garrett. Most appeared to grasp the issues in-
volved, including the unique circumstances that render a definitive version
impossible; and they accepted it in the terms on which it was offered: not
as the version Peckinpah “would” or even “might” have done—something
nobody can know—but as a way to take the only version that was ever prop-
erly finished and, in a sense, complete it the way his editors who prepared it
would have completed it for him had they not been forced to do otherwise.
Far more personally rewarding was the response from many who know
Peckinpah’s work intimately or who had actually worked on this film. Gar-
ner Simmons, who first met Sam three months after Pat Garrett opened in
1973 and whose early career biography, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage,
will always remain indispensable, considers it the best version likely obtain-
able from the available materials and thought it played better than any he
had ever seen. Kris Kristofferson, who starred as Billy, and Donnie Fritts,
who took a small part as a member of Billy’s gang, agreed, telling Nick it
was the best version they had seen. Owing to the painful memories it stirs
up, Roger Spottiswoode, the chief editor, still finds it difficult to watch the
film, but he did run my recut of the prologue and thought it better than its
counterpart in the Turner Preview.

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Naturally, there were dissenters: fans mostly, a few academics, and some
Internet bloggers who raised questions that ranged from the specific (why
wasn’t the wife scene restored to the Turner Preview?) to the general (why
wasn’t a full‑scale restoration done to the Turner, including a new, properly
timed print and properly mixed soundtrack, instead of yet another version?).
Fair enough questions all, which I will attempt to answer.
But a word, first, about sources. “I would not say the picture was anything
but a battleground from two to three weeks before we started shooting to
thirteen weeks after we finished.” The observation is the producer Gordon
Carroll’s, and it is how he began the first of the interviews I conducted with
him over thirty years ago when I was researching Pat Garrett. In preparing
this essay, I reread that chapter, the expanded one in my second edition, and
those by Garner and David Weddle in their respective books: together these
provide a thorough and mostly reliable history of the difficulties making
the film.4 I next spoke with Roger Spottiswoode, Garth Craven (the second
editor), and Katy Haber (Sam’s personal assistant of many years), three per-
sons I’ve known for years as friends and colleagues (Roger a close friend),
with whom I’ve often talked about Sam and his work. I reviewed all the Pat
Garrett editing notes and memos in the Peckinpah Collection at the Mar-
garet Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.5
These number roughly fifty or sixty pages, most of them typed by Katy, and
from what I can tell, they are complete or nearly so and include those by
Sam himself, Roger, Dan Melnick (vice-president in charge of production at
MGM), and a few other executives, including James Aubrey, the studio head
with whom Sam fought bitterly from start to finish. These notes constitute
an extraordinarily detailed record of the postproduction editing process.6 I
examined as well several drafts of the screenplay in the collection’s holdings.
Finally, I ran every available version of the film: the second preview, stolen
by Sam from the cutting rooms and donated by his family to the Academy
library archives after his death; the first preview (aka the 1988 Turner); and
the theatrical release (which as of this writing has been showing via cable
and satellite on HDNet Movies and some other channels).
I have long believed that the two preview versions do not deserve the
so‑called definitive status they have been accorded in some circles, mostly
by a few academics and many Peckinpah buffs who typically equate more
with better, all the while keeping themselves wholly innocent of the factual
history behind this troubled film. The two previews are works in progress,

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fairly well advanced, to be sure, but still very much in progress when Sam
made the decision to abandon work on them, even though it was evident
to everyone, including Sam himself and his editors, that more work was
needed. Further, the more the evidence is examined, the more difficult it is
to escape the conclusion that Sam wanted his version to be left unfinished.
All the while the reputation of the previews was inflated, the theatrical
was unfairly maligned and insufficiently appreciated. Too many reporters
and critics, not to mention fans—again, wholly innocent as to how and
by whom the theatrical was really prepared—still resort to the kneejerk
“butchered” when referring to it. Not only is this untrue, it is quite opposite
the truth. There was a hack job: Aubrey had ordered a dupe of the work
print and hired another team of editors to chop it down to a nearly inco-
herent ninety‑six‑minute shoot‑’em‑up that he threatened to release unless
Sam cooperated. Sam refused, and Garth sided with him. The other two,
Roger and Robert (“Bob”) Wolfe, realized they’d been handed a Hobson’s
choice—ironically, by both Aubrey and Sam. It was thus precisely to keep
Aubrey’s truly butchered version from ever seeing the darkness of theaters
that they agreed to prepare a theatrical cut that was shorter and tighter yet
as faithful to Sam’s vision as they could manage under the circumstances.
Far from butchery, their work was so thoughtful, sympathetic, and sensi-
tive that we do well to remember that on the basis of the theatrical version
alone—years upon years before Turner ever brought out the first preview
on laser disc—Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was acclaimed by many as one
of Peckinpah’s masterpieces.

The Previews
There are three separate but related facts that undermine the legitimacy of
the two preview versions of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as wholly adequate
representations of Peckinpah’s final thoughts. The first is the drastically
shortened postproduction schedule. With a picture the size, dimension,
and complexity of this one, a ten‑week director’s cut is the norm—indeed,
is guaranteed by contract between the Producers Guild and the Directors
Guild of America, a contract also binding to the studios—which would then
be followed by one or two previews, two to four weeks or so of fine cutting,
and then several more weeks of finish work on the sound and music to
eventual picture lock as mutually agreed upon by director and studio. On
Pat Garrett, this entire process was condensed into an insane thirteen weeks.

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Paul Seydor

The second fact is Sam’s alcoholism, by an order of magnitude worse on


this project than on any previous one (perhaps any in his career). By every
available reckoning and source, including his closest friends and longtime
colleagues, Sam wasn’t just drinking every day but was drunk a good por-
tion of many days. This continued unabated beyond completion of principal
photography on February 6, 1973, straight through the second preview on
May 10, after which he stopped working on the film.
The third is the very real likelihood that Sam never once watched the film
from start to finish in a single sitting during which he stayed awake and/or
sober. Roger cannot remember even one. When I asked Garth about this,
reminding him that years ago he had told me he seemed to recall at least
one screening where Sam came sober and stayed awake, he said, “I think
you may have misunderstood me. I won’t say Sam never arrived at a screen-
ing without drink in hand, but I will say he never came to one stone cold
sober. But then he never did anything in those days stone cold sober.” This
is an extraordinary fact, and its implications cannot be minimized for the
eventual editorial fate of the film. Sam had a respect rare among film direc-
tors for audiences; from his roots in live theater, he knew how important
watching his films with audiences was for gauging how they were playing.
By his own admission, the previews were critical to the final fine‑tuning
of The Wild Bunch.7 Skipping one of the only two he would ever have for
Pat Garrett left him in the most compromised position imaginable when it
came to defending the length of the cut he delivered.
This should not be misunderstood: nobody alleges Sam never saw the
entire film. Typically, directors and editors don’t take many notes during
screenings because they’re watching the film, trying to experience it as the
audience does and to get a feel for how it’s playing. The next day, it’s run on
a flatbed and detailed notes are taken. Like most good directors, Sam let
his editors implement the notes and changes without him—he didn’t hover,
preferring to see what they came up with on their own. So, yes, of course
he saw the whole film, but only reel by reel in the notes sessions, stopping
to discuss this or that, interrupting to accept phone calls, taking breaks
for lunch, or stretching his legs. This was no substitute for uninterrupted
screenings on a big screen with proper reel changes.
Rudolph Wurlitzer’s original screenplay was poetic and lyrical and filled
with a rich and colorful assortment of characters. It was at the time one of
the most widely admired and respected in Hollywood, loved by everyone,

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The Death and Afterlife of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

including Sam the first time he read it. But several months later, as he reread it
and started thinking about how to shoot it, he realized it was booby‑trapped:
it read beautifully yet was almost resolutely undramatic and lacked a strong
narrative through‑line. The screenplay was long and sprawling and episodic
and became only longer with changes Sam demanded before and after pro-
duction commenced. In and of themselves, these problems were far from
insurmountable; many screenplays could be so characterized, including
Junior Bonner, one of Sam’s most beautiful films, which he had just finished
the year before. But what it did mean was that it was going to take more time
in the editing room to find the right combination of lyricism and flow, of
vertical and horizontal motion, of figuring out how long to let a big scene
play and when to move it along. Often a scene will play beautifully at full
length by itself, only to drag when seen as part of the whole film. Is the
problem the scene or its place in the structure; does it need to be tightened,
moved, or eliminated? You get only so far with short‑range work, that is,
tightening the scene and cutting lines and bits, then running it again by
itself or in the context of a few scenes, or else moving it and watching a few
scenes before and after the new location. Eventually, the only way to tell if
you’re on the right track is to watch the entire film or at least a substantial
portion of it, preferably in a theater or screening room. And it goes without
saying that if you’re drunk, your judgment is unlikely to be at its sharpest.
Often Sam couldn’t remember what he had seen at the screenings. He was
usually alert and quite focused at many of the notes sessions, though even
at these he sometimes arrived or got drunk. By this point in his life, his
alcoholism was so serious that many mornings he needed a drink just to
get himself kick-started.
Then there were the performances. James Coburn as Garrett did perhaps
the best work of his life: disciplined, concentrated, inward. But Kris Kristof-
ferson as Billy was just beginning his acting career: hard work, charisma,
and sheer conviction, not to mention Sam’s direction, carried him through
in a remarkably effective performance, but it still needed a lot of shaping
and massaging from the editors. Bob Dylan, cast as Alias, a member of
Billy’s gang, proved surprisingly adept with his body language, but every
time he opened his mouth, he seemed incapable of uttering a single believ-
able line.8 And a few other parts had non‑ or inexperienced actors in them
(Sam’s old college buddy Don Levy, Wurlitzer himself as O’Folliard). But
Sam also managed to gather one of the most stellar casts of supporting

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Paul Seydor

players in postwar Hollywood cinema, including Slim Pickens, Jack Elam,


L. Q. Jones, Jason Robards, Katy Jurado, Barry Sullivan, John Beck, Harry
Dean Stanton, Emilio Fernandez, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Jaeckel,
Gene Evans, Matt Clark, Richard Bright, Elisha Cook Jr., Dub Taylor, and
John Davis Chandler. Against these seasoned pros, the shortcomings of the
inexperienced actors and the amateurs were thrown all the more glaringly
into relief.
These varied problems and more came to the fore in the editing of Pat
Garrett. Not surprisingly, they were concentrated largely in those scenes
over which later disputes with the studio arose: the wife scene, the Chisum
scene, Paco’s death, and Tuckerman’s Hotel, as well as the prologue and
the opening at Fort Sumner, Lew Wallace’s mansion, the turkey chase and
shooting of Silva, and the raft scene. But long before the studio got involved,
these scenes were giving Sam and his editors trouble. The notes indicate
they were altered again and again—lines and bits taken out, then put back
in, then out once more—or moved here, there, and someplace else. Tucker-
man’s Hotel, the flophouse where Poe learns the Kid’s whereabouts, proved
especially intractable, not least owing to the atrocious performance by Sam’s
college buddy.
Another “nightmare”—Garth’s word—was Paco’s death and the rape of
his wife by three of Chisum’s men. Both Sam and his Paco, Emilio Fernan-
dez, started the shoot drunk and got drunker as it went along, Sam calling
for more and more blood to be smeared on Fernandez’s lashed body long
after it seemed to the crew there was far too much. Sam’s instruction upon
seeing the edited scene? Print the footage down because the blood looked
“bad.”9 But that was the least of the scene’s problems. The biggest one was
that it reveals the Kid in a very odd light that makes no sense. After Paco,
who is a close friend, dies, why does Billy just mount up and leave, without
helping Paco’s wife bury his body or load it into the wagon? It turns out
that in the screenplay, there was originally a second part to the scene: after
a time cut, we see graves for Paco and the two Chisum men Billy killed.
The third Chisum man is now tied up, pleading with the Kid to let him go
because the woman will “put my eyes out.” “I hope she does,” Billy replies.
He gives her a horse, tells her to do as she likes with her assailant, and
rides off. Since all three Chisum hands are killed in what was originally
the first part of the scene, it’s obvious the second part was never shot. This
part remains in the final shooting script, but it’s crossed out with a large X.

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The Death and Afterlife of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Once the decision was made to cut the second half of the scene, everyone
seems to have realized that the first half was now nonsense, so in its place
was written a hasty addition that calls for Alias to ride in. Billy mounts up
and tells Alias to “take care of her.” “You’re going back?” Alias asks, as Billy
rides off. Sam evidently shot this, but it too made so little sense—where did
Alias come from?—he ordered it removed, which in turn left what remained
as nonsensical as before. It is little wonder that Sam considered dropping
the scene entirely.10
The presence of this scene at all is indicative of how chaotic the project
sometimes was. The only reason it seems to have been written in the first
place was to answer concerns that Billy’s decision to return to Fort Sumner
isn’t adequately motivated. But this strikes me as a nonexistent issue, and
Sam’s early inclination to dump the scene suggests he thought so too. In
the Arthur Penn version of Gore Vidal’s The Left‑Handed Gun (1958), the
Billy character is “motivated” quite literally to death with practically every
cliché of Freudian psychology popular in the 1950s. What Wurlitzer and
Peckinpah brought to their retelling of this legend was a sense of impla-
cable fate, an almost Dreiserian determinism that undermines free will and
renders motivation as it is commonly understood virtually irrelevant. This
Billy needs no “motivation” to return; he comes back because he’s already
in the process of becoming Billy the Kid, because given who and what he is,
he’s drawn helplessly to his destiny. Conventional motivation does nothing
but weaken this theme. Roger actually came up with the best solution here:
in the open desert, Billy rides up to the camera as it cranes down to meet
him; he pauses, looks ahead, then back, then ahead again. He takes as many
beats as the moment seems to need, then turns his horse and rides back in
the direction he came from—back into history and eventual legend. This
was never shot, but a note by Melnick suggests there was talk of trying to
construct it out of unused ride‑bys.11
In addition to problem scenes and performances, there were the usual
swings and roundabouts routine in the editing of any long and complex
film. One in particular baffled everyone. Two of the strongest scenes played
back to back: Jones’s Saloon, where Garrett kills Holly, and Horrell’s Trad-
ing Post, where Billy kills Garrett’s deputy Alamosa Bill. From first cut,
both scenes played so well that, apart from a bit of trimming, all felt they
needed no further work for the time being—all except Sam, who got it into
his head that they should be intercut, and by intercut he eventually meant

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Paul Seydor

line by line and bit by bit, a thankless duty that was assigned to Garth, for
whom it was the most bizarre of the wild geese the editors had to chase.12
And the more obvious it became to him and Roger that this scheme was
ruining two splendid scenes without any compensating benefits, the more
Sam clung to it.13
Roger and Garth managed to have a “very long” director’s cut ready to
show the MGM executives at the scheduled screening on March 13. The cut
was undeniably rough and lengthy but, under the circumstances, impres-
sive enough to suggest the measure of the film. Astoundingly, Sam never
showed up. Quite apart from being irresponsible, this was an unconscionably
shabby thing to do to his editors, leaving them to deal with an apoplectic
Aubrey, who, according to Roger, played to the hilt his reputation as an
abusive pig, complaining, criticizing, and mouthing obscenities through-
out the whole screening. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, the notes he handed
down were reasoned, favorable, and even enthusiastic. “Hell of a first cut,”
he wrote, “proud and happy . . . what you are reaching for is really unusual
and provocative.” Others present were if anything even more enthusiastic
(“a wonderful film,” “this picture is tremendous”).14 The scenes and areas
that gave them trouble were those that had already been giving Sam and his
crew trouble, and there was general agreement that the film was too long
and unevenly paced.
The most intelligent and penetrating notes came from Dan Melnick, who
had in fact seen a similar cut about a week earlier in Mexico City.15 Now
Sam always had his problems with studio executives and producers, and he
and Melnick certainly had their disputes on this project.16 But Melnick was
nevertheless one producer whose creative instincts Sam always respected.
Like everyone else, Melnick felt that the prologue as constructed did not
work. He was adamant that cross‑cutting the Jones and Horrell scenes was
mutually detrimental to both. He disliked Tuckerman’s and suggested it be
removed. He felt the same about both the Chisum and wife scenes (though
his main problem with the latter seemed to be Aurora Clavell’s performance,
which he thought needed to be improved with looping; Sam appeared to
agree). After having fought Aubrey to let Sam shoot the raft sequence, he
now felt it didn’t work. Sam by no means agreed with all of Melnick’s sug-
gestions, especially some of his proposed solutions, but he knew that several
of his old friend’s observations had merit. Sam eventually simplified the
Jones/Horrell cutting scheme to its final version, where Horrell’s is placed

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The Death and Afterlife of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

logically in the time cut between the shorter first half and longer second half
of Jones’s. The Chisum and wife scenes would get more attention (including
looping Clavell). Sam told Melnick he had some ideas to fix the prologue, and
he knew that many other matters had to be addressed as well, notably the
trimming of several scenes and still further experimentation with moving
scenes around, notably the raft episode (which, like Sam and the editors,
Melnick really wanted to find a place for).
Regarding Tuckerman’s, as the only scene with neither of the title char-
acters, its place in the film would be tenuous even if it were one of the best
scenes Sam ever directed (surely even his most undiscriminating fans would
not argue that). Roger couldn’t understand why Sam was clinging to it so.
For the longest time he believed this was an example of one of Sam’s favorite
strategies: “Never fight for the scenes you really care about, Sam used to tell
me. Fight for those you don’t give a damn about so that in the end, when
you give them up with a lot of hair‑pulling, the front office thinks they’ve
beaten you while all the time you’ve distracted them from the important
scenes.” But after awhile, Roger began to suspect Sam was hanging onto it
because his college friend played one of the characters. It turns out Roger
was right, and not just about Don Levy. There was a man named Don Hyde
who was the archivist for Sam’s films and other materials until Sam died,
at which point Hyde, on instructions from the Peckinpah family, turned
all his holdings over to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
library. According to Hyde, Sam said the reason he fought so hard to keep
the Tuckerman’s scene was because both Levy and Dub Taylor, a veteran
of four of his previous films, were in it. I’ve often wondered too if it weren’t
also the presence of Elisha Cook Jr., whom Sam admired so much in Shane
but with whom he had never worked before.
However, the only reason Sam ever put explicitly on record for keeping
the scene was his worry that moviegoers would be confused if, after Garrett
tells Poe to strike out on his own and meet up with him a few days later
in Roswell, they weren’t shown that Poe actually did travel someplace else,
where he learned the Kid was at Fort Sumner.17 That Sam’s concern was real
I have no trouble believing: this is one of those plot points that filmmakers
can easily get hung up on, and determining whether they matter is a criti-
cal function of screenings and previews. The scene was removed from the
theatrical version—Roger thinks he recalls Sam eventually telling him to
take it out—which is how the film was seen for a decade and a half, over

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Paul Seydor

which period I read almost every review published in English and taught it
at least a dozen times, all without encountering anyone to whom that plot
point even occurred, let alone bothered (and, as Melnick kept arguing, it’s
covered in the Ruthie Lee scene anyhow). The motor force of this film is
not its plot as such; it’s the entwined destinies of the title characters. I don’t
think anybody wonders a damn about Poe or the other secondary characters
when they’re not around.

Garrett in the prologue to the 2005 version of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

The prologue was proving equally difficult, but unlike Tuckerman’s, it was
considered essential. Nevertheless, Melnick felt it a needlessly complicated
opening, by turns prolix and diffuse, to a film whose strength lay in its di-
rectness and simplicity; his worry, shared by others, was that it only delayed
the real start, which was Garrett’s arrival at Fort Sumner. These concerns
intensified when Sam got the idea of putting credits over the prologue and
freezing the images, as he did in The Wild Bunch. But what in The Wild
Bunch was a clean technique that served the story both thematically and
stylistically here became mere devices, derivative and cumbersome.
The prologue was never part of the original screenplay. The idea came from
Gordon Carroll, who thought it effective to open with Garrett’s assassination
twenty‑seven years after he killed the Kid. The new scene made its first ap-
pearance in a draft dated October 4, 1972,18 about five weeks before produc-
tion was to begin. At that time, it was a prologue only; there was no scripted
epilogue that returned to the assassination and no talk of one, none was ever
shot, and so it remained until deep into postproduction. Instead, the script

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ended with Garrett riding out of Fort Sumner the morning after he kills the
Kid and disappearing into a fog. The script also instructs that the prologue be
processed in sepia and intercut with Garrett’s arrival at Fort Sumner and calls
for the sequence to be very short and, though filmed with dialogue, perhaps
edited in such a way as to play without the dialogue sounding.
Once Sam got into the editing room, however, he plainly started thinking
along more elaborate lines. An early note indicates that the first shot was to
have been of one of the chickens buried in the sand, which is intriguing.19
But there was never time to work any of it out: the opening is the only la-
borious opening of any of his films. We begin, a title card informs us, near
Las Cruces in 1909—as it happens, the wrong date (Garrett was killed in
1908) and never corrected—and once the guns are pulled on an unsuspect-
ing Garrett, we cut to Old Fort Sumner in 1881, over which another card
identifies the place and year. Then the cross‑cutting between the chickens
getting shot and Garrett being murdered begins. All the while, images are
frozen and credits are placed over them, which raised additional problems.
The prologue was processed in sepia, but when Sam started freezing images
on the Fort Sumner side of the sequence, he desaturated them to black and
white, thus adding yet another motif to a sequence already overladen with
motifs. Past and present; sepia, color, and black and white; freeze frames
and moving images; narrative titles and credit titles; crosscutting—it’s not
that audiences would have trouble sorting all this out, just that as both
storytelling and filmmaking, it was messy. Sam seemed to agree, because
immediately he told Melnick he had some other ideas for handling the titles,
including putting more than one on each frozen image.20 (Roger once told
me he thought Sam clung to the titles against his better judgment as the
surest way to protect the prologue, figuring the studio would never pay for
another title sequence.)
On the evening of April 2, going through reels and making change notes,
Roger came up with the idea of reprising a short part of the prologue as an
epilogue in order to create a frame structure.21 The idea was in theory a good
one, and Roger, an exceptionally resourceful editor even this relatively early
in his career, did an ingenious job making footage that was shot for one
purpose serve another. Did it work? Well enough to try it at both previews.
But repeating shots for referential purposes was something Sam tried hard
to avoid, and I’ve always thought the footage in the epilogue looks like what
it is—borrowed. When Sam wanted flashbacks, he shot material to be used

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specifically for that purpose, as in The Wild Bunch; and when during editing
he discovered he needed flashbacks he hadn’t shot, he would if possible use
footage from outtakes (that is, shots not otherwise used) from earlier scenes,
as he did in The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Straw Dogs, and Junior Bonner.
The epilogue is also conceptually problematic. If the conceit is from “Oc-
currence at Owl Creek Bridge” and the internal story is Garrett’s life flashing
before his eyes as he dies, why does the prologue leave him plainly dead and
the epilogue pick him up alive again, only to end before he hits the ground?
And why that oddly composed tight‑angle of the buggy seat and wheel
frozen just at the point where Garrett’s body drops out of sight while his
hat and fingertips remain sticking up from the bottom of the frame? This
is a pretty flat shot on which to end an epic. Whatever the answer, the only
way Sam could have adequately evaluated the epilogue was to watch it as
part of the whole film and see if the repeated footage bothered him—which
he never did.
As Sam was among the most scrupulous and sophisticated of all film
directors when it comes to point of view, it has always seemed odd to me
that in the prologue, the most subjective sequence in the film, he violates
Garrett’s point of view by revealing the distant shooter before Garrett has
seen him. Wouldn’t it have been more effective, and also more like vintage
Peckinpah, to reveal the first shooter through Garrett, either by the shock of
our experiencing the first hit with him or at least reacting with him to the
sound of the first rifle crack? I asked Roger if this were ever tried; he just
threw his hands into the air and said, “We all had a go at that scene. Nobody
was ever completely happy with it; it was never right.” The reality is that there
was simply not time enough to experiment with the entire framing device to
get it as finely tuned and carefully structured as it obviously needed to be.22
There wasn’t time to do a lot of things. Many notes never got addressed
at all, such as removing the shot of Poe’s horse turning in the prologue, put-
ting back Garrett slapping Ruthie Lee, and cutting out Garrett’s line “What
you want and what you get” after he kills the Kid (perhaps Coburn’s only
over‑the‑top line reading in the whole film).23 Sometimes instructions to
make the same changes recur in more than one set of notes. It’s impossible
to know what to make of any of this. Perhaps Sam changed his mind after
dictating them, then forgot he’d reversed himself; perhaps the editors didn’t
have time to implement them. None of this should be surprising consider-
ing the sheer haste with which everything was done and the multitasking

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required to get it done. The editors worked themselves to exhaustion, putting


in long, fatiguing hours in front of noisy Moviolas seven days a week, and
still there wasn’t enough time.
But another reason so many things fell through the cracks is that by fall-
ing asleep during screenings, arriving late, or missing them, Sam wouldn’t
necessarily have known whether all his notes were implemented or if they
worked as he had hoped they would. Nor were the notes themselves always
clear, if he happened to be drinking during the sessions. Missing the first
preview wasn’t only professionally derelict, it was suicidal. The editors had
done a miraculous job improving the film over the version the executives
saw: the latest cut now realized the brilliance of much of what Sam had
shot, scenes and whole sequences were so beautiful as to catch the breath,
something clearly extraordinary was here struggling to find shape and form.
But even after making every allowance for what was an essentially lyrical,
meditative piece, the picture still played in fits and starts, sequences mean-
dered and scenes stopped dead, and the audience soon grew restless. The
next day when Melnick—Melnick, not Aubrey—asked for Sam’s notes, Sam
insultingly replied that fifteen feet could come out of one shot, to which he
added the injury of not replying to Melnick directly but going through his
editors (specifically, Roger). Why did Sam continue to leave himself in so
vulnerable a position?
I have over the years talked often and at length about Pat Garrett and
Billy the Kid with several persons who worked on it or were very close to
Sam at the time, including family members. Their loyalty and love was and
is beyond question, and not one of them wastes any sympathy on Aubrey,
who all agree deserved his nickname “the smiling cobra.” Yet they all believe
Sam gratuitously manufactured a lot of the quarrels and by the time of the
previews was leaving Aubrey no choice but to take the film away from him
(Garth lamented on more than one occasion that “if only Sam had spent the
time and energy working on the film that he did provoking Aubrey and the
others”). If it was true that Aubrey later ordered scenes removed for no other
reason than he knew Sam wanted them, it was also true that Sam deliber-
ately left in scenes he knew were easily expendable, in some instances for
the greater good of the film, simply because Aubrey especially hated them.24
One of the strategies Sam apparently had in mind when it came to the
previews was to invite members of the cast and some industry notables—
Henry Fonda, for one—in the hopes that they would spread the word and

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thus through some form of sheer peer pressure force Aubrey into allowing
him to complete the film as he wished to. Sam also wanted to invite members
of his family. When he was forbidden on both counts, he alleged conspiracy.
It’s hard to fathom what he must have been thinking here and equally hard
to escape the conclusion that he was being either disingenuous or naive.
Studios never allow friends, family, crew members, industry insiders, or
press into formal audience previews. The whole point of previews is to get
the closest equivalent that can be managed to paying moviegoers who have
no stake in the movie they’re watching; and once you get them, you don’t
want to take a chance on having friends, family, insiders, and so forth lead,
condition, or otherwise contribute to the response in any way. Sam knew
this. So he must also have known that as a gambit it was a feeble one and
no substitute for his failure to fight for his film effectively, as opposed to
self‑destructively and self-defeatingly.
Why didn’t he fight? According to Katy Haber, at some point around the
time principal photography was completed, Sam seemed to have adopted as
his primary strategy wholesale avoidance of any sort of dealing with Aubrey
directly, including never attending conferences, meetings, or occasions at
which he knew Aubrey would be present. This is why, Katy told me, Sam
skipped all studio meetings, screenings, and the previews. Yet when it came
to protecting his film from what Aubrey wanted to do to it, the only person
with the personal authority and any power to back it up was Sam himself.
Yet he chose to do so only through intermediaries, whom Aubrey either bul-
lied or ignored. Whatever Melnick’s sympathies for Sam, deep and many,
he was caught in a bind, inasmuch as he was in the employ of the studio;
Gordon Carroll simply lacked a fighter’s temperament, and anyhow Sam
abused him as much as Aubrey no doubt did.
Roger, Garth, Bob, Katy, and Melnick all believed Sam could have out-
played and outwitted Aubrey and gained most of what he wanted because
he was so much smarter. Instead, Sam seemed to be maneuvering Aubrey
to do exactly what he soon would do: take the film away. That would be
Sam’s final out, his safety valve and escape hatch, from a project he had
begun to fear long before production started and in which by the time of
the previews his faith had been shaken to its foundations.25 At last he would
have Aubrey where he wanted him. He knew Aubrey would insist on further
changes, knew he would have to because the film still wasn’t playing well.
Sam’s fear was that it might never play well—but if it were taken away from

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him, he would be absolved of blame for whatever version was released. And
if either of the previews survived—well, let me tell you what that film could
have been if only “they” had given me the time I needed to finish it my way.
But Aubrey didn’t strike just yet. There was a second preview a week
later. And whatever else, he was good, if not to his word, then at least to the
letter of the contract: Sam would have his two previews, and they would
be of Sam’s cuts, nobody else’s. Aubrey even allowed the film to be scored,
dubbed, and negative-cut Sam’s way.
There are only two minor differences between the first and second pre-
views. Sam evidently came to believe that the scene between Garrett and
McKinney was too long and beginning to feel like a set piece, so he in-
structed that all the dialogue following Garrett’s “there’s a couple of young
ones there too” be lifted and also that the shot of Garrett, McKinney, and
Poe leaving town be removed. Both of these changes were made in time for
the second preview but with mixed results. The second half of the scene
between Garrett and McKinney, which includes the reasons why Garrett
thinks that McKinney “owes” him, is smartly written and played; remov-
ing it makes McKinney a considerably less interesting character (indeed,
hardly a character at all) and deprives Garrett’s relationship to him of any
history. Meanwhile, eliminating the ride out of town made for a rougher,
not smoother, transition into the last sequence of the film. (Even long after
the second preview, Sam was not happy with these changes.)
But there were also two major differences. In the first preview, the end
crawl begins with the end titles. By the time of the second preview, these
were preceded by a legend Sam personally wrote: a historical note that linked
the killing of Garrett to the Santa Fe Ring, to Albert Fall and the Teapot
Dome, and eventually, by way of a veiled allusion, to Watergate and his own
problems at MGM and to which he personally signed his initials. Part of this
cockamamie “history” was made up virtually out of whole cloth, while the
parts that are true are so distorted as to amount to the same thing.26 But at
this point in the proceedings, none of that seemed to matter: Sam couldn’t
pass up any opportunity to flip Aubrey the finger, even if it was something
that made his film look silly.
The other major difference is that the wife scene was not present in the
first preview but was in the second. The question for which I cannot find
an answer is why the wife scene was removed from the first preview in the
first place. Although this scene was one of several that Sam was on the fence

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about throughout the editing, as evidenced by how much he kept fussing


with it, and although there was much discussion about whether to remove it
or not, I can find no written instruction that he ever actually ordered it lifted
in its entirety. But it couldn’t have been removed on orders from anyone else,
because the studio was not directly involved with the editing at this point.
Inasmuch as it was a clean picture and track lift, perhaps he just told one of
the editors to take it out to get a sense of how the film might play without
it. Roger and Garth don’t remember, but Katy distinctly recalls it was Sam’s
idea to take Garrett right up to the gate, where he pauses before pushing it
open, and then remove the wife scene starting there, which is exactly how
it is in the first preview.27 It’s also possible that its removal was a mistake or
resulted from a miscommunication, which is reinforced by a letter written
to Melnick about a year later in which Sam referred to “the foul up on the
Ida’s house sequence.”28
Adding to the confusion here are two undated sets of editing notes, each
two pages long. The first set, which is untitled, contains an instruction that
reads, “put ida scene back.” It’s impossible to know precisely when these
notes were dictated; but inasmuch as some of them call for changes that
were already implemented in the first preview, it’s obvious that they must
predate that preview. For example, one note calls for removing all dialogue
from the raft sequence, but since any dialogue in the raft sequence had been
removed before the first preview, this set of notes cannot have come after
it. Evidently at some point not long before the first preview, Sam told his
editors to remove the wife scene, then changed his mind, and in this set of
notes instructed them to put it back in. This still begs the question of why
it wasn’t done. More than likely, in the rush to prepare for the first preview,
it was just one more thing that fell through the cracks.
Even more confusing is the second set of notes, titled “notes taken at
preview of preview may 3rd.” Since the title identifies a preview of the
preview, it suggests these notes were given at some sort of run‑through prior
to the actual preview. Not only is there no instruction here about either
removing or putting back the wife scene, the sole reference to it at all reads:
“Stop the music in Ida’s house just as Garrett turns to leave.” Evidently prior
to the first preview, the scene was scored but the music eventually dropped.
What again remains unexplained is why at this run‑through, relatively soon
before the preview, the wife scene was still there yet wound up being re-
moved by the time of the preview itself.

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The answers to these questions will probably never surface, but what
emerges with blinding clarity is the degree to which the editing process had
deteriorated by this time into a chaotic, almost inconceivably high‑pressure
environment in which decisions were often made in great haste without
thorough follow-through, full consideration of their potential and actual
consequences, or time left over for reconsideration or correction. All of
which brings us right back up against the three facts of the previews: the
insanely accelerated schedule, Sam’s drinking and other self‑destructive
behavior, and his failure to attend screenings.
Warners was determined to spend as little money as possible on the Peck-
inpah box set; it agreed to the Special Edition because it was based on the
theatrical release, for which there already existed a fully dubbed, timed, and
cut negative, into which putting back a few scenes was fairly easy and rela-
tively inexpensive. By contrast, a full‑scale restoration of the previews raises
a whole slew of issues both practical and moral, or at least philosophical.
The practical issues concern both expense and feasibility, but let us address
first the matter of language. The whole reason this new version was called a
“Special Edition” rather than a “restoration” is precisely because a restora-
tion implies something that existed in a purer or more pristine, perfect, or
complete state that has fallen into disrepair or been corrupted, destroyed,
or otherwise allowed to come to ruin. In the case of Pat Garrett, however,
there is nothing in the literal sense of the word to restore. Many filmgoers,
especially those who love this film as much I do, mistakenly treat the Pat
Garrett previews as though they were final cuts, more or less equivalent to
the original releases of The Wild Bunch. But there is a crucial difference:
Sam was intimately involved in the editing of The Wild Bunch from editors’
cut right straight through to fine cut, previews, dubbing, mixing, scoring,
looping, color timing, and release prints. He personally allowed two slightly
different versions of the film to be released, one domestic and one foreign:
they not only are true final cuts but were his final cuts, completed by him and
his postproduction crew. When Warners decided to reduce the running time
to make for more showings per day in the domestic market, it did so by way
of ordering the scenes removed in the field from as many prints as possible.
The final‑cut negative masters were left untouched. When the studio did
the restoration for the first release on DVD in 1995, it was a simple matter of
returning to the negative of the European version. But with Pat Garrett, there
is no equivalent to any of this: Sam never completed a true fine cut, and the

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only negative is that of the original theatrical release, the shortest version of
all and prepared without his consent, cooperation, or participation.
As for the two previews, while they are largely identical, they differ in a
couple of crucial ways and both were plainly unfinished with respect to dub-
bing, scoring, mixing, color timing, and credits. (The day after the second
preview, Sam was still dictating change notes, even as he was refusing to
cooperate in preparing the final cut.) I’m pretty certain the only extant copy
of the second preview is the print, long since faded to red, in the Academy li-
brary. It is unlikely that there is any equivalent negative to this print, because
the negative used to generate that print would have been conformed to the
final theatrical version. As for the first preview, now commonly known as
the 1988 Turner, it is very likely that it too exists only in a single print, which
appears to be the one that was used to generate the laser disc and much later
the DVD for the box set. If this is true—and from the look of what is on the
DVD, I suspect it is—then it’s obvious that that preview print was gener-
ated from a negative that was still in the process of being properly timed
but was not yet there. (To my eyes, it doesn’t even look like a particularly
good answer print, and it was without question one made in great haste.)
Nick Redman and I were as disappointed as anybody by the look of the
Turner Preview in the box set. But do the elements even exist to make a new
and better‑looking print? I have no idea, because my offers to help identify
what was in the vaults and to sit in—again for no money—during the online
mastering sessions were politely but firmly refused. Nor do I know what
exists in the way of negative backup. I assume that a protection IP—that is,
interpositive, a special print generated from the original negative and used
to make a duplicate negative—was made as soon as negative cutting was
complete. But I don’t know this to be so, Roger and Garth can’t remember
(it would have been an internal decision at MGM postproduction, anyhow),
and industry practice at the time was inconsistent. If IPs were made of each
preview print, then picture restorations are possible but would be expen-
sive.29 If IPs do not exist but only negative lifts and trims of cut scenes and
sequences, then it would still be possible but, I am informed, extremely
expensive. This is because, regardless of which preview is selected for res-
toration, the theatrical negative would have to be reassembled according to
the preview versions. And because many shots in the negative would have
to be extended, a certain amount of digital restoration would be necessary,
thus adding to the expense. And this without even considering the condition

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of the tracks, which almost certainly do not conform to either preview. All
this is in any case moot: Warner Home Video didn’t, wouldn’t, and wasn’t
prepared to spend the money.30
Then there is the philosophical issue. Inasmuch as the previews are dif-
ferent from one another, which one do you restore? An initial response is to
say the second one. But though it has the wife scene, it also contains clumsy,
unfinished things, including decisions that have nothing to do with aesthetic
considerations as such (for example, Sam’s bogus historical note that initi-
ates the end crawl, the obstreperous Tuckerman’s), and there were several
matters about which Sam still had not made up his mind (music for one,
the Garrett-McKinney scene for another). Even Sam’s thinking regarding
the wife scene at the time of the previews is far from clear. If its removal
was not a mistake, then it suggests that Sam was seriously experimenting
with dropping it. His decision to put it back into the second preview in and
of itself means nothing because one of the functions of multiple previews
is to see how different versions play. All we know for certain is that about a
year later, he definitely wanted it back in.
But even to consider choices like these at all is to take the first step on
the slippery slope of presuming we know what Peckinpah had in mind, are
prepared to do his thinking for him, and can make these decisions in his
stead. In other words, if the idea is to try to be as faithful as possible to what
we know Peckinpah wanted and if it is further true that he walked away
before finishing any version, then the only legitimacy the previews have as
representations of his “final” thoughts lies precisely in their unfinished state:
their status as works in progress. Arrogate to yourself the task of finishing
them and, however good your intentions, you violate the only integrity they
have. And every fact about Sam’s behavior during the making of the film
suggests this is the way he wanted it.
There is a curious footnote to the unhappy story of the editing of this film
and Sam’s relationship to it. By November 1973, seven months after the film
died an undeserved death at the box office, Aubrey was fired but Melnick
remained at MGM. A few months later, he invited Sam to come back and
prepare a final cut of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid exactly as he wished it
to be. On April 29, 1974, Sam, Melnick, and Garth screened the film (which
version is not absolutely clear, but it was probably the first preview).31 The
next day, Sam wrote Melnick a two‑page letter enumerating several matters
he wanted to address immediately (including putting the wife and Chisum

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scenes back, further work on the Garrett-McKinney scene and their ride out
of town, reexamining the issue of Dylan’s vocals for “Knockin’ on Heaven’s
Door,” and fleshing out the score in places he felt it too thin). “Let me say
that both professionally and personally I am delighted with your coopera-
tion,” he concluded.32
But nothing ever came of it. In 1995, when I asked Melnick what had
happened, he told me that Sam just wouldn’t make himself available.33 This
seemed inconceivable to me, and I finally asked Garth about it as I was
preparing this essay. “I got as far as going to the studio one afternoon and
looking through the vaults. I found the wife scene and a couple of other
things.” And then what? “Nothing,” Garth replied. “It occupied Sam’s at-
tention for about fifteen minutes, and then, like so much else in his life in
those years, nothing came of it. He lost interest.” I was incredulous when I
heard this. Sam pissed and moaned his whole career about interferences by
the moneymen in his work and complained how none of his films had been
released in anything like versions he approved,34 and here he was offered
means, budget, place to work, and postproduction staff and facilities of one
of the best‑equipped studios in the world to make the final cut of one of his
finest films with the editor of his choice . . . and he lost interest?
When Garth told me that, I was silent for a moment, because all I could
think of was how Garth himself must have felt back then: Pat Garrett was
his first film as a picture editor, and he had put himself in potential jeopardy
with a major studio when he quit in support of Sam. And then I wondered
about Melnick: he had hired Sam for Noon Wine after Major Dundee when
no one else would, produced one of his best films in Straw Dogs, stood be-
tween him and the most treacherous studio head Sam ever had to deal with,
and was met with indifference after presenting him with an opportunity
that any director would kill for.
“That’s a shame,” I said to Garth.
“Yes,” he answered softly, “isn’t it?”

The 2005 Special Edition


Some of the very same people who have complained about the 2005 Spe-
cial Edition have also paid me the somewhat contradictory compliment of
suggesting I do a full‑scale restoration of the 1988 Turner Preview. I fully
concur that the Turner Preview should have been—and now should be—ac-
corded the respect of a proper restoration in the strictly technical sense of

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correctly timing the picture and correctly mixing the sound (assuming, as
noted, the elements exist for this to be done). But for reasons already stated
in the previous section, I would draw the line at making any substantive
changes in scenes or sequences. The only exception I would make is the
wife scene, which I twice tried to persuade Warners to restore to the 1988
Turner Preview. (I was overridden because the home video division wanted
the Special Edition to have the cachet of the wife scene.) The reasons I make
this exception are two: because it is in the second preview and because there
is evidence to suggest that its removal at the time might have been the result
of a mistake or a miscommunication (see Sam’s reference to the “foul up” in
the Melnick letter). But otherwise, any further editing, trimming, or rear-
ranging of scenes and sequences would be in effect redundant.
Why? Because once Sam left the picture, who better than his editors
and Dan Melnick to carry out the trimming, tightening, and remaining
fine‑cutting the previews needed? Bob Wolfe was the second editor on The
Wild Bunch (and did the first cut of the final battle), the principal editor on
Straw Dogs and The Getaway, and the coeditor on Junior Bonner. Roger Spot-
tiswoode was the third editor hired on Straw Dogs, but he was the one Sam
and Bob brought back with them from England to help fine-cut the film, and
he was Bob’s coeditor on The Getaway. Dan Melnick produced Noon Wine
and Straw Dogs. When they brought Straw Dogs back to America, Sam went
almost immediately to Arizona to start filming Junior Bonner and left Bob
and Roger to finish cutting Straw Dogs under Melnick’s supervision.35 It is
not an exaggeration to say that he trusted these three men with editing his
films more than anybody else in the world up to that time in his career, and
he soon came to feel the same about Garth Craven. If a theatrical release had
to be prepared without Sam, the job could not have fallen to better hands.
Aubrey was often called a sonovabitch, but few ever called him stupid:
he had no real interest in releasing the studio editors’ hack job—that was
just a bargaining chip. He wanted the people who knew what they were do-
ing—preferably Sam, but if not Sam, then Sam’s editors—to do the work.
All he cared about was getting the film down to around a hundred minutes
so that it could be easily scheduled in two‑hour intervals for the summer
market—how they did it was their business. Once Roger and Bob started
in on it, they had relatively few direct dealings with Aubrey; Melnick ran
interference. There are rumors that Aubrey ordered additional changes after
Roger and Bob turned over their cut, but so far as I am able to determine

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from numerous conversations with Roger, there is only one thing Aubrey
later changed: in what may have been a desperate attempt to give summer
audiences a “feel good” ending, Aubrey dissolved the end‑credits crawl
over a smiling two‑shot of Garrett and Billy, which the editors, Roger in
particular, quite rightly hated.
Aubrey wanted twenty minutes removed; the editors wound up removing
sixteen for a final length of 1:46, down from 2:02.36 Much of the theatrical
version was completed using Melnick’s earlier notes: not because Melnick
was taking advantage of Sam’s absence to get his own way but because his
notes made sense given the task at hand. The prologue, epilogue, and scenes
involving the wife, Chisum, Billy’s flirtation with Maria, the prostitutes’
montage, and Tuckerman’s were obvious candidates because they could be
easily lifted with no disruption to the continuity.
The raft scene was another possible lift for the same reason, but Roger,
Bob, and Melnick couldn’t bring themselves to remove it, even though they
all believed it still wasn’t working as placed in the previews. It’s perfectly
clear why: it comes too late and is further crippled because it’s flanked by
what may be the two weakest scenes (Tuckerman’s and Paco’s death). Pat
Garrett is not plot-driven in the normal sense of the word, and its pacing
will never be fast. But the interlocked scenes of Garrett killing Holly and
Billy killing Alamosa Bill are point‑of‑no‑return moments for each man
and the action at large; as such, dramatic logic requires that the tempo, if
not quicken, at least intensify to reflect the increased sense of urgency. The
last thing there is any time to play is a leisurely scene that doesn’t advance
us toward the final confrontation. The solution lay in the strategy they had
already tried but without going far enough: move it earlier, only now way
earlier, between Billy’s escape from Lincoln and before Poe links up with
Garrett. Here the scene functions as the lyrical interlude always intended
because it now comes at the point in the story when Garrett is still trying
to give the Kid as much time as he can to clear out of the territory.
Removing scenes still did not get the film down to the demanded length,
so the editors started trimming moments and cutting lines and bits they
had not had time for earlier. I detailed two instances of these in my Re-
consideration37; I will detail a few more here to give some sense of how the
fine‑cutting process works. Billy’s escape from the Lincoln jail is pretty much
the same from the preview to the theatrical. But in the preview, after blasting
Ollinger with his shotgun full of dimes, Billy says, “Keep the change, Bob,”

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then blasts him again, with another cut to the spasming body. If the second
blast is meant to punctuate the wisecrack, it doesn’t work; it merely vitiates
it, as does cutting to the body again (not to mention calling attention to the
rather obvious fact that the shot isn’t framed to function as Billy’s point of
view when it is used once more later in the scene). In effect, the one cancels
the other out—it’s the equivalent to what in comedy terms the director Ron
Shelton calls, contemptuously, “a joke on a joke.” It is true that the script
calls for Billy to shoot Ollinger a second time (which in point of historical
fact he may have done); but, as Sam himself observed on several occasions,
films change considerably from screenplay to fine cut: what matters is what
ultimately works or can be made to work in the cutting room. The editors
wisely removed the second blast and the additional cuts to Ollinger’s body.
In the first Fort Sumner scene, the most bloated in the previews, there
is a moment when Garrett, lamely trying to ingratiate himself with the old
gang, says, “Say, I understand those señoritas down here are pretty as ever.”
“Yeah?” asks Holly. “Yeah,” Garrett replies. “Yeah,” Holly says again, smil-
ing now (surely the wrong beat), then two of the others also chime in with
“yeah”s of their own. Five yeahs in all. If Sam’s idea here was to parody his
own peerless way of extending a moment, then he couldn’t have done a bet-
ter job—it beats the notorious Monty Python skit seven ways from Sunday.
Again, the editors wisely eliminated the bogus yeahs and trimmed the whole
scene, cutting a swollen wodge into a subtly charged encounter that would
truly generate the drama to follow.
As a final example, there is Sam’s appearance as Will the coffin-maker
near the end, where over half his dialogue has been removed, including
the line, “When are you going to figure out that you can’t trust anybody,
Garrett, not even yourself?” I don’t know who exactly was responsible for
removing all this, but allow me to concur with the decision by way of stat-
ing my bias: nothing and nobody will ever convince me that the ruthlessly
disciplined storyteller of even a year earlier on The Getaway would have al-
lowed a performance as flaccid as his own here or done other than send up
in flames anyone who came up to him and said, “You know, Sam, what you
oughtta have is a scene where somebody—maybe you can play it yourself—
announces the theme of the movie and the subtext of the main character
and sends them up in neon lights.”
It would be tedious to go through the entire film detailing each and every
instance of fine‑cutting. Suffice it to say that this is the sort of thing that

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most directors, Sam included, would expect their editors to do as a matter


of course, indeed, would regard with concern or suspicion any editor who
had to be instructed to do it. Much of this had already been done in most
scenes for the previews; preparing the theatrical simply allowed Roger and
Bob to attend to the rest of it.
In speaking with Michael Bliss about the Special Edition, he asked if I
had made “any decisions based on aesthetics alone.” In other words, did I do
anything simply because I thought it played better? It’s a fair enough ques-
tion, but it doesn’t allow for an easy answer. I deliberately framed the project
in such a way as to free myself from having to make any more decisions than
were absolutely necessary. For example, Sam did not want Dylan’s vocals
under Sheriff Baker’s death. I believe he was wrong; so does almost every-
one else. But the vocals were already in the theatrical, so it wasn’t a choice I
had to make. Likewise, shortening Walter Kelley’s (Rupert’s) dialogue and
Sam’s as the coffin-maker, moving the raft scene to a more advantageous
position, trimming some of Chill Wills’ lines near the beginning of the
Jones’s Saloon scene, fixing the Fort Sumner opening, and on and on and
on. Setting aside the wholesale removal of scenes, which was forced upon
them, and considering only the fine‑cutting of several scenes, I believe the
editors made all the right calls, and I was happy the decisions had been made
by them: they had worked directly with Sam, they knew the material better
than anyone else, and they had long familiarity with his style, especially his
editing style (which, not to put too fine a point on it, they had as a matter
of literal fact helped develop and shape).
Even if I had been inclined to do something more elaborate, the condi-
tions under which Warners green-lighted the Special Edition precluded
it. I was required to provide in advance an exact list of precisely defined
scenes and other material to be reinstated. A house editor retrieved them
from the vaults and, working from notes I provided, inserted them into
the theatrical version where I indicated. I was never given direct access
to the materials and at no time was I allowed to do any hands‑on work.
The relatively modest recutting of the prologue was difficult enough under
these circumstances.
The material I felt should go back in consisted of (1) the prologue, (2) the
wife scene, (3) the Chisum scene,38 (4) one line of dialogue in the Lew Wal-
lace scene, (5) the prostitutes’ montage, (6) Paco’s original dying speech, and
(7) the closing shot of Garrett riding into the desert.

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The wife scene is necessary for several reasons, not least because it in-
tensifies our sense of the pressures Garrett is under to apprehend the Kid
and shows his indifference to the marriage, his cruelty toward her, and how
uneasily he assumes the mantle of the new life he has chosen for himself. The
Chisum scene fills in the relationship Chisum once had with the Kid and
reveals the information about the loan to Garrett. What’s more, while it’s
right for the faceless politicians and businessmen of the Santa Fe Ring, who
are taking over the West, to be shadowy presences we never see (only their
lackeys who try to buy Garrett off at Wallace’s), it’s wrong for Chisum, who
must be a real and directly experienced presence. Whatever their differences,
Chisum belongs with Garrett and the Kid as larger‑than‑life individuals
whose days are numbered, a theme reinforced by the additional line from
one of the lackeys in the Wallace scene (“You people are obsolete, Sheriff”).
Neither of Paco’s dying speeches is good, but at least the original, which
Sam preferred, is not a sententious exposition but is tied to character. The
prostitutes’ montage is far from my favorite scene, but Sam wanted it there,
probably because it functions as an ironic contrast to the complete lack of
desire Garrett displays toward his wife.
Which leaves us with the prologue. Inasmuch as the theatrical release
already has a title sequence (a much better one, in my view, and in a font
color Sam evidently preferred), the prologue titles and freeze frames had to
be removed and the sequence adjusted accordingly. As I’ve said previously,
I can think of no equivalent anywhere in Peckinpah’s work for a sequence
this labored. It’s as if he were saying, Now we begin here, you understand
where we are, don’t you?—No?—Here’s a title just to clarify things—Now
we’re going over here, you understand we’re some place else, yes, and deep
in the past?—You don’t?—Another title then. By this time, what was obvi-
ously conceived as a startling series of shocks and dislocations in the mind
of Garrett as he is being murdered became instead a ponderous double setup
in which the film seems to start, stop, then start again. It has always seemed
to me that the cross-cutting should begin with no preparation whatsoever
and that the twin fulcrums on which it rests should be Garrett and the
chickens both getting shot, the flash cuts so quick they function almost like
subliminals.39 This in turn makes it possible to withhold the high, wide‑angle
establishing shot of Fort Summer, with its identifying title, until well after
the cross‑cutting has begun, which spares the film the impression it’s start-
ing up a second time. The sequence also seems to me more effective when it

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plays quicker, which is how Sam originally imagined it. This makes perfect
sense if you consider that he had already written the first Fort Sumner scene
as a prologue. No wonder Melnick and the editors felt that the newer pro-
logue, with its freeze frames and titles laid on top of a previous prologue,
was hopelessly protracted and clumsy. It was.
As for the removing the epilogue, this I’ll cop to entirely—or almost en-
tirely, because I didn’t actually invent anything here. When the prologue was
dropped, the epilogue obviously had to go as well, so Roger returned to the
original ending as scripted: Garrett disappearing into an early‑morning fog
as he rides off into the desert. As Sam shot it, there was no fog, but the image
he did shoot conveyed the same effect: Garrett’s figure recedes into the bleak
dawn as he departs Fort Sumner, the image is frozen, and the end‑credit
crawl begins. This was how the film ended when Roger handed it over to the
studio, an answer print already existed in the vaults with that ending on it,
and the elements used to generate it remained intact, so it was used. Speaking
personally, I believe it preferable to the makeshift epilogue (and far preferable
to Aubrey’s stupid last‑minute substitution). The way the lawman seems gradu-
ally to be swallowed up by the pitiless landscape suggests how the judgment
of history, in the form of legend, will weigh against him, and it draws together
and focuses the themes of fate and determinism that inform the whole film.
(It also has the advantage of not using obviously recycled footage.)
The best reason, however, for removing the epilogue is what it does for
the climax. Once Peckinpah added the opening meeting between Garrett
and Billy at Fort Sumner, it determined his basic structure, which, in the
best description I’ve read, Garner Simmons likened to “two halves of a great
circle” completing itself.40 This circle encloses, defines, and thus becomes the
world of the film, so that in that darkened room when Billy turns and sees
Garrett and smiles and Garrett in response rises up and shoots him, it really
does feel as if in the exact moment of completion the world also disintegrates.
Then Garrett turns and fires at his own reflection in the mirror, leaving a
disfiguring hole where his heart should be: the physical destruction reflects
the psychological destruction that in turn reflects the destruction of a way
of life, and the point of symbolic suicide is made with a clarity as blinding
as the flash from Garrett’s revolver. The little epilogue can add nothing to
the devastation of this ending, not even irony: all it can do is dilute and
diminish. Inasmuch as the epilogue is already in the 1988 Turner Preview,
there seemed to me both value and validity in choosing the alternate for

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Garrett reflecting in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

the Special Edition, where the prologue now functions as dramatic irony
perfectly well on its own, as it did also in both the script and the early cuts
of the film before the idea of a framing device occurred to anyone.
Would I have done the Special Edition any differently had Warners al-
lowed me access to the trims so I could function as a real editor, with my
hands on the controls and my instincts plugged into the material? I’d have
still felt uncomfortable about recutting Sam and his editors. But I’d be lying
if I didn’t admit that, as someone who has studied this director for a long
time before becoming a film editor, I would have liked to try some things
and run them by Roger. One that comes immediately to mind, following
Sam’s early instincts, would be to drop the death of Paco entirely, then search
the ride‑bys to see if any could be made to serve Roger’s idea of a purely
existential moment of decision from Billy for his return. Another would be
to see if the prologue could be edited so that we leave Garrett writhing on
the ground as he is riddled with bullets that don’t finish him off before we
settle into 1881. It would also be better, because less destructive to the flow
of the cutting scheme, to withhold the Fort Sumner establishing shot—the
one that now has the identifying title on it—until all the shooting stops
and Garrett starts walking toward the fountain.41 Then I would comb the
footage to see if it were possible to construct an epilogue that picks him up
at the same point we left him, so it would function as a true frame, conclud-
ing with his actual death and ending on a stronger closing image (one that
comes to mind is the low‑angle shot from his feet looking past his torso,
which blocks his head). Then again, for reasons I’ve just explained, I might

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not: the assassination feels so right as a prologue only, the original ending,
with Garrett physically alive but psychically dead, even more right.
So much for fantasy. In reality, the Special Edition wound up being a
mere seven minutes shorter than the 1988 Preview (nine if you compensate
for its missing wife scene), over three of which are accounted for by Tucker-
man’s, the only full scene not put back. Now that I have established beyond
all question or doubt the actual extent of my editing—that is, hardly any
at all—on the Special Edition, I hope it leaves me free to offer some long
overdue praise for the truly magnificent work Roger, Garth, and Bob did
in helping to realize Sam’s vision and that Melnick did in protecting the
film from the self‑destructiveness of its director and the vindictiveness of
the studio head.
I haven’t watched Pat Garrett since the last run-through at Warners six
years ago to ensure that the restored lifts were where they were supposed to
be. While writing this essay, I watched it again with my wife, and we watched
it the way a film should be watched: all the way through, no interruptions.
We were thrilled by how beautifully it plays. To be sure, it is by no means
perfect, some performances remain uneven, and a few scenes still struggle to
find a workable shape that I think will always elude them. But the story now
moves so surely that until Paco’s death, we felt as if there was not one weak
moment. And after that, it recovers immediately, which has never been the
case in the previews. Best of all, perhaps, the drama now seems to find its
own natural pace: a measured, at times leisurely, yet forward‑leaning tempo,
narrative and poetry ideally mediated, with an elegiac lyricism made all
the more fragile by a fatality inexorably pulling each and all to their doom.
Peckinpah knew better than anybody that when you slow something
down too much, you don’t necessarily make it more lyrical, and often as
not you make it less so. The particular kind of lyric expansiveness of which
he was one of the greatest masters depends upon a fairly strict control of
tempi in combination with a certain elasticity of line or rhythm, so that
when he wanted to linger in a moment or stretch out a scene or stage one of
his peerless set pieces, he could do so without worrying that the structure
would fall apart. This is why we remember so many moments, fleeting and
extended, from his films: at his best he had an almost unerring instinct for
just how high and wide he could let that falcon fly before the center ceased
to hold. Form and feeling, style and substance, artistry and vision have
always been inseparable in his best work, as they are in Pat Garrett and

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Billy the Kid, where his editors kept and sustained the faith long after their
director lost his.

The Masterpiece
“When I work, I become all the characters in the script,” Sam once said. “It’s
very dangerous. I act out for myself in real life for the illusion of what I’m
going to shoot.”42 From the mouths of any ninety‑nine out of a hundred film
directors, a statement like that would be pure bull. But not from Sam, and
nowhere is it more profoundly demonstrated than in Pat Garrett and Billy
the Kid. He identified far more closely with Garrett than with Billy, with
whom he identified hardly at all. But he certainly acted out in real life what
he was going to shoot, and it became so dangerous that the closer he came to
the core of his protagonists, the more he tried to drink himself into oblivion.
It will not do to be romantic about this: I am not for a moment suggesting
that Sam consciously did this as a strategy to get inside the film or that in
better days he couldn’t have done so in other ways. He was out of control
and acted more irresponsibly on this project than any director I have ever
known or known of. Like Garrett, he would sit for hours on end, just drink-
ing; like Billy, he would target practice at random; like the both of them,
he was acting out some dark, tormented ritual of symbolic suicide that
almost destroyed him in the process. And yet—the combination of how he
acted and the film he pulled from his anguish puts me in mind of Malcolm
Lowry when he insisted there was not one moment of his alcoholism that
he wasted, not one perception or insight, even when in a stupor, that he did
not put to eventual use in his work. This is doubtless an exaggeration, but
like all such exaggerations, it has its parcel of truth.
The emotional truthfulness of Pat Garrett, its psychological authenticity,
was distilled, through some mysterious, scary alchemy, from Sam’s helpless-
ness in stopping himself from going to exactly the darkest places he needed
to go to feel what he needed to feel to give the story the reality that validates
and justifies it. On this film he was so completely self-destructive that it took
the help of all his friends and colleagues to get him through it and bring it
to completion. But none of their efforts would have come to anything had
he not gone to those terrible places, returned to tell the tale, and told it so
beautifully, with such piercing honesty. He may have had, as Coburn once
said, only four to six good hours a day, but he mined every last ounce of
gold from them and got it all on the screen.

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The miracle is that Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid finally does emerge a
masterpiece; the sad irony is that the artist who made it seems not to have
realized the full measure of his achievement. When one admires an artist as
much as I do this one, it is not easy to recall his behavior during the making
of the film, and no satisfaction is taken in doing so. Perhaps that gives me
leave to bookend this essay with another quotation, words I wrote fifteen
years ago, a tribute as true now as then and felt even more strongly to a great
film and the ravaged man who wrested it from his demons:

There was something indomitable at the very core of Sam Peckinpah’s


being. It was this something, or, rather, its extension or equivalent in
his imagination that—despite the flaws, mistakes, and weaknesses of
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid—managed to survive, intact and unbro-
ken, the whole long, agonized year of fear, anger, booze, infighting, and
desperate self‑destructiveness. It is the thing that we call—imprecisely
but exactly—vision, and it sweeps all before it. This is one of the few
films, and perhaps the only Western film apart from The Wild Bunch,
in which the effect of tragedy is felt and sustained. Yet The Wild Bunch
is a triumphant tragedy, and it culminates in transfiguration and re-
demption. No such light illumines the bleak horizons of Pat Garrett
and Billy the Kid. When the sun goes down on the dusky, godforsaken
world of this Western, it seems also to go out, and the sense of finality
is shattering.43

Notes
1. Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films, 202n (hereafter, Seydor, Peckinpah).
2. The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage (1996), included on The Wild Bunch: The
Original Director’s Cut, Warner Home Video DVD (2006) and Blu‑Ray (2007) and also
the DVD box set Sam Peckinpah’s The Legendary Westerns Collection.
3. Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration, 298‑306 (hereafter,
Seydor, Reconsideration).
4. Seydor, Reconsideration, 254–306; Simmons, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage,
168–88; and Weddle, If They Move—Kill ’Em! 445–91.
5. Peckinpah Collection, folder 770. Unless otherwise noted, all references to ed-
iting‑room notes are to those held in the library in this folder and will cite date and
pagination only. The few that are undated will be identified by title (if they were titled;
some weren’t) and probable date. I will distinguish memos and letters from editing‑room
notes as such.
6. As with all films, Pat Garrett was edited as it was filmed, beginning the moment
the first dailies were returned from the lab. When he had time, Sam would watch these
early cuts but would give few notes, being concerned mostly that he had all the footage

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he needed and that the scenes were basically working. This is all standard operating
procedure in filmmaking. Unless there is some specific technical or performance issue,
some directors don’t even watch cut scenes during production because they don’t want
their attention diverted from filming.
7. Seydor, Reconsideration, 138–39.
8. To give Dylan the benefit of the doubt, Garner Simmons told me that “Sam never
had the character of Alias fleshed out in the screenplay, so Dylan never felt he was play-
ing a real character.” And because it was Gordon Carroll who brought Dylan in, several
members of the crew felt Sam treated Dylan accordingly, that is, as “Gordon’s singer,”
thus ignoring him while attending to Kristofferson, “Sam’s singer.”
9. February 19, 1973, 2.
10. March 1, 1973.
11. “Dan Melnick’s Suggestions” (undated, probably early April 1973).
12. “Horrells Jones Format” (undated, probably late February).
13. On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t the most bizarre. According to the notes,
Sam also tried intercutting Paco’s death with the prostitutes, apparently cutting to it
right off the bit of Garrett playing with the one girl’s nipple, which Melnick thought
“cheats Paco’s death” (“Executive Screening Notes,” cited later). And he evidently shot
the raft sequence so that it could be edited to look as if Billy is watching the whole thing,
which Melnick pronounced “totally illogical” (Melnick’s notes of March 6, cited later).
14. “Executive Running” (March 13, 1973).
15. I have here condensed and summarized Melnick’s notes, which were given over a
period of several weeks from early March to after the May previews. The relevant docu-
ments are “Editing Notes Taken at Melnick Showing Tuesday March 6th,” “Executive
Running” (March 13, 1973), “Executive Showing Notes” (undated, but within a day or
two of March 13 screening), Memo from Gordon Carroll to Melnick, Peckinpah, and
Spottiswoode (March 19, 1973), “Dan Melnick’s Notes after Executive Screening April
6th,” and “April 6th Executive Screening Notes.”
16. But it is not true, as I mistakenly reported in my Reconsideration, that their
friendship developed a rift not healed for a few years. There was no rift and no malice
that I’m aware of on Sam’s part.
17. Letter from Katherine (“Katy”) Haber to Norma Fink (August 11, 1975). Katy
was writing for Sam regarding the television showing of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
18. Peckinpah Collection, folder 752.
19. February 16, 1973, 1.
20. Carroll memo, 1.
21. An ambiguous note from the March 24 sessions suggests the idea may have first
been proposed around then, but the April 2 note attributes it to Roger and calls for
opticals to be made.
22. Another piece of evidence that suggests the prologue was by no means in its
final form even by the time of the previews is plainly visible squib wires coming out
of one of Coburn’s pant legs, which were not removed even in the second preview. It’s
difficult to imagine that no one on the editorial crew noticed. The only explanation is
that as removing things like this was a very expensive proposition in those days, the
optical would not have been ordered until the picture was unequivocally locked and
it was certain the shot would be used. It’s entirely possible this also explains why the
year of Garrett’s death is wrong in the “Near Las Cruces” title card, even though the

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date is correct in the historical note Sam wrote for the second preview to precede the
end‑credits crawl. Since it’s again unlikely that no one noticed the error, the logical
explanation is that the correction was awaiting a decision as regards the final form
of the prologue. Finally, as late as the notes for the first preview, Sam still had doubts
about the style of titles, including the color red for the fonts, which may explain both
why the historical note in the second crawl is in yellow and why it is not followed by an
end‑credits crawl: there was time enough to shoot the historical note in the new color
by the second preview but not time enough to shoot a whole new end crawl in yellow,
let alone change the titles from red throughout the prologue. Finally, consider also
that as early as a February 25 set of notes, Sam gave this blanket instruction: “close
up lines on all long shots.” What he meant was to cut out any long, unnecessary
pauses between lines, which is easy to do in extreme long shots because it doesn’t matter
if by doing this the dialogue goes out of sync, because you can’t see it. This is a common
practice in fine‑cutting, yet in the very first shot of the prologue there is a long, pointless
pause between Garrett’s first line and Poe’s reply. Why wasn’t it tightened? Nobody can
say, but the likeliest explanation is that it was just one more thing that fell through the
cracks or that it would be attended to once a final decision was made. No matter how
you look at the notes, the evidence, and the versions of the film itself, the conclusion is
inescapable: when Sam left the picture, he left a prologue that was still in flux and had
by no means made his final determinations about several aspects of it.
23. Carroll memo, 4.
24. Paramount among these was Tuckerman’s. As far back as the dailies, Aubrey
expressed his loathing for Don Levy’s performance as Sackett and even wrote Sam a
memo to that effect (Aubrey to Peckinpah, January 22, 1973). The tone of the memo was
jocular, and Sam responded in kind, but there was no mistaking Aubrey’s meaning.
There is of course no way of knowing for certain, but some people believe that if Sam
had just given up Tuckerman’s at a strategic moment, he might have been able to retain
a lot of the material he really cared about and that Aubrey wanted removed.
25. According to Carroll, once Sam fully realized how problematic the screenplay
really was, he begged the producer to release him from his contract. Seydor, Recon-
sideration, 260.
26. Garrett’s murder had no connection to the events almost three decades earlier
surrounding the Lincoln County wars and his killing of Billy the Kid. And while Albert
Fall—who later became secretary of the interior in the Harding administration and
served a year in jail for his part in the Teapot Dome scandal—did successfully defend
Garrett’s murderer, Fall was never even a member, let alone the leader, of the Santa Fe
Ring, which did not exist by the time of Garrett’s death.
27. In the theatrical version, Roger started the lift slightly earlier, when Garrett and
Alamosa Bill separate outside the barbershop. This seems to me a more elegant place
to do it, as having Garrett walk up to the gate but not go in actually accentuates the
absence of the scene. Of course, it’s entirely possible this was Sam’s purpose: make the
lacuna so obvious there was no choice but to put the lifted scene back.
28. Letter to Dan Melnick, April 30, 1974, 1. My determination that the print in the
Academy library, which is the print that Sam stole from MGM, is the second preview,
while the 1988 Turner Preview is the first preview, is predicated on two primary pieces
of evidence. The first is Garth Craven’s fairly vivid recollection that on the night of the
second preview, after the screening he “suddenly realized that our preview print was

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still up in the projection booth of the screening room.” Garth had Smiley Ortega, one
of the assistant editors, get a studio bike; together they loaded the film into the basket
and “Smiley pedaled it across the studio and threw it in the back” of the car of Sam’s
assistant, who drove it off the lot (Weddle, If They Move—Kill ’Em! 485). The second piece
of evidence is the letter to Melnick just cited, in which Sam refers to pulling the wife
scene from the second preview. Only one preview had the wife scene in it, the second;
the print Sam stole has the wife scene in it, and it was stolen from the projection room
the night of the second screening. Therefore, it follows that it was the second preview.
The other preview lacked the wife scene, as does the 1988 Turner. Since we know the
Turner is of one of the previews, it follows that the Turner must be of the first preview.
29. Actually, it makes perfect sense if protection IPs were not made immediately.
Inasmuch as the previews were one‑time‑only events, and the first would almost cer-
tainly be changed for the second, why incur both the expense and the risk? Every
time the negative is handled, especially for generating a print or duplication, there is
a chance for damage.
30. To this day, I don’t know where Warners found the tracks used to master the
1988 Preview for DVD. Half a line of Kip McKinney’s is clipped out completely and the
last few reels suffer from a distinct wobble, none of which defects afflicts the old Turner
laser disc of the same version. Meanwhile, the Special Edition contains a clipped sound
transition following the Lew Wallace scene that I twice noted in the editing sessions
but that was never corrected. The truth is that the preparation of the DVD box set of
Peckinpah’s Westerns was caught in an internecine warfare involving a new incoming
executive, who developed a particular animus toward the executive who was already
in charge of the box set and for whom it was a labor of love and devotion. The result
was that the new executive, who held rank, treated what should have been a prestige set
shabbily. Color timing and balances were mostly off and the visuals otherwise grainy;
a booklet of essays, interviews, and other materials compiled and edited by David
Weddle (for free) was not included; the packaging was cheesy, and so on. Sony Pictures
was preparing its Major Dundee restoration at the same time and was eager to make
arrangements for it to be included as part of the set, but Warners couldn’t be bothered
to sort out the financial arrangements (which were generous to Warners). According to
Nick, organizers of the Cannes Film Festival wanted to give Peckinpah a posthumous
lifetime achievement award and were begging Warners to let them premier the Special
Edition in connection with it. Incredibly, Warners refused to pay for a print.
31. The first is the only preview the studio would have had. Moreover, it’s hard to
believe Sam would have brought with him the preview he had stolen. Sam’s friendship
with Melnick notwithstanding, Melnick was still an executive at the studio in a very
high position, and Sam, notoriously paranoid throughout his career, was especially so
during the making of Pat Garrett and remained so afterward.
32. Letter to Melnick, 2.
33. Garner reminds me that Columbia actually made the same offer to Sam some
time after Major Dundee was released. Sam declined. Where was the upside? Unless
he could produce a masterpiece—despite the high achievement of several sequences
and despite his claims, there was no masterpiece in Dundee—he was better off with
“what might have been.”
34. It is hardly nitpicking to point out that this is nowhere near the truth. Ride the
High Country, The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Straw Dogs, Junior Bonner,

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The Getaway, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and Cross of Iron were all imme-
diately or eventually released in versions he approved or substantially close to what
he approved.
35. I am not suggesting they edited the film without Sam. On several weekends,
they flew to Arizona to run cut sequences for him and get his notes, and once principal
photography was completed, he returned to Los Angeles, where they could work again
in proximity. But with respect to Pat Garrett, this is precisely the point: he had already
been working with them since editing began back in November.
36. The length of the first preview, minus the wife scene, is 2:02. The second preview,
with the wife scene, is around 2:04.
37. Seydor, Reconsideration, 300–302.
38. In the theatrical version, the scene in which Paco says farewell and Billy leaves
for Mexico follows immediately after the turkey shoot, when Silva is killed by Chisum’s
men, whereas in the Turner Preview, they are separated by several other scenes. Roger
can’t remember why or how the two scenes came to be played back to back, but it seems
to me a clear mistake or at least misjudgment occasioned by the haste with which the
theatrical was prepared toward the end. For one thing, even by the considerable latitude
of elision of time that scene‑to‑scene cuts in films by convention allow, Billy and Alias
still seem suddenly to turn into a pair of real Speedy Gonzaleses, so fast do they get
back to Fort Sumner. For another, and more to point, Billy’s decision to leave is put so
close to the killing of Silva as to make it seem like a prime motivation, which doesn’t
make a lot of sense, as Silva is killed while doing a job, which could happen any time.
Finally, played in tandem, the two scenes go against the overall scheme of cutting back
and forth between the two protagonists. In restoring the Chisum scene, then, I’ve left
in place, albeit modified to account for the new position of the raft scene, the sequence
of scenes as they appear in the Turner: the death of Silva dissolves to the raft scene,
which cuts to Poe’s arrival at Garrett’s camp beside the river, which cuts to the next day
as Garrett and Poe travel to Chisum’s, the meeting with Chisum, and then to Paco’s
farewell and Billy’s departure for Old Mexico.
39. This is very much as James Coburn once described them to Garner (Simmons,
Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage, 183–84).
40. Simmons, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage, 171.
41. I would have made this change in the Special Edition, but I was not granted
access to the trims to see if Garrett’s move toward the fountain is covered later in the
shot. Barring such access, the shot had to remain where it is because on big screens, the
mismatch in continuity might easily be noticed.
42. Qtd. in Bryson, “Wild Bunch in New York,” 140.
43. Seydor, Reconsideration, 306.

136
Human Striving, Human Strife: Sam
Peckinpah and the Journey of the Soul
Cordell Strug

Everything’s lethal.
—The Killer Elite (1975)

I have no home.
—Cross of Iron (1976)

S avagery, rage, violence: these are words, themes, that you expect to en-
counter in discussions of Sam Peckinpah. They testify to power, impact,
uncomfortable reception. But would his work have touched so many people
so deeply if these words were adequate descriptions of its nature?
I think that when people use those terms, they’re following obvious av-
enues to an understanding of this artist, but, explicitly or not, they’re groping
for something beyond them. Certainly, Peckinpah’s characters find them-
selves on the way to savagery, rage, violence. But the works themselves are
about their needs and choices, paths they choose, desperately or ignorantly,
paths they are forced into. Through these films, we experience a concentra-
tion of life and a meditation on its worth.
One of the oldest ideas about the effect of tragic drama comes from Ar-
istotle: the audience experiences catharsis, often understood as a purging
of emotions. I’ve heard Peckinpah in interviews speak defensively of his
work this way, as being shaped toward catharsis, intended to purge soci-
ety of violence by its vivid portrayal. He can’t have believed this, and the
notion of purging never seemed to make much sense anyway, except as a
defense against moralists. Martha Nussbaum, in a penetrating work on
Greek thought, has argued that catharsis was not about purgation but about
clarification: tragedy clarified life and its values—how much it hurts to lose

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Cordell Strug

some things, how much some things are worth fighting for. The passions
aren’t eliminated; they’re clarified, understood.1
Put that way, catharsis seems a perfect description of Greek tragedy and
of Peckinpah’s art, as well as a way of discriminating one strong and violent
work from another. It’s the reason that we watch and don’t want to leave.
The appeal of violence, combat, physical struggle, and warfare in the arts
goes far beyond any experience most of us have of those things, let alone
the desire to experience them. But there is a part of the human spirit and
a dimension of life that needs that imagery for its full expression. Nothing
else would be as clear.
Early Christianity, for example, was nonviolent to the point of absolute
pacifism. Yet one of its most famous calls to discipleship goes like this:
“Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to
withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on
the breastplate of righteousness. . . . Take the shield of faith, with which
you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the
helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”
(Ephesians 6:13–17).2 This is the equivalent of the Wild Bunch getting ready
for its last walk. Or: this is another version of the same scene.
The spirit’s need for violent imagery guarantees the enduring presence
of conflict and violence in drama. But Peckinpah is one of the rare artists
for whom the transaction goes both ways. It’s hard to talk about his work
without using images and terms from the spiritual life: pilgrim, seeker,
quest, vision, journey, fighting the good fight.
Just as Ephesians can use the imagery of warfare for the spirit’s readiness,
so its tracing of the spirit’s dangers offers a fair description of what’s at stake
in a Peckinpah creation: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood
and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic
powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the
heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

It was that strong sense of an artistic and spiritual pilgrimage running


through his work as a whole that formed a bond with the audience beyond
any particular work. Not Peckinpah the flawed man but Peckinpah the
pilgrim soul was forcefully present in his creations, much as Hemingway
was and, in a different way, Dickens.

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Experience and time test those bonds. Looking back on the artists and
thinkers I’ve followed in my life, I’m surprised by some that have remained
and some that haven’t. I’m surprised I don’t read Dickens that much, and
I’m surprised I’ve reread Spinoza’s Ethics so often. I watch fewer John Hus-
ton movies than I thought I would. I’m very surprised that I couldn’t stay
interested in Godard.
On the other hand, there are thinkers and artists, old and new, I return
to so regularly that it’s odd to speak of returning. Certainly I never have to
rediscover them. William James, Melville, Kipling, the poet David Jones,
Hemingway, and Philip Roth have accompanied me through the years. So
have John Ford, Wilder, and Welles.
I was so captivated by Sam Peckinpah’s early work and so engaged with
that twenty-year high-wire battle of creation that it’s hard to imagine he
wouldn’t accompany me still. But time necessarily brings a change, espe-
cially to our bonds with contemporary artists: we no longer follow a jour-
ney but contemplate something finished; we no longer watch in ignorance,
anticipation, and expectation but in knowledge and reconsideration. I’m
not surprised I’m still watching Peckinpah’s movies nor that my experience
differs that way. I am surprised, however, by which of his movies I watch
most frequently.

By the time of his later films, anyone following Peckinpah as a contemporary


might have had problems seeing them at all. DVDs have leveled this part
of the field: all the films are available, and we see them in the same venue.
We see them as parts of a completed journey instead of as fumbling stages
on a path we didn’t expect. We now know where the path went. It was hard,
as the later films emerged, not to experience some disappointment at their
unevenness, their constriction, their sour atmosphere.
It was hard not to view them through the haze of stories about Peck-
inpah’s deterioration. Now time has given the works a detachment from
the artist’s life and the gossip of the trade. It’s impossible, in Peckinpah’s
case, to overstate the value of this distancing. It’s an immense step toward
a purity of vision. Show a movie like Cross of Iron now and you won’t hear
muttering about an artist at the end of his game: people will wonder why
it’s not hailed as a classic.3
For me, as time has passed, it’s the later films I find myself reaching for
most often, especially The Killer Elite and Cross of Iron. They’re the ones

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that have grown for me by detachment, have become clearer statements


with their own integrity. But I would say that Peckinpah’s films in general
have retained their unique edge. It’s too little to say they hold up better than
others. They transcend their time as they transcended their genres. They
don’t seem marked as being from an earlier era of film history.4 They beat
with the pulse of fresh creation; their potent force still comes at you because
of the depth of passion in them.
I said above that the presence of Peckinpah in his works created a bond
with the audience, much as Hemingway’s presence in his works did. Both
men, too, were troubled, self-destructive, and their public characters might
be said to have consumed them. But, to my mind, there is no deterioration in
Peckinpah’s art comparable to Hemingway’s. Compare the relative strengths
of Across the River and into the Trees and Cross of Iron.
Compare the late protagonists: Colonel Cantwell, Santiago, and the painter
Thomas Hudson only display the Hemingway figure weakening, sagging,
needing to be wiser than all, needing to be loved by all. There is nothing
happening in them as interesting as the shift in Peckinpah’s late protago-
nists: Pat Garrett, Mike Locken, Sergeant Steiner, Agent Fassett (the true
Peckinpah figure in The Osterman Weekend). They hate their work, their
masters, their world: they’re trying to make their lives—or create their righ-
teousness—within a circle of fury they can’t escape. They’re lonelier, angrier,
more desperate. There’s an intensity in them that gives a burning focus to
the same quest Steve Judd in Ride the High Country was on: to enter his
house justified. That’s what draws me to the late films, so I want to discuss
The Killer Elite and Cross of Iron as works whose elements allow that burn-
ing soul to stand out.

The Killer Elite lives in my memory, as I suspect it does for most people, on
the strength of its dazzling final battle: gray attacking figures tumbling and
falling, bright sea and sky after so much darkness, the eerie music, and the
film’s tormented, wounded protagonist finding some kind of release at last.
The fight has such an abstract quality that as you watch it, it almost detaches
itself from the story it’s in.
So when I came back to the film after several years, the many-layered
beginning—children’s voices, the transcript of Weyburn’s cynical interview,
explosives being prepared, Jerry Fielding’s percussive music—both thrilled
and puzzled me. It seemed to promise a gripping movie but a very differ-

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ent movie from the one I remembered. It would have been a much more
ordinary movie.
In any case, as the agents begin their joking, laughing inconsequential
dialogue, the movie quickly becomes something else. The temptation is to
start explaining rather than to watch it. It’s easy to dismiss The Killer Elite
as uneven, a silly creation about a ridiculous world, and poorly made at that.
I even heard it described as a satire.
But there’s a serious movie that begins when Mike realizes that his best
friend is about to shoot him. Nothing about Mike is silly or ridiculous.
Nothing about him and what he’s struggling with can be dismissed. Much
in the movie is game-like, and the dialogue keeps dismissing the action,
but Mike’s need and inner turmoil are completely serious.
It’s possible to say that Mike’s inner drama also detaches itself from the
story it’s in or that Mike is simply in a different movie. But the world of es-
pionage, with its secrecy, betrayal, and corruption, bears on Mike’s drama
obliquely. And the tension that this atmosphere gives the movie is an authen-
tic way of experiencing the world: not the world of spy movies or the world
of espionage but the world as such. This is a story of a passionate spirit in a
hollow world. It’s a story that’s almost whispered beneath the surface story.
When Mike stands over Collis, after wounding him as he was wounded,
and mutters, “How’s it feel?” the serious movie erupts to the surface. It’s
more of a real climax than the battle that follows.
In fact, this is a movie in which the stillness is—until the very end—
more gripping than the action: the images of Mike listening, thinking,
the sadness in his eyes as he surveys what he has, are its most powerful
moments. We might consider, from this realization, how many Peckinpah
characters gather themselves in silence and how much that deepens the
experience of his films.
This film in particular works as a kind of poem, and especially the night
sequence on the pier makes one think of the moods and images of Chinese
poetry: moonlight, shadows on water, dark shapes of buildings, swaying boats.
Take a scene like Miller’s death: it makes little narrative sense for him
to be the only person on Mike’s team machine-gunned during the ninja
attack. But he’s an arms dealer who’s carrying an automatic weapon. The
means of his death is a rhyme.
In a larger sense, the movie is a kind of tone poem: from light to dark
and back to light, with shifting powers and shifting destinations. It’s an

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Cordell Strug

arrangement of light and shade as well as an arrangement of disgust and


rage, power and purpose.
The real elite, we see, as an image of contrast, is the hospital staff. Almost
a quarter of the movie is devoted to surgery and rehab, with its frustrations
and humiliations. But the surgeons are cold, businesslike, detached. They
are everything Mike is not. In fact, Mike fails to do the two things that he
sets out to do: kill Hansen and come back to his old job. These goals cease
to matter to him. But he can no more give himself what he needs than the
surgeons can.
There’s another important contrast in the film. Beginning in the hospi-
tal when Mike learns how seriously he is hurt, his face is contrasted with
Weyburn’s tired, crooked, sagging face. Nothing about Weyburn is silly,
ridiculous, or easily dismissed, either. He is colder, more ruthless, more
calculating than Mike. He is what Mike would become if his spirit were as
broken as his body.
It’s Mike’s very wounding that sends him on a deeper journey. It binds
him to a personal destiny. He will have to fight to get to a bathroom and
to eat without help. (Watching this sequence, it’s hard not to think of the
paralyzing wounds of Vietnam.)

A disgusted Mike Locken in The Killer Elite

This aspect severs Mike from another form of power haunting the movie:
the global power of the United States, present in the corporate offices and,
like a shed skin, in the mothball fleet. As the world of espionage does, the
trappings of American power bear on Mike’s drama obliquely. There’s a
sense in the movie of rattling around in a history that doesn’t belong to you.
This, too, I would say, is an authentic way of experiencing the world,
especially in the last quarter of the American twentieth century. For Mike,

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Human Striving, Human Strife

at a deeper level, the carelessness and arrogance of power is denied him by


his wounding and betrayal.
What his power gives him and where his journey takes him are other,
unsettled, questions. Part of the unique atmosphere of this movie comes
from the presence of an explosive force that’s going nowhere. Mike’s inner
drama is intense; he arrives clearly at what he doesn’t want, and then the
passion just subsides.
Certainly, the battle settles very little. Violence in Peckinpah always
shapes itself to the issues at stake around it: here the very abstraction, the
dreamlike ecstasy, is a sign of insignificance. The gathering up of swords at
the end is like the tidying up by janitors after a basketball game.
The real drama isn’t resolved: it just stops. Steve Judd died in peace. Mike’s
brooding spirit comes only to quietness, and then only for the moment.

Whenever I’ve decided to rewatch Cross of Iron, an image from near the end
of the movie comes to me helplessly: a Russian soldier vaulting through an
archway as the German lines are collapsing. It’s one of those moments of
random beauty that Peckinpah’s films are graced with, that enrich them
visually. There’s a rough beauty throughout the film: mist, light, smoke, ru-
ins, weathered faces. The imagery is sharp; the sequences are tightly wound:
coming to Cross of Iron from most other war movies is like coming to mod-
ern poetry, Hopkins and Pound, from the Victorians.
Again, to watch this film after the stories of Peckinpah’s problems and
his decline have faded is to rediscover the work of a master. We begin with
another group of Peckinpah children, with the marks of human striving
and human strife already upon them: the title sequence takes us from Hit-
ler youth in full confidence to trapped, despairing German infantry on
the Russian front. Peckinpah has purified—or reduced—his vision of the
spirit’s growth: from thrilling games to deadly combat that can’t be ended.
The setting of the story again works toward abstraction: the theater of
war, the Crimea, is distant from America’s experience of the war. In fact, as
far as this story goes, Americans might not exist at all. We experience the
film as a pure story of conflict. This is a landscape where war is always hap-
pening. Conflict is the totality of life. This reduction of all things to warfare
serves the artist at this moment of his journey. Unlike the townspeople or
the villagers of the early Westerns, no one is even pretending to make a life
in this environment. There are no real bystanders. This is like the American

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Cordell Strug

West with all the positive forces missing. It’s possible to say: here is the place
Peckinpah was always journeying to.
Steiner is an exploration of how to live in this world: he has the skill
that binds him to it, the disgust and hatred that sever him from it. In the
opening attack on the Russian mortar position, Steiner and Kruger look at
each other, another moment of stillness, and their look stamps all that is
to follow with weariness and hopelessness. Yet Steiner can declare, “Good
kill.” This is the only world they have, or the only one there is.
Thus, the domestic routines—shaving, cooking, even a birthday party—
are striking. As lonely as the Peckinpah protagonist is, human communion
is vital. Steiner can’t tear himself from the faces of his men: in the hospital,
they appear in his hallucinations; later, they come to him after they’ve died.
But communion comes within this world of conflict, and the conflict is
more fundamental than the men and their bonds; in the end, it swallows
them up. When Steiner tells the nurse he is briefly attached to that he has
no home, he’s drawing the boundary of the real world. There is nothing to
pull back to, or get back to.
Just before the battle in which Steiner is wounded and Meyer is killed,
there’s a strange scene in which Steiner sends the Russian boy back to his
own lines. (The dialogue is awful, but the imagery lifts the scene.) It’s almost
a Shakespearean moment, as Steiner reflects on one uniform lying beneath
another, the accidents of war and the sides that divide people, the reality of
carnage beneath the hollow ideals.
Once again, it’s a wounding that isolates the protagonist and drives him
deeper into himself. I hadn’t realized before writing this essay how crucial
to these two films, and to the journey they express, are the hospitalization
and recovery of the two men. Both sequences are unsparing of physical mu-
tilation and loss, things most conventional films with violence ignore. The
woundings prevent either man from having a clear, unqualified relationship
to the world he must deal with.
But in Steiner’s case, there really is no other life. It would be hard to say
that this lack of options gives him peace, but it spares him division. Still,
it’s his own war he’s fighting, not someone else’s.
When he refuses to give evidence against Stransky and infuriates Brandt
by saying he hates the uniform he wears and all it stands for, he sets out the
defining contrast of this creation. Brandt himself would be an adequate hero
for a war story; add Kiesel, with his cynical outsider’s detachment, and you

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Human Striving, Human Strife

have a decent pair of ordinary heroes who complement each other: figures
of integrity and competence, with no illusions. Steiner and Peckinpah are in
another dimension entirely, almost in the land of the saints and mystics, where
human measure sinks into pointlessness. And yet, for Steiner, there is nowhere
else to go and nothing else to do. It’s important that Brandt, sending Kiesel
away, is looking beyond the war. Steiner, dragging Stransky to the battle, seeing
the dead Russian boy again, laughing in contempt and futility as the montage
of war photographs plays out, is only looking toward more of the same.
Willi Heinrich’s novel ended with Steiner mortally wounded, being car-
ried away from a weeping Kruger. Peckinpah’s version has Steiner laughing.
He’s come unstuck from all his bonds. He will always be fighting a war he
has no stake in. This is hardly the only way to understand what the world’s
about or how to live in it: but it’s surely one powerful way and nowhere near
the least useful.

Steiner laughing toward the end of Cross of Iron

William James, defending the rough, uncertain, and tragic elements of his
own philosophy, wrote an impassioned protest against the tender-minded,
optimistic, religious idealists of his day: “Is no price to be paid in the work
of salvation? Is the last word sweet? Is all ‘yes, yes’ in the universe? Doesn’t
the fact of ‘no’ stand at the very core of life? Doesn’t the very ‘seriousness’
that we attribute to life mean that ineluctable noes and losses form a part of

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Cordell Strug

it, that there are genuine sacrifices somewhere, and that something perma-
nently drastic and bitter always remains at the bottom of its cup?”5 Peckin-
pah turned questions like these into cinematic visions, things permanently
drastic and bitter that show the seriousness of life and its losses.
I’ll note one last remarkable thing about these two films: both protago-
nists escape the death they very easily might have met at the end of their
stories. (As I mentioned, this is especially striking in Cross of Iron.) But this
escape gives to both works a kind of incompleteness, an easier portability
for any souls that might join them. The battles that these films’ protagonists
can’t win or don’t care about winning are subsumed into a life journey.
Sam Peckinpah will, no doubt, always be remembered for the Westerns.
But these late films expressed something essential in him, some deep vein
of his searching art: battles about nothing and everything; wars without
end; passion, devotion, laughter, and twisted joy. It’s hard, and it’s probably
pointless, to decide which side of despair this mad, mad laughter is on. This
is the soul writhing, raging in its dark night, thrilling and sustaining itself
by its own struggle.

Notes
1. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness, 378–94, esp. 389–91.
2. Biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
3. Weddle, If They Move—Kill ’Em! 513.
4. Compare even the fine set of Budd Boetticher Westerns released on DVD in
2008. Not that distant in time from the Peckinpah films, they seem like movies from
another era.
5. James, Pragmatism, 616–17.

146
Peckinpah’s Last Testament:
The Osterman Weekend
Tony Williams

We’re all being programmed and I bitterly resent it.


—Sam Peckinpah

M ost critics usually regard Sam Peckinpah’s last film as a disappoint-


ing conclusion to his cinematic legacy. Biographer David Weddle
describes it as a work where “one had to squint hard to spot the traces of a
once-great talent” and as “a pretentious, hopelessly muddled potboiler with
a few nice performances and fitfully energetic action sequences.”1 Written
by Alan Sharp, scenarist of Ulzana’s Raid (1971) and Night Moves (1975), The
Osterman Weekend (1983) is based on a mediocre novel by Robert Ludlum.
Peckinpah hoped the project would facilitate his return to Hollywood. This
did not happen. His last assignment was directing two short music videos
to promote Julian Lennon’s latest album for Charisma Records in 1984.
Peckinpah died at the end of that year after ironically working within a
visual apparatus he had criticized in his last film.
Despite Peckinpah’s dissatisfaction with the finished product, The Osterman
Weekend does not deserve dismissal. Key differences exist between film and
novel, the former excelling in making audiences feel the confusion experienced
by characters who are manipulated in such a manner they know nothing. This
makes the film far more superior to the novel since Peckinpah employed audio
and visual techniques long familiar to him from his experience in film and tele-
vision to emphasize such feelings. Far from being regarded as another chapter
in the fall of “Bloody Sam,” The Osterman Weekend needs recognition in terms
of what it actually attempts to do. Peckinpah does not deserve the admonish-
ment uttered by the elderly bank clerk in The Wild Bunch (1969): “I don’t care
what you meant to do. It’s what you did I don’t like.” Despite reediting by the
producers, the film’s intention and achievement are complementary.

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Tony Williams

The Osterman Weekend is another Peckinpah film critically interrogating


the roots of violence in the human psyche. It is set in a dehumanized late-
twentieth-century world influenced and controlled by a media the director
distrusted. Peckinpah saw television as a new weapon in the hands of those
deadly corporate forces condemned in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973),
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), and The Killer Elite (1975). Like
Straw Dogs (1971), The Osterman Weekend intends to alienate audiences in
the hope that they may not only confront dangerous aspects of corporate
violence but also understand the contemporary role of technology. As Ga-
brielle Murray notes, despite the unsubtle nature of the plot, “we still find
in Peckinpah a dazzling inventiveness as he turns this film into an explora-
tion of facets of reality, commenting on the unreliability of technological
communication while turning the screen into a multi-purpose surveillance
screen.”2 This brief insight from one of the recent studies of the director’s
work necessitates further examination. It is unlikely Peckinpah ever read
Michel Foucault. Had he done so, might he have enjoyed undermining the
Discipline and Punish aspects of the media even more?
As in Straw Dogs, The Osterman Weekend’s real focus is on a victim of
psychological torture who moves toward the position of victimizer. In earlier
films, Deke Thornton in The Wild Bunch and Amy Sumner in Straw Dogs
undergo different forms of male institutional violence. Although each bears
deep psychological scars from their experiences, neither character turns into
a brutal aggressor. By contrast, in The Osterman Weekend, Peckinpah de-
picts Lawrence Fassett (John Hurt) as an anguished victim of an inhumane
corporate system, “tortured into unconscionable acts.”3 Although Peckinpah
lacked the creative freedom he had on Straw Dogs, both films complement
each other by emphasizing the roles of victims of institutional psychological
torture, roles far more crucial to the narrative than those of the main actors.
The Osterman Weekend is really a unique cinematic last testament of Peck-
inpah’s fascination with dark individual psyches and oppressive institutions.
Peckinpah did encounter problems with Sharp’s screenplay, such as clearly
defining Fassett’s activities and motivations and the lack of a character to
empathize with. However, these “problems” are more positive than nega-
tive. The film is another attempt to translate one of Peckinpah’s influences,
Bertholt Brecht, into Hollywood narrative. The director tried this in his own
particular manner by intuitively directing a film completely different in
style and content from the usual type of contemporary film. It engages in a

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deliberate non-pleasurable assault upon viewers’ sensibilities in the hope that


they will understand the full implications of the material they are viewing.
Peckinpah certainly wished to return to Hollywood and show producers
that he could be reliable again by directing a feature film without any of the
problems associated with his negative image. He made several compromises,
the chief being forfeiting the creative control he had on earlier films and
trying to make an acceptable film that would succeed at the box office. One
may ask whether making any “acceptable” film was possible for Peckinpah
to do in the first place. He had already tried this with Convoy (1978). The
Osterman Weekend pleased neither director nor producers.
However, the film is no failure but rather a subversive modernist work
where style creates a particular type of meaning that challenges the insti-
tutional mode of representation within Hollywood and its preferred type
of audience reception. Peckinpah wrote several memos to his editors ac-
knowledging the film as a failure. Since the film lacks a hero to love and
a villain to hate, Peckinpah suspected audiences would find the material
much too alienating.4 As in the comments by the bank clerk in the opening
scene of The Wild Bunch, differences existed between intention and deed.
It is to the film’s credit that the latter prevailed despite the fact that many
did not like it. But these so-called flaws are important characteristics of a
film made within a Hollywood that Peckinpah wanted to reenter but that
he also distrusted. The Osterman Weekend exhibits creative tension. Rather
than merely supply product, Peckinpah wished to combat what he saw as
dangerous new forms of corporate control. He employed a style designed
to make his audience think dispassionately and, one would hope, arrive at
radical conclusions. The Osterman Weekend does not merely embody Peck-
inpah’s personal reservations but also intuitively contains features relevant
to certain theories of television spectatorship that are unconscious patterns
on the part of the director.

Authorship
Both in life and in work, Peckinpah often exhibited an antagonistic rela-
tionship to the reactionary forces of his era, whether in the wider political
landscape or the corporate goals within the studio system that aimed at con-
trolled forms of information and entertainment. Peckinpah’s films condemn
the roles of government, media, business, and military intelligence that try to
manipulate human subjectivity. To describe him as not being a team player

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is an understatement. But his final film is not perversely idiosyncratic. The


Osterman Weekend belongs to the director’s modern films such as Straw
Dogs, Junior Bonner (1972), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), and
The Killer Elite (1975) that deliver pessimistic verdicts on those individual
male descendants of westerners such as Steve Judd, Amos Dundee, Deke
Thornton, Cable Hogue, and Pat Garrett. These former pioneers undergo
different types of bodily and spiritual humiliations that foreshadow the bleak
condition of their successors, who no longer have a geographical frontier
to escape to. Trapped within a more circumscribed world, mentally and
physically, they encounter greater pressures leading to deeper and more
dangerous internal and external forms of violence. Corporate forces once
pursuing the Wild Bunch and Billy the Kid now use technological methods
against their victims. The Osterman Weekend begins with video surveil-
lance of sexual intimacy, corporate assassins killing a helpless woman, and
the mental agony suffered by her bereaved husband. It reveals a brave new
dystopian world where subjectivity undergoes assault by a television appa-
ratus under the control of a dehumanizing system. This is a very different
world from the early frontier environment of Peckinpah’s Western films.
Technology now plays a more prominent role.

The Role of the Television Apparatus


Peckinpah challenges such media control in The Osterman Weekend. He
does so in the opening scene, trapping viewers into a voyeuristic form of
seductive identification with a sexual act and then undermining it to reveal
an act of violence, a strategy similar to that of Hitchcock in the shower
scene of Psycho (1960). Shot in video imagery resembling a 1970s or 1980s
low-budget pornographic movie, The Osterman Weekend’s opening scenes
evoke voyeuristic tendencies that seem to echo Laura Mulvey’s classic thesis
whereby the male is the bearer of the gaze while the female is the object.
Male viewers would supposedly enjoy gazing at a sexual encounter before
the brutally sadistic attack on the female body. Such a scene may evoke
that familiar charge of “gratuitous violence” usually brought against the
director. But what initially appears to be a porno movie soon turns into a
snuff film, evoking Fassett’s later line, “Just another episode in this whole
snuff soap opera we’re all in.” Audiences soon discover that they are viewing
closed-circuit video surveillance of a scene supposedly occurring in the pres­
ent but actually depicting a past event. Peckinpah undermines the normal

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type of audience perception by utilizing Brechtian alienation techniques.


Fassett leaves his wife to take a cold shower, an act he appears to take mas-
ochistic pleasure in. By contrast, she takes pleasure in her own sexuality
by masturbating, thereby incurring patriarchal wrath in a similar manner
to Hitchcock heroines in Psycho and Marnie (1964).5 Two assassins enter.
When Fassett returns, he discovers her dead body. A romantic couple be-
come victims of East and West collaborating in murder. In The Killer Elite,
Mac (Burt Young) warns Mike Locken (James Caan), “They’re both out to
hurt you.” Fassett also discovers this fact.
Peckinpah tracks the camera back to reveal CIA chief Maxwell Danforth
(Burt Lancaster) and his associate Walter Stennings (Sandy McPeak) view-
ing the footage. Danforth remarks, “Nasty business, Stennings.” He both
ignores and disavows this latest ugly episode in CIA history. Peckinpah ma-
nipulates his audience in several ways. He not only shows that what appeared
to be in present time is a past event but also changes audience perceptions,
from subjective fascination to repugnance at a sadistic act and then to ob-
jective analysis by revealing that CIA officials sanctioned a brutal murder.
Audiences initially share in the same subjective gazes of these authority
figures, but then they understand who has ordered this gruesome act of
corporate murder. Danforth believes that his employee Fassett knows noth-
ing about his role in the murder. But Fassett does. He intends to manipulate
Danforth and others in a carefully engineered act of revenge employing the
very same visual apparatus used against him in the opening scene.
Fassett also confuses and manipulates John Tanner (Rutger Hauer) dur-
ing most of the film. He shows him surveillance footage of Tanner’s friends,
reedited to convey a false message suggesting espionage activity. Fear from
being real, the visual medium is contradictory and contrary, manufactur-
ing lies rather than truth. Using the spy thriller genre, Peckinpah takes
viewers on a journey designed to undermine rather than reinforce their
accustomed form of spectatorship. Based on his knowledge of television,
Peckinpah directs a film characterized by self-conscious analysis of the
television apparatus in a manner revealing his intuitive grasp of certain
theories of television spectatorship.
Sandy Flitterman-Lewis recognizes a dispersal effect in television im-
agery and provides a relevant context toward understanding audiovisual
strategies operating within The Osterman Weekend. Noting that the televi-
sion apparatus involves a particular “fascination in fragments,” she further

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Tony Williams

remarks that “the subject-effect that results from primary identification in


the cinema is fragmented, displaced, and multiplied into modes of suspen-
sion and delay. . . . Television’s fractured viewing situation explodes this
coherent entity, offering in the place of the ‘transcendental subject’ of cin-
ematic viewing, numerous partial identifications, not with characters but
with views.”6 Although others believe that television provides viewers with
a sense of omnipotence, placing them in a type of passive consumerist posi-
tion, Flitterman-Lewis presents another type of television construction that
challenges the usual type of viewer identification and offers multiple types
of pleasure.7 However, Peckinpah offers his audience no such pleasures.
Instead, he intuitively employs these fragmentary and fractured aspects
of television, presenting instead more alienating “views.” Rather than cel-
ebrating the unique formal nature of the television apparatus, he concludes
instead that the only solution lies in switching off.
Peckinpah uses fractured and fragmented television techniques to under-
mine the visual coherence that the viewer would expect from a mainstream
Hollywood narrative. He unveils the dangerous aspect of the media, show-
ing how it may damage even those who have justice on their side. His film
avoids any type of primary identification with characters or a spy movie
scenario, examining instead the manipulatory apparatus of twentieth-cen-
tury media. What appears coherent and commonsense—such as Tanner’s
friends’ involvement in espionage—is actually a “fractured” and “fragmen-
tary” manipulation of different audio and visual elements. Removed from
their original context, they deceive even an expert like Tanner. But Tanner
has become an arrogant godlike figure dominating the television screen, as
we see in his Face to Face show, becoming as seduced by his visual power
as Fassett becomes later in the film.
The Osterman Weekend deceptively utilizes cinematic voyeuristic devices
in its opening scene. It aims to undermine a type of effect whereby the media
produces acceptable passive subject positions for viewers to take by moving
toward a more alienating and critical perspective. Danforth, Fassett, and
Tanner believe themselves to be transcendental subjects in full control dur-
ing certain parts of the film. But Peckinpah undermines this. He instead
presents audiences with “views” that are much more radical.
The Osterman Weekend’s quasi-Brechtian strategies operate in a self-
conscious formal manner by a director who also had considerable televi-
sion experience. His 1954 MA thesis explored technical problems associated

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Peckinpah’s Last Testament

with filming a closed-circuit television production of Tennessee Williams’


Portrait of a Madonna, an early sketch for A Streetcar Named Desire, both
of which deal with social oppression of human sexuality.8 Peckinpah also
directed four stage productions of The Glass Menagerie during this time.
Paul Seydor notes that Peckinpah “also found in Williams a reflection of
his own weakness for all the misfits, drifters, and outsiders in the world.”9
Fassett’s anguished character belongs in this category.
Throughout The Osterman Weekend, audience and characters become
inserted within multiple identifications, a technique that challenges any
sense of comprehension and mastery. Whenever one feels secure in defining
what is happening, a new factor arises questioning the previous assessment.
Fassett, Tanner, and Danforth continually move from being self-contained
subjects to objects of manipulation. Danforth moves from master of the gaze
in the film’s opening to its victim in the climax. Fassett and Tanner oscillate
between being subjects and objects of the televisual gaze. Tanner moves
from confident talk-show host to a manipulated puppet by Fassett’s editing
room techniques. He returns to a position of control at the end, challeng-
ing viewers to reject lies inherent in the television apparatus. Fassett moves
from masochistic victim to sadistic voyeuristic controller to masochistic
victim by the end of the film, wanting Tanner to put him out of his misery.
The Osterman Weekend contains no “happy ending.” Nor does it provide
any firm subject position for its viewers. It contains features defined by Jean
Baudrillard. By being both at the video screen control panel and under the
camera’s gaze, Fassett and Tanner evoke Baudrillard’s definition of those
“schizophrenics” whose private spaces, minds, and bodies undergo invasion
by the communication televisual apparatus. They become what Baudril-
lard describes as “private telematics”—seeing themselves at the controls
of a hypothetical machine, “isolated in a position of perfect and remote
sovereignty,” at an infinite distance from their universe of origin.10 Bernard
Osterman (Craig T. Nelson) accuses Tanner of this very sovereignty, believ-
ing his friend manipulates the others. “You know something about this,
don’t you? You’re threatening them and manipulating them. You’re always
so sure that you’re right, sitting on your damn throne.” Tanner is also being
manipulated, as Osterman recognizes.
Two early scenes foreshadow Tanner’s position as Fassett’s manipulated
victim. In the first, Fassett, Danforth, and Stennings watch Face to Face.
Although Tanner appears as sovereign host, the three describe him as if

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Tony Williams

Media and manipulation. The Osterman Weekend

they are getting him “warmed up,” a line also anticipating how they intend
to program him. In the second scene, Tanner regally views his recorded
confrontation with General Keever (Hansford Rowe). All of the major char-
acters in the film believe themselves to be in positions of “perfect and remote
sovereignty,” an illusion The Osterman Weekend fragments in different ways.
But nobody is supreme controller of the illusion, since all major characters
become manipulated in different ways.
Arguing against applying Screen psychoanalytic theories to television,
Robert H. Deming proposes instead a model of multiple subject positions
more relevant to television viewers. He refers to social and historical condi-
tions governing the text’s existence. “The psychoanalytic reconstruction of
the subject cannot, necessarily and easily, be adapted to televisual viewing
and its text-subject relations, nor can it explain all viewing. The subject for
television has to be theorized in its cultural and historical specificity, an area
where psychoanalytic theory is notably weak.”11 Deming’s concept of mul-
tiple subject positions applies to The Osterman Weekend, a work whose very
nature refuses any attempt at totalitarian control. Ronald Reagan now takes
the place of Richard Nixon as Peckinpah’s bête noire, the director using the
weapons of television against both a common enemy and the way televi-
sion is used. Peckinpah hoped his audiences would also take up different

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Peckinpah’s Last Testament

types of multiple subject positions in the era of a “Great Communicator”


who articulated a right-wing message he believed Americans would accept
without question.
The Osterman Weekend criticizes television manipulation of human sub-
jects. Fassett describes Danforth as “Big Brother Max” who “knows every-
thing.” He arranges a meeting for Tanner with Danforth, playing upon the
talk-show host’s desire to humiliate the CIA bureaucrat in a “cat-and-mouse”
game similar to tactics used against Keever. Before Danforth appears, the
graffiti “Gato” prominently appears on the wall of the warehouse where Tan-
ner will meet him. Although both characters believe that they are the cat, they
are really manipulated mice. Tanner wishes to trap Danforth on television.
Danforth approves Fassett’s scheme of using Tanner to trap his friends. Fas-
sett manufactures evidence to seduce Danforth and Tanner into playing his
deadly television game. Fassett believes he is in total control, but he is not.
He becomes trapped by his violent fantasies within a television mousetrap.
When Danforth tells Tanner, “Suppose I tell you that our enemies are
capable of impairing rational thought, of dismantling our willingness to
defend ourselves, of disassociating whole societies from their value systems,”
Tanner replies, “You mean, they’ve got television as well!” Tanner recognizes
that Danforth projects his paranoia against a convenient external scapegoat.
However, Tanner becomes seduced by Fassett’s manipulated surveillance
footage providing “evidence” of his friends’ espionage activities. He is not
as objective as he thinks. The television apparatus can easily undermine
practitioners and audiences at any time for authoritarian purposes. Dan-
forth tells Tanner, “Comfort yourself with the fact that you never had a
choice. That’s usually the case.” Fassett says to him, “Just behave normally.
You don’t have to do anything. We do it all” in an exercise designed “to
make everything seem as normal as possible.” He later tells Osterman and
Tanner that it is impossible to switch off the television monitor in Tanner’s
house. “You know better than that, Bernie. It’s your business, both of you,
addicting people so they can’t switch off.”
Peckinpah rejects Marshall MacLuhan’s well-known utopian tenet “the
medium is the message.” He reveals that television’s hidden message is au-
thoritarian control. Fassett tells Tanner, “We rely too much on sight, don’t
you think? Appearances being what they are?” Produced at a time of Hol-
lywood qualitative decline and the growth of corporate control, The Oster-
man Weekend notes how negative aspects of television can overwhelm any

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Tony Williams

creative talents who believe they can easily oppose this tendency. It eventu-
ally destroys them in a manner increasingly blurring boundaries between
reality and fantasy. As Osterman says, in such a world, “The truth is a lie
that hasn’t been found out.”
Danforth phones Tanner while the latter watches his television confron-
tation with Keever, who, during the Cold War, suppressed knowledge of
Japanese World War II biological warfare experiments on US servicemen.
During that era, Keever controlled dangerous information, but he becomes
humiliated on television in the same way that Danforth will be at the end
of the film. Danforth agrees to Fassett’s scheme of programming Tanner.
When Danforth phones Tanner to arrange a meeting, we see that his office
overlooks a graveyard, perhaps one for servicemen who have “died for their
country” in hidden agendas they knew nothing about, becoming sacrificial
victims for the national good. Unlike the incompetent Keever, Danforth
believes that he can use the media to manipulate others. However, as Peck-
inpah shows, no one is invincible in this type of situation.
Throughout the film, Peckinpah “lays bare” the device of video editing
in a Brechtian manner, showing audiences how they can be manipulated
in ways they do not consciously perceive. Danforth’s character conflates
Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. Bush, the latter a former
CIA director. As the opening scene shows, Danforth is fascinated by the
media apparatus and intends to use it to produce passive consumers for his
right-wing agenda. However, Peckinpah disrupts the usual type of viewer
identification mechanisms that make this possible. He emphasizes instead
floating subject positions, revealing both the brutality of male violence and
patriarchal complicity with a murderous act. Peckinpah critically aims to
undermine normal cinematic and televisual modes of identification. He
aims to “alienate” viewers into conscious awareness, as seen in an opening
scene containing different subject positions in a manner approximating
Michelle Hilmes’ definition of a particular type of television direct address:

Freud writes of psychopathic voyeurism as the attempt by the voyeur


to overcome and sublimate loathing of the sexual act. The exposure
of the voyeur leads to the emotion of shame, an opposing force which
can be used in treatment to fight against the activity. . . . Television, on
the other hand, first allows the viewer to be drawn into the dramatic
situation then “ruptures the internal plane of reality” by confronting
him with the direct address of the commercial. This has the effect of

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Peckinpah’s Last Testament

exposing the viewer’s desire to be seen without being seen, producing


feelings of shame or guilt which can be appealed to in the language
of the commercial. It also involves the viewer in complicity with the
medium which on the one hand, the direct address of the commercial
or network announcement, abruptly insists on the presence of the
spectator, on the other, that of the closed “filmic” structures of the
narrative, denies his gaze.12

The Osterman Weekend demands an interactive presence on the part


of viewers, who analyze the role played by deceptive technological devices
displayed in the film rather than submit to a manufactured process deny-
ing their conscious presence. Peckinpah challenges traditional Hollywood
visual representation. In The Osterman Weekend, characters and narrative
trajectories fluctuate. Only halfway into the film do we discover reasons
motivating Fassett’s revenge as well as the later fact that surveillance footage
incriminating Tanner’s friends derives from audio-spatial manipulation on
the editing board. Everything is not what it seems. No one appears to ever
be in control. Instead, they are controlled by the image.
In his February 26, 1983, editing memo, Peckinpah describes Fassett as
being “the only person who is innocent” in the film.13 He recognizes that this
agonized character was tortured into committing horrendous acts of violence.
However, Peckinpah also sees him as a dangerous threat. Fassett’s emotional
suffering parallels Amy’s in Straw Dogs, but his violent actions resemble David
Sumner’s in the same film. If Straw Dogs can be seen as a warning against
the destructive effects of rage and hostility erupting within a domestic and
rural environment, then The Osterman Weekend situates this type of behavior
within a corporate world using television technology for destructive ends.

Michel Foucault’s concept of power-knowledge mechanisms also provides


insight into the plight of the characters in The Osterman Weekend, especially
Fassett’s. Foucault writes that “the individual is an effect of power, and at
the same time, it is precisely to the extent to which it is that effect, it is the
element of its articulation. The individual which power has constituted is
at the same time its vehicle.”14
This is exactly what happens to Fassett. As well as being filled with re-
venge like David Sumner, he also becomes controlled by the editing table.
We see this in the sequence during which he spies on Tanner and his guests
like a voyeur. This very action equates him with Danforth in the opening

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Tony Williams

scene. Despite justified vengeance, Fassett becomes controlled by the very


apparatus he uses against his enemies, becoming little better than them.
Fassett may believe he is in control, but the reality is very different, a type
of situation on which Foucault has commented.
It is indeed the case that the gaze has had great importance among the
techniques of power developed in the modern era, but it is far from being
the only, or even the principal, system employed.15 Fassett falls prey to an
irrational and pathological desire for violence when he later attacks Tan-
ner and his guests. Although this makes no logical sense according to the
demands of the usual type of Hollywood screenplay, revenge and violence
do not operate according to any rational laws in Sam Peckinpah’s universe.
Fassett becomes one of Baudrillard’s televisual schizophrenics dominated
by violent feelings. The apparatus that he thinks he controls turns him
into a killer. His gaze is not enough to counter his insane feelings and the
pathological desire for revenge that overwhelms him. Fassett’s attempt at
embracing a controlling panoptic vision only turns him paranoid.
During one scene, Fassett watches a sports game on television at the same
time as he observes other video monitors that show his men following orders
to kill Osterman and Tanner. The whole sequence resembles a deadly virtual
reality television show and reveals how Peckinpah was again ahead of his
time in envisioning a more deadly version of Survivor. This film may have
also influenced another cinematic last testament, Battle Royale 2 (2003), the
posthumous legacy of Kinji Fukasaku, completed by his son Kenta. Like The
Osterman Weekend, Battle Royale 2 received many criticisms concerning
its screenplay trajectory and the lack of any characters for the audience to
identify with. However, like its predecessor Battle Royale (2001), the film
depicts a deadly, dystopian world in which global television offers a scenario
of youngsters slaughtering each other for viewer gratification. Also, Battle
Royale 2 presents a hero forced to use violence against an aggressive adult
world but also deeply wounded by his past experiences and haunted by the
deaths of innocent victims. Fukasaku’s character of Nanahra was a younger,
more conscience-stricken version of Fassett.
Perceptions of time and space destabilize within The Osterman Weekend.
One particular scene reveals Peckinpah’s manipulation of time and space,
“laying bare the device” of the editing table. It opens with a mysterious
image of two men running toward a trailer; the scene quickly lap-dissolves
to a shot of Fassett. This shot then dissolves to a long shot of Tanner at his

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Peckinpah’s Last Testament

control monitor. Fassett observes him on his video screen. Both men spy on
the guests like voyeurs. The first image appears unusual in this sequence of
individual shots. It is not until later that audiences learn that the men going
to the trailer are Tanner and his associate Kelly. The scene is actually from
the future time of the film. Peckinpah places this image out of context. He
contradicts normal Hollywood editing practices, situating audiences in a
destabilized schizophrenic position undermining, rather than confirming,
their usual subject positions. He manipulates audiences in the same way
that Fassett manipulates Tanner. But by placing one image out of context,
Peckinpah deliberately alerts his viewers to one type of manipulation inher-
ent within the visual medium. Audiences need to consider the implications
of this scene, not passively accept it.
Fassett shows Tanner video footage of his wife’s death. Both become
slaves of a technological apparatus that has already destroyed Fassett, mak-
ing him a mechanical embodiment of the Death Instinct. As Terence Butler
comments concerning one scene in The Wild Bunch, that is also very relevant
to Fassett’s actions in The Osterman Weekend: appropriating any aspect
of the enemy’s industrial power may make one ironically identical to that
enemy. “By taking hold of the machine-gun, the Bunch assume the role of a
manic travesty of the father, since the machine gun can be seen subliminally
as a symbol for Mapache’s power.”16 Fassett decides to use video against
Danforth. The cold shower he takes during his wife’s murder reveals deep
masochistic tendencies, tendencies that become sadistic once he begins to
use the destructive technology used on him against others. Fassett moves
from the realm of Eros into that of Thanatos. The combination of sex and
death in this opening scene is not accidental. It exhibits the battle between
Life and Death that characterizes not only Peckinpah’s cinema but also
ideas found in the works of Sigmund Freud and Norman O. Brown. In “The
Economic Problem of Masochism,” Freud shows that close associations exist
between masochism and the Death Instinct.17 As he had earlier revealed in a
1915 essay, sadistic and masochistic tendencies are in constant tension with
each other.18 Freud’s 1929 essay “Civilization and Its Discontents” described
a gloomy world dominated by the Death Instinct well before America’s use
of the atomic bomb.19
Significantly, in a recent study, Benjamin Kerstein sees Peckinpah as
a cinematic artist of Death.20 Many of the director’s characters become
contaminated by the Death Instinct. Tanner is in danger of becoming like

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Fassett. He operates his video surveillance system, intruding into guest


bedrooms in a similar voyeuristic manner. At this juncture, Fassett and
Tanner mechanically exhibit identical types of voyeuristic mechanisms. Far
from being in control, both become infected by dangerous subject positions
in a world where no individual can exercise unadulterated power without
serious personal cost. For Peckinpah, this corporate video eye of Power is as
deadly as the automobile, machine gun, and railroad of his earlier films. By
indulging in voyeuristic video gratification, Tanner seals his own fate. Only
his alliance with Osterman, who embodies a more positive surrogate of the
director than Warren Oates in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, saves
his life, as does the resilient opposition of Tanner’s wife, Ali (Meg Randall).
Prior to this, Tanner becomes a slave of Fassett’s machine. He resembles
the soldier in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, “a fragment of mobile space”
trapped within spatial and temporal boundaries, his body and mind “con-
stituted as part of a multi-segmentary machine.”21 Tanner becomes plugged
into an editing board designed to create false illusions, seducing even the
most seasoned professional. Unless alienated from the lure of the screen,
audiences may fall into the same trap, becoming deadly companions head-
ing toward destruction. The film’s rapid audiovisual cutting techniques are
designed to prevent audiences from responding automatically to manufac-
tured and programmed signals. Foucault suggests Peckinpah’s strategy here:
“From the master of discipline to him who is subjected to it the relation is
one of signalization: it is a question not of understanding the injunction
but of perceiving the signal and reacting to it immediately, according to a
more or less artificial code.”22
Tanner responds to Fassett’s signals in a manner resembling Foucault’s
young Samuel (“Lord, I am here”) until he learns to distance himself. Old
religious imagery of the Father’s “Hear Ye and Obey” occurs in a new con-
text. Both Foucault and Peckinpah recognize significant connections be-
tween religion and twentieth-century power devices. Foucault comments
that “whenever a good pupil hears the noise of the signal, he will imagine
that he is hearing the voice of the teacher or rather the voice of God himself
calling him by name. . . . The pupil will have learnt the code of the signals
and respond automatically to them.”23 Moments before her death, drug ad-
dict Virginia Tremayne (Helen Shaver) relapses into childhood. She sings
a religious hymn as if sensing the presence of that God of Vengeance also
acknowledged by those dark figures played by R. G. Armstrong in Ride the

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Peckinpah’s Last Testament

High Country (1962), Major Dundee (1965), and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
Fassett also ironically addresses Tanner after the death of his friends. “Wor-
shiping graven images again, John? Be of good cheer. Salvation is at hand.”
Fassett later challenges Danforth to kill him on television and “be the new
Savior risen in the time of need.” Life and death power now resides within
Fassett, who sits on a technological throne in his trailer, ready to punish
the ungodly with new weapons. Fassett becomes little better than Danforth.
There is no Wild Bunch to take him on. Instead, individual agency becomes
limited, and only unforeseen accidents aid whoever survives.
Tanner and Osterman later collaborate by manipulating time and space
against Fassett. But now, the goal is more worthy: exposing Danforth as
Fassett desires and rescuing Tanner’s family, who have been kidnapped
by Fassett. Osterman is at the control desk running past footage of Tan-
ner interviewing Danforth in present time while Tanner fulfills Fassett’s
death wish by killing him on-screen (this time before an American public)
so that it looks like Danforth has sanctioned it. However, despite victory,
there is no “happy ending.” Although Osterman collaborates with Tanner
as a team exposing Danforth, they are not free agents. As Osterman says
in response to his friend’s question as to how they got into “this mess,” “It’s
called being programmed.”
Tanner directly addresses his Face to Face audience in past-time footage.
He speaks to them in a “Lehrstucke” manner evoking Brechtian techniques,
challenging them to “switch off.” The present time sees Tanner finding his
wife, son, and family dog bound and gagged before a television set. Audi-
ences never finally see them free from captive positions before the screen.
Peckinpah chooses instead to end with a speech evoking Prospero’s fi-
nal appearance in The Tempest, a text Seydor relates to The Ballad of Cable
Hogue (1970).24 But it operates in a very different manner within the context
of a very different film. Seydor concludes his excellent study of The Ballad
of Cable Hogue by remarking that he hopes that his readers “do not take
it lightly.”25 The same is true of a film depicting a dystopian technological
nightmare rather than an earlier pastoral dream. Taking the role of Brecht­
ian chorus, Tanner “lays bare the device” structuring the entire film. “What
you just saw in a way was a life-size video game. You saw a liar talk to a
killer and you couldn’t tell them apart. Who cares? It’s only television. As
you all know, television programs are just the fillers between attempts to
steal your money, so if you want to save some, switch off. It’s simple. It’s

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Another victim of media influence, tethered and muzzled. The Osterman Weekend

done with the hand and what is left of your free will. This is the moment.
My bet is you can’t do it. Go ahead and try.”
The image changes to an empty control room. Osterman and his produc-
tion team are absent. Tanner appears on the television monitor, smiling in
defiance at his audience. His image suddenly fragments. A crash or gunshot
occurs on the soundtrack. The final scene reveals an empty television studio,
leaving us with no comforting resolution of a happy ending. Danforth may
have regained control. Or, the television studio is finally deserted, never to
be inhabited again by future victims.
Peckinpah’s last testament reveals that it is dangerous for any human
being to be left alone in a television studio or control room or before the tele-
vision screen. He asserts the impossibility of ever controlling a monstrous
Panoptic television apparatus. It is almost as if he could sense Foucault’s
response to the question toward the conclusion of the “Eye of Power” es-
say. When asked whether it is better for prisoners to take over the central
tower’s eye of power, Foucault replies, “Oh yes, provided that isn’t the final
purpose of the operation. Do you think it would be much better to have
the prisoners operating the Panoptic apparatus and sitting in the central
tower rather than the guards?”26 The final credit scene of an empty studio
is Peckinpah’s answer. He knew all too well that technology’s temptations
are far too great. His final legacy is his last testament, taking the form of a
film still challenging today in form and content.

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Notes
1. Weddle, If They Move—Kill ’Em! 537.
2. Murray, “Sam Peckinpah.”
3. Prince, Savage Cinema, 219; see also Peckinpah’s editing memo of February 26,
1983, on 267 n. 15.
4. Ibid., 218.
5. Bellour, “Hitchcock—The Enunciator”; “Psychosis, Neurosis, Perversion,” 121–22,
126–34.
6. Flitterman-Lewis, “Psychoanalysis, Film and Television,” 217, 219.
7. Ibid., 225–38.
8. Peckinpah, “An Analysis of the Method used in Producing and Directing a One
Act Play for the Stage and Closed Circuit Television Broadcast.”
9. Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration, 348.
10. Baudrillard, “Ecstasy of Communication,” 128
11. Deming, “Television Spectator-Subject,” 49.
12. Hilmes, “Television Apparatus,” 31.
13. Prince, Savage Cinema, 219.
14. Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 155.
15. Ibid., 88.
16. Butler, Crucified Heroes, 60.
17. Freud, “The Economic Problem of Masochism,” 409–26. See also the development
of these ideas in Brown, Life Against Death.
18. Freud, “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes,” 105–38.
19. Freud, “Civilization and Its Discontents,” 243–340.
20. Kerstein, “The Last Man.”
21. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 164.
22. Ibid., 166.
23. Ibid.,
24. Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films­—A Reconsideration, 237–52.
25. Ibid., 253.
26. Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 164–65.

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Dawn and Dusk
Gérard Camy
translated by Jean-Paul Gabert

T he Deadly Companions and The Osterman Weekend are respectively


the first attempt and the ultimate work of an eventful cinematographic
career, filled with masterpieces (Ride the High Country, Straw Dogs, The Wild
Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Cross of Iron) and punctuated by
Homeric battles with producers and studio companies (Major Dundee, Pat
Garrett and Billy the Kid, Convoy). Sam Peckinpah, always on the periphery
and rebellious toward Hollywood ideology, is still without doubt one of the
most important American directors.
Throughout the fourteen films he directed, he has unfolded a reflection
of the utmost depth, on both a thematic and an aesthetic level. With his six
Westerns, he actively takes part in the radical questioning of the genre and of
its mythology. With seven of his other films, whose action takes place between
1970 and 1983, he casts a ferocious and disillusioned glance at today’s America.
Finally, in Cross of Iron, he explores the aspects of violence in its complete
social dimension by diving into the inferno of World War II. Peckinpah’s
work proceeds from a sensitivity in which vision and passion, romanticism
and irony coexist. The world he depicts echoes his own contradictions. Good
emulates Evil, and ambiguity rules. While he denounces the individual compe-
tition that is constitutive of capitalism, he keeps entire faith in man. When he
debunks the absurdities of the American Dream, he often stops on the way to
indulge in the romantic illusion of a final (and usually desperate) adventure.
By analyzing the two films that frame his film work, my aim is not to
measure the distance between them but rather, with regard to the first one,
to point out the first hints at his future reflections that are more than just
inklings, even if Peckinpah railed against the studios that didn’t allow him

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his final cut. In the second one, I try to figure out the elements that make
it his final achievement, albeit not his best film (because it is not), as the
movie unveils his vision of cinema, life, and the world in light of his previ-
ous thirteen experiences.

The Deadly Companions: Dawn


Around 1870, a former Union officer nicknamed Yellowleg (because of a
yellow stripe sewn on his army trousers) saves a man about to be hanged.
The latter happens to be Turk, a man who had tried to scalp Yellowleg while
he was lying, wounded, on one of the battlefields of the Civil War. Yellowleg
joins Turk and his friend Billy Keplinger to rob a bank in Gila City, but
also—and above all—to quench his thirst for revenge against Turk. How-
ever, a gang of outlaws robs the bank before Yellowleg and his companions
ever enter it. The robbers, leaving the bank, draw the trio’s fire. During the
shooting, Yellowleg accidentally kills Mead, the young son of Kit Tilden, a
widow and saloon hostess. Shocked, Kit plans to leave for Siringo in order
to bury her son in his father’s grave. Remorseful, Yellowleg follows her in
spite of her objections, and he forces his two companions to come with him.
One night, Billy tries to rape Kit. Yellowleg interferes and makes him leave.
Turk follows him, and both of them go back to rob the bank. Yellowleg and
Kit go on to face the dangers of a long trip across Indian territory, and they
end up, exhausted, in the ghost town of Siringo. Billy and Turk, following
their successful robbery, brutally reappear. The three men confront one
another in a gunfight. Billy shoots Turk, who then kills him from behind.
Yellowleg rushes on Turk to scalp him, but Kit stops him in the act. Gila
City’s militia, chasing the two robbers, arrives. Delirious, Turk is arrested,
Mead is buried, and Kit and Yellowleg leave together, having found the path
to love through this adventure.
At the request of Brian Keith (the same actor who played Dave Blass-
ingame in the TV series The Westerner and who now took on the role of
Yellowleg), Peckinpah was hired in 1961 by Pathe America and Carousel
Productions to make his first feature film after a long career in television.
He accepted, hoping to improve the mediocre script that A. S. Fleischman
had written. Unfortunately, the production didn’t allow Peckinpah to change
anything. He then made it plain and clear that there would be nothing
personal in this first project. And yet, from one sequence to the next, The
Deadly Companions is filled with a thousand Peckinpahian ideas.

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Throughout the twenty-one days of shooting at the Old Tucson Studios


in Arizona and in their surroundings, awful weather conditions didn’t fa-
cilitate his work; and the producer Charles B. FitzSimons, the brother of
Maureen O’Hara (who played Kit in the film), kept trying to impose his own
views on the movie. But FitzSimons didn’t have many ideas, and The Deadly
Companions was his first and last production. Peckinpah discreetly patched
up the failing script, thanks to innovative shots. Unsatisfied, however, he
quit the making of the film after a first editing that FitzSimons quickly and
poorly modified. Interviewed by Ernest Callenbach in Film Quarterly in
1963, Peckinpah declared that at the end of the movie, Brian Keith was sup-
posed to kill Steve Cochran’s Billy. The film was cut and reedited so that the
viewers were led to believe that Billy had been killed by Chill Wills’ Turk.
The only thing that wasn’t changed was Marlin Skiles’ original score.
There is no doubt that the film, conceived as an endless, obsessive quest
on the part of Kit and Yellowleg, is totally taken off-balance by the absurd
final cut of the producer. The characters of the Indian (savagery and violence)
and Billy (“the womanizer”) mirror what Yellowleg and Kit want to forget,
and their fulfillment can be achieved only through the disappearance of
these two pictures of vengeance and contempt. To allow them to take up
a true identity, each of them, according to Peckinpah, had to destroy the
other’s image. But while Kit lays Yellowleg’s ghost to rest by destroying the
lonely Apache, the logic that required Yellowleg to kill Billy, in a meaningful
symmetry, is not respected.
However, in other Peckinpah films, the logic of obsession or of vengeance
is not respected either: in Major Dundee, the Indian Charriba, who haunts
the dreams of the major (played by Charlton Heston), will not be killed by
the latter; in The Wild Bunch, Deke (Robert Ryan) never gets to arrest Pike
(William Holden), whose body is removed by bounty hunters before Deke’s
reappearance toward the film’s end; and finally, in The Killer Elite, Hansen
(Robert Duvall) is killed by Miller (Bo Hopkins), thus preventing the duel
between Hansen and Locken (James Caan). These lapses in predictable logic
prevent the heroes from reaching the ultimate goal of their quest (killing) and
conversely lead them onto paths toward true peace of mind: Yellowleg will
find Kit’s love; Major Dundee, while witnessing the sacrifice of the southerner
Tyreen (Richard Harris), will understand the importance of the bonds that
tie a man to his nation; Deke will leave with the revolutionary Mexicans in
a way comparable to Locken’s leaving by boat, alone, toward the open seas.

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For the shooting of The Deadly Companions, Peckinpah had to use Pathe
Color film because the Pathe Company produced the film. This film stock
happens to be good for interior shots, but those shot in exterior locations
are of poor quality, despite director of photography William Clothier’s ef-
forts, who was an expert at Westerns (he had often worked with John Ford).
The night scenes are particularly dark. Finally, the colors of the film were
processed by the worst laboratory in Los Angeles. Although all these dif-
ficulties piled up, Peckinpah was not prevented from making an original
film. He was able to create characters endowed with a real psychological
depth. The script is the only element that sticks to the rules of the genre.
However, American critics didn’t like The Deadly Companions. But because
of its dynamic (a trip into the past) and its theme (an inner battle against
the temptations of savagery), this film already fit into the director’s body
of work. This would be obvious for French spectators, who discovered the
film in July 1977 under the title New Mexico, after they had had the chance
to see all the movies by Peckinpah since 1962’s Ride the High Country. The
French critics then considered that far from being a mere “vehicle” for the
star, Maureen O’Hara, the movie allowed, in retrospect, the improvement
of one’s knowledge of the underrated work of one of the most important
American directors. “Without being an intellectual western . . . The Deadly
Companions is bestowed the attributes of the post-modern western insofar
as it debunks the conquest of the West, just like its alter ego: Arthur Penn’s
The Left Handed Gun. [Peckinpah directs the film] with as much irony and
verve as . . . ferociousness.”1
Starting from this archetypal history of the Western (vengeance, physi-
cal and moral journey, key locations), Sam Peckinpah was able to give his
film the dimension of a desperate tragedy; however, the movie was such a
commercial flop that Warner Brothers released it again under a different
title (Trigger Happy, 1965)—without much more success, for that matter.
This first painful cinematic experience would reinforce Peckinpah’s sickly
aversion for producers. Very soon, none of them would find grace in his eyes.
If The Deadly Companions didn’t contain the trademarks that would shock
viewers of The Wild Bunch (catharsis of violence, slow-motion shots dur-
ing the gun shootings, spurts of blood coming out of bullet-ridden bodies,
swift succession of short shots, parallel editing accompanied by deafening
soundtrack special effects), it anticipated his future work by presenting a
Western that had abandoned its myths and that had without doubt lost its

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grandeur. To signify the loss of innocence and the decadence of the genre, the
only character to be killed by the hero is a child, the victim of a stray bullet.
In this first Western, Peckinpah finds himself at a crossroads of influ-
ences, particularly John Ford (a classic mise-en-scène) and Anthony Mann
(the tortured landscaped equated with the protagonist’s state of mind). It
includes amazing and baroque elements, on the verge of surrealism, which
bring the Western to different shores as Peckinpah introduces characters
filled with a disturbing ambiguity.
In the saloon at the beginning of the film, Yellowleg and Billy set Turk
free as he’s hung by a rope, off-balance, perched on a barrel after having
cheated in a game of poker. As the three men run away, Billy stops for a
second in front of a mirror that reflects his image. He shoots at it, breaking
the glass and annihilating the picture. Here’s the establishing shot of The
Deadly Companions. The bad guy reveals his conscience problems, and
he prefers to deny them in a destructive and cynical way. Twelve years
later, in a more tragic context, Pat Garrett (James Coburn), who has just
killed Billy (Kris Kristofferson) at the end of Pat Garret and Billy the Kid,
reenacts exactly the same movement. He can’t stand looking at his own
image after the crime he has just committed. And there, cynicism gives
way to disgust.
Yellowleg opens a long list of Peckinpahian heroes, pathetic strangers
in a world that rejects them, desperately trying to find a reason for living.
They’re mentally and often physically impaired: Yellowleg and Pike Bishop
are handicapped by an old wound. Amos Dundee, Mike Locken, and Rolf
Steiner (James Coburn, Cross of Iron) will be more or less seriously injured.
As for Steve Judd (Joel McCrea, Ride the High Country), he has to put on
glasses to read his contract.
Yellowleg can’t raise his right arm correctly. That same handicap, evalu-
ated by a doctor at the beginning of the film, will be the cause of young
Mead’s death. Another sequence from the film is also quite revealing. While
Yellowleg is talking to Kit, Billy, who’s standing behind him, shoots; Yel-
lowleg turns around and draws his gun, but his wound makes him drop his
revolver, which falls to the ground. Billy smiles. This very Mannian scene
is reminiscent of what happens to the wounded James Stewart in The Man
from Laramie. But it also recalls Bishop falling off his horse in front of his
ironical friends in The Wild Bunch. The close-up of Yellowleg’s e revolver

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Dawn and Dusk

in the dust then evokes the close-up of the harmonica left in the street after
Mead’s death. The weapon, proof of Yellowleg’s awkwardness, parallels the
harmonica, symbol of a murdered life.
Yellowleg is also a man confronted with a serious moral dilemma whose
resolution is going to determine the rest of his life. An occasional companion
(Kit) provides him with an all-too-often negative image of his state of mind.
Some other characters (Turk and Billy) are presented as perverted reflections
of his own self. Yellowleg’s thirst for vengeance, nurtured by the all-too-real
scar that mars his forehead and that he keeps hidden under the brim of his
hat, night and day, keeps him alive. It took him five years to find the man
who had tried to scalp him. When facing him, Yellowleg suddenly realizes
that he’s lost the goal that kept him going.
Peckinpah also introduces one of the themes that will pervade his work:
the story of people obliged to work, act, or live together in spite of a shared
antipathy that is latent but sometimes completely overt. The small group
(three men, one woman) of The Deadly Companions and of Ride the High
Country would become a complete army in Major Dundee and Cross of Iron,
a bunch of outlaws in The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, a
union of angry truckers in Convoy.

Billy, Turk, and Yellowleg in The Deadly Companions

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Gérard Camy

Yellowleg, the ex-Union soldier; Kit, the forlorn woman; and Billy and
Turk, former southern rebels and wandering scoundrels, make up this group,
typical of Peckinpah’s films. And it’s around this interwoven structure of
relationships that his whole work is organized. Situations change, not the
“heroes.” Then his deeply personal discourse, reiterated to the extreme and
cruelly pathetic, becomes exciting and outstanding.
As for Kit Tilden, she directly embodies a type of woman we’ll never find
again in Peckinpah’s next films in such a forthright way. Kit is always on equal
footing with her companions, a strong and beautiful woman who stands her
ground in a man’s world filled with violence. Independent, she leads her life
without anybody’s help. She can handle a rifle, and, determined, she knows
what she wants. From the very first scene, in the saloon turned into a church
for the duration of a religious service and then into a court of justice for a
trial, she, in a stoic way, bears the reproaches of a group of bigots whisper-
ing behind her back. When Billy, waiting for the bar to reopen, tries to kiss
her, she vigorously defends herself, thus winning the minister’s admiration.
Maureen O’Hara, superb Fordian actress, echoes Dallas (Claire Trevor), Stage-
coach’s prostitute chased away from the little city of Tonto by other zealots
and forced to ride away on the stagecoach. This beautiful characterization of
a woman who will never change her mind under any kind of pressure may,
in some way, remind the viewer of the nurses of Major Dundee and Cross of
Iron (both played by Senta Berger) or even more precisely of Carol McCoy
(Ali MacGraw) in The Getaway, although neither of them equals the plenitude
that emanates from Kit’s beauty and determination. She refuses to have an
affair with Yellowleg, and then she takes the initiative in making a relationship
happen, even if her son’s death is forgotten. A superb moment consolidates,
for an instant, the union of two desperate destinies in the desert under the
gaze of the Indian who chases them without killing them but puts on them
an unbearable pressure: both of them yield to a surge of affection as well as
despair. A side-glance is given off-frame to the coffin placed on the impro-
vised trestle they have set up. Kit comes back to reality and moves away from
Yellowleg. Later on, during another bivouac, he falls asleep. She comes close
to him to take off his hat and have a look at his scar out of sheer curiosity.
He blocks her hand. “There’s something in me that you don’t understand,”
he says. “You’ve killed the only person that I loved in this world. That’s all I
know about you,” she answers ruthlessly, getting up and moving away. She
had hoped to learn something else about him and to break his shell.

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The day after, their second horse is killed by the Indian. Yellowleg and
Kit carry the coffin and walk across deserted stretches of land planted with
cacti and full of crevices and caves. Peckinpah builds up a complete route,
a Christlike path to redemption (a very Mannian one for that matter) that
is reminiscent of the long march of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’s
Bennie and Elita on their way to bring back the head of a corpse for a reward.
Bennie and Elita get deeper and deeper into Mexican territory; the country-
side becomes drier and drier, monochrome, nightmarish and morbid. The
deeper they immerse themselves in this setting, the closer they approach
death, unlike Kit Tilden and Yellowleg, who, while treading by force, are
briefly going to create something beautiful (like Cable and Hildy in The
Ballad of Cable Hogue), even if their efforts are ceaselessly imperiled. Leav-
ing Kit in a cave, Yellowleg climbs up a rocky hillside to chase the Indian.
Subtle parallel editing makes us feel the presence of the latter inside the
cave itself. Kit looks up. The ghostly, frightening figure that seems to come
right out from Hugo Fregonese’s 1953 film Apache Drums looks at her. She
shoots. Death of the Indian. Yellowleg finds her, sitting beside the Indian’s
prostrate body, holding her rifle in her hands, just like Charles (Robert
Taylor), who dies frozen in Richard Brooks’ 1955 The Last Hunt. He gently
withdraws the rifle from her hands.
Later on, when Yellowleg is about to scalp Turk, Kit’s voice stops his
movement: “Don’t!” “Don’t do it” can be heard a second time, as a perfect
counterpoint to Alfredo Garcia’s young fiancée, Elita, who, pointing out her
father to Bennie, shouts, “Kill him!” thus starting the bloodshed.
Peckinpah’s work favors recurring themes. In this world filled with rough
and brutal men, one particular theme concerns women and is frequently
used: rape. During their trip, in a long bivouac scene, Billy takes advantage
of Kit’s loneliness and tries to rape her. She is nothing but a sexual object to
him, comparable to Elsa, the young girl in Ride the High Country, abused
by the Hammond brothers; Amy Sumner, raped by her ex-boyfriend and
his friend in Straw Dogs; and Elita, raped by Paco, the biker in Bring Me the
Head of Alfredo Garcia.
As for the scuffle between Billy and Yellowleg that follows his interven-
tion to stop the rape, it brings back the image of the night bivouac in Ride
the High Country when Westrum tries to steal Judd’s money. There is a fight
here again, which ends up with a “Come’n get up” from Judd to Westrum,
the same injunction that Yellowleg gives to Billy as he’s chasing him.

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Another recurring theme involves children: Mead, ten years old, in a


close and low-angle shot, blue sky in the background, plays a harmonica
while looking down. Cut. Main Street in Gila City, a small town in the
Wild West. Children play, mimicking a sword fight with sticks. An urchin
looks up and shouts, “Hey pig! Watch this, pig!” The other kids start singing
in chorus, looking in the same direction: “Hey pig! Watch this, pig!” The
camera pans up to focus on Mead with the harmonica. He keeps blowing
his instrument while looking at them. He is standing on a roof. Cut. Close
shot, low-angle camera just like in the first shot. Mead stops playing under
the gibes of the kids standing off-frame. He pulls the instrument from his
mouth and turns to his left. Cut. Wide shot of the house. The motionless
Mead—low-angle shot—watches the trio riding up the street, crossing the
screen (in the same way as, later in the film, the Indian, silhouetted against
the top of the mountain, will watch Yellowleg and Kit). Follow-up shot of the
horse riders. Cut. Front medium shot of the three men. They stop in front of
a store. Mead towers over them from behind on the roof. Turk stays behind
to have his horse shoed. The two others come forward in the street and leave
the frame. The kid runs from roof to roof as if to follow them. Yellowleg
vanishes as well. The camera stays on Turk, who dismounts from his horse.
Mead, who seems to observe the world with surprised, wide-open eyes, is
like Matthew, the director’s son, who sits amid the slaughter in The Wild
Bunch, his arms slung around a young girl’s shoulders; like the elder brother
of the children abducted by Indians in Major Dundee; like the children
decimated by gunfire at the beginning of The Wild Bunch (a shot censored
by the MPAA, though, and exhumed by director Kathryn Bigelow); or first
and foremost like the Russian teenager, Steiner’s prisoner, who also plays
the harmonica and who will die engulfed in the maelstrom of war (Cross
of Iron). Peckinpah includes children several times at the beginning of his
films, sometimes even in the credits as a counterpoint to the introduction
of the main characters. Thus, in The Deadly Companions, they play war in
the middle of the street and make fun of Mead just before Yellowleg and his
two fellow thugs appear. In Ride the High Country, they are reprimanded by
a policeman: “Come on boys, off the street.” In The Wild Bunch, they burn
insects, a metaphor of the future of those lost men of the horde who leisurely
ride past them. In Straw Dogs, nobody prevents them from playing in front
of a graveyard, thus announcing the massacre that is going to take place.
As for the child to be born, who is still in his mother’s womb as she rests on

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a lakeshore in the opening credits of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,


he is the only reason for the senseless carnage that will ensue.
The landscapes in which Peckinpah sets conflicts often have an outland-
ish quality because his frenzied and feverish vision of human relationships
incites him to choose desolate locations whose climate has a subjugating
and obsessive ambience. For instance, the ghost town of The Deadly Com-
panions, a heap of rubble, crumbling walls, and collapsed tombstones, and
above all the oppressive presence of the desert of the West, omnipresent in
all his Westerns, enable the author to establish a permanent moral tension
between the characters. Ceaseless carousels of rocks, wooded mountains,
winding paths, vast stretches of water, snow and sand, stones and dried-up
bushes, immense arid mesas, tortured and gnarled trees, scalding sands,
and an implacable sun constitute a silent commentary upon the harshness
and difficulty of the hero’s trip and upon the roughness of his task. These
deserts will often be endowed by Peckinpah with emblematic creatures that
will be either the tools of a fatal destiny, like the rattlesnake that bites the
horse before being killed by Yellowleg, or the elements of a metaphor such
as the iguana in The Ballad of Cable Hogue, an archaic animal from the
past, bound to be doomed like most of the protagonists, unable to cope with
the modern world. And lurking in darkness, in complete accordance with
the landscape: the Indian. In The Deadly Companions as well as in Major
Dundee, he is depicted as archaic, ghostly, and threatening and always as-
sociated with wilderness. Often foreshadowed by an arrow that, like a bad
omen, is shot to stick itself near a mesmerized victim, the Indian—barely
seen, with his emaciated, painted face—stoops in the shadows, ready to
jump, set a trap, or destroy. He embodies the forces of evil but is also a
kind of projection of America’s sense of guilt. The violent behavior of the
“civilized” ones is comparable to the violence of the natives. The attack of a
stagecoach in The Deadly Companions is reduced to a buffoonery of drunken
Indians, mimicking the white man, parading with top hats and suits and
playing both the role of the assailant and of the assailed. But where are the
real passengers? In a way, the credits of Major Dundee inform us. Next to
a ranch ablaze, massacred bodies are lying down, burned by a group of
Indians, weird brothers in arms of the Apaches of The Deadly Companions.
Right from this first film, Peckinpah imprints a very personal rhythm,
based on calculated slowness, giving time to the characters to establish
themselves through the dialogue, the gazes, and the silences. And suddenly,

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an outburst of violence (the vision of the stagecoach on the edge of a cliff, of


the Indian in the cave, of Billy grabbing Kit to kiss her or to rape her) or an
unexpected action (a night attack on an Indian camp by a lonely Yellowleg
while Kit is quietly taking a midnight swim) unsettles this tense ride and
perturbs oppressive bivouacs. And eventually, we have this amazing final
duel that shows Yellowleg, so involved in his vengeance, go past Billy without
casting a glance at him, while Billy slowly collapses to the ground after be-
ing killed by Turk. Yellowleg rushes to the church where Turk found shelter.
This sequence echoes the ultimate gunfight in Samuel Fuller’s 1957 film Forty
Guns, during which the winner ignores his victim to join his wounded lover.
Even if Sam Peckinpah deeply regretted the fact that he couldn’t rewrite
the film’s script, it is hard not to recognize some familiar themes of the
director in the plot and the setting of The Deadly Companions: his baroque
inventiveness in the narrative treatment of a classic story line and his disil-
lusioned look at conflicting characters who, confronted with chaotic cir-
cumstances, make up unnatural groups, ready to tear at each other.
As early as Ride the High Country, his second film, Peckinpah definitively
sets up the elements of his craft that correspond so well to Gustave Flaubert’s
apocalyptic vision in The Memoirs of a Madman: “For everything will have
an end, and the earth will be worn by constant trampling. . . . Then there
will be a huge laugh of despair, when men see this emptiness, when they
have to leave life for death. . . . And everything will collapse and disappear
into nothingness. . . . A few men still roaming around some arid region will
call out to each other; they will approach each other, then recoil in horror,
terrified at themselves, and they will die.”2

The Osterman Weekend: Dusk


A “live” assassination on a television screen; a CIA executive, Lawrence
Fassett, husband of the woman who was murdered a few minutes before,
proposes to his boss, Maxwell Danforth, a plan to dismantle a spy ring of
the KGB, the Omega ring. The idea is to “win to their cause” three spies with
the help of a famous journalist running a TV talk show, John Tanner, with
whom they’re used to spending a weekend together every year. The latter,
cleverly manipulated, is convinced that the three men are guilty and agrees
to cooperate in unmasking them (with Danforth on-air) during one of his
next live shows. Then Fassett fills Tanner’s house with hidden cameras and
microphones to spy on the suspects—Bernard Osterman, Joseph Cardone,

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and Richard Tremayne—in all their deeds. These three soon become suspi-
cious, and tension quickly builds between them and Tanner. But the three
“Soviet agents” are, in fact, nothing but tax evaders. Tanner starts having
doubts and rushes to Fassett’s control room to ask him to cancel the whole
operation. Fassett refuses and kills Cardone and Tremayne, who were trying
to escape with their wives, and he sets his agents on Osterman and Tanner’s
heels. A deadly manhunt ensues in the villa. Fassett abducts the journalist’s
wife and his son to control him. In fact, Fassett has set up a Machiavellian
plan to take his revenge on Danforth, who had “authorized” Fassett’s wife’s
murder, she being a double agent. He demands to be on the show while
Tanner is interviewing the CIA boss. Thanks to Osterman’s help, by mix-
ing Danforth’s live interview with extracts of recorded questions, Tanner
succeeds in winning over Fassett (secluded in his hideout) and in freeing
his wife and child. But Tanner’s seat remains empty on the TV screen . . .
In 1978, Peckinpah’s erratic attitude during the shooting of Convoy com-
pletely ruined his credibility as a director. Studios didn’t want to have any-
thing to do with him, although they had so often turned a blind eye to his
eccentricities in the name of efficiency and profitability but also his genius.
But enough was enough, and the four following years held nothing but
aborted projects and shattered hopes for the great Sam. If the legend that
built up around him and his work was still alive and commanded admira-
tion among actors and critics, it meant nothing but hateful memories to
Hollywood producers. This bottomless downfall started on May 15, 1979,
with a heart attack that required a pacemaker to be implanted, several weeks’
rest, and a very stressful rehabilitation period.
At the beginning of 1982, as he lived between Mexico and his RV on
Paradise Cove in Malibu, he felt eager to get in touch with the studios
again. Peter Davis and William Panzer, two young producers who had so
far produced only very low-budget films, had acquired the rights to a novel
written by best-selling author Robert L. Ludlum: The Osterman Weekend.
The script had already been rewritten several times. The latest version was
the work of English author Alan Sharp, who had previously scripted Ul-
zana’s Raid (1972), which was directed by Michael Winner. Davis and Pan-
zer were looking for a talented director able to stage this complex story. A
beginner wouldn’t do. They both knew Sam Peckinpah and appreciated his
work, but financiers were not enthused when they heard his name. Martin
Baum, Peckinpah’s artistic agent, did his best to convince everybody of the

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director’s recovered reliability. Finally, Davis and Panzer took the risk and
hired him. He occupied the production offices and started working on the
script and the cast. He was free to choose his actors, but he couldn’t change
the script in any way. Rutger Hauer (who had just finished the shooting of
Blade Runner by Ridley Scott) and Burt Lancaster’s contracts were rapidly
signed; the two actors brought impetus to the enterprise. John Hurt, Den-
nis Hopper, Meg Foster, Chris Sarandon, and Craig T. Nelson completed
a cast that financiers could trust. On Sam’s request, Tanner’s son would be
played by Christopher Starr, Ronald Starr (Heck in Ride the High Country)
and Meg Foster’s son. The shooting was about to start.
Sam tried to team up his old crew and chose, for the fourth time, John
Coquillon as cinematographer. But the producers were on the lookout. They
wished to have the upper hand on key posts like the editor, and when the
director suggested Lou Lombardo, they instead hired two editors they knew
very well: Edward Abroms and David Rawlins. However, Peckinpah would
be supported by his daughter Kristen and his longtime friend Walter Kelley.
Both would have a small part in the movie, and they would be able to stay
with him to take care of him on the set. In fact, he was continually sick and
exhausted and seriously hurt his hand, which required that he be put on
an IV of antibiotics and wear an oxygen mask during most of the shooting.
As his addictions to alcohol and drugs were not solved, working with him
was not a sinecure.
The shooting started in the fall of 1982 on Robert Taylor’s estate, in
Mandeville Canyon, near Beverly Hills. During the harsh times he had just
been through, Sam had questioned his future as a director, and the warm
welcome of the crew on the set cheered him up, even if the ranks of the
members of his original team were sparse. The technicians who had already
worked with him wished him success in his comeback, and the others who
didn’t know him showed him a lot of respect. As for the actors, they were
proud to play in a film directed by a living legend.
Sam was still Peckinpah. If he appeared less ready to fight, not as uncom-
promising, this would not last. Some delayed shots because of bad weather, a
script too complex to assert differences, a few remarks during the production
about his work—the pressure was rising. And Peckinpah, after a few drinks
of sake (his new beverage), found the strength to create the conflicts that he
relished. Although weakened, he would not yield in front of a production he
despised. The shooting wrapped by the end of 1982 without any noticeable

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tragedy. For one thing, Sam finally listened to his agent, Martin Baum, and
managed to finish the film on schedule without really exceeding the budget,
thus proving his ability. On the other hand, Davis and Panzer let things roll
as Charles B. FitzSimons did on The Deadly Companions, waiting for the
more favorable grounds of postproduction.
And in fact, problems did arise in the editing room. Peckinpah wanted
to bring across a disturbing message, refusing to align himself with the
soppy productions that were invading American screens in the 1980s. This
spy thriller was supposed to gradually slide toward the story of a deadly and
obsessive vengeance (already present in The Deadly Companions) and, above
all, serve as a pretext for captivating variations on the theme of images and
people being manipulated. To that purpose, viewers have to be kept in that
state of confusion and malaise generated by that same manipulation. How-
ever, Davis and Panzer wanted a good spy movie with its load of violence
and action scenes and its happy ending . . .
Sam still remembered the stormy discussions with Martin Baum, then his
producer, and Arthur Levis about what meaning they would give to Killer
Elite, another spy film that he directed in 1975. This controversy stirred up
his old demons. He drank more than he should have and took a few days of
leave in June to go to Fresno for his mother’s burial. However, the producers
let him finish the editing. But after a disastrous test screening, they deleted
a few minutes (particularly, the relationship of Tanner with his mistress
completely disappeared, which rubbed off some of his darker side) and ed-
ited again some sequences with the disenchanted collaboration of Edward
Abroms (David Rawlins had left the ship long before), who had been able to
appreciate the director’s inspired sense of construction and rhythm. Quickly
enough, Davis and Panzer realized that they couldn’t change much in the
film, so they only shortened the opening sequence by deleting the distorted
images Peckinpah had used and toned down the masturbation scene with
Fassett’s wife.
The film was released at the end of 1983. Like most of his movies, The
Osterman Weekend received a warmer welcome in Europe than in the States.
So Sam crossed the Atlantic with his lawyer, Joe Swindlehurst, to promote a
film that he fully recognized as being his. During this rather pathetic trip,
he drank impressive quantities of alcohol with a sick and desperate eager-
ness. Several critics blamed him for a jumbled script and slack directorship.
These reproaches don’t hold after a more detailed analysis of the work. The

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de-structured plot perfectly matches the mental disorder of the protagonists,


and Peckinpah masters the ensemble from beginning to end.
This last film, coming after a long silence, shows that Peckinpah had lost
nothing of his talent, independence, and aggressiveness. Less than ever did
he yield to the reassuring and formatted ideology of the new Hollywood.
Isn’t the house wired with closed-circuit video a metaphor for what the
United States and the Western world have become with their reality shows
turning their populations into a voyeuristic society, prisoners of sinister
video games?
The script of The Osterman Weekend, used as a pretext, allowed Peck-
inpah, who didn’t like the novel, to drag viewers into his hellish vision of
the manipulation of man and signs. What is real? What is fake? The entire
film, from this point of view, stands as a permanent question mark. Tan-
ner is convinced that his friends are guilty after viewing a few pictures
that seem to be unquestionable but that, after a closer scrutiny, are devoid
of any meaning. Thus, each sequence confronts us with the appearance of
pictures. For that matter, at one point, one of the characters declares that
we are too dependent on what we see. And we gradually become aware that
Fassett lied, first to his boss and then to John Tanner. All the characters
appear to be no more than video-controlled puppets. Of course, Fassett
spies, records, interferes, and gives orders, but the spectator never knows
who really pulls the strings. Didn’t the first sequence, with the credits, show
Fassett being watched at home by surveillance cameras? This opening se-
quence is undoubtedly one of the most terrifying and savage murder scenes
in Peckinpah’s filmography. Yet, not a single drop of blood is seen! “Bloody
Sam” provides a big surprise again.
In the film’s opening scene, Fassett and his wife are in bed. A pleasant,
loving atmosphere of intimacy should emanate from the shots of the two
lovers; however, the grainy texture of the picture, similar to that of video
surveillance cameras, and the high-angle shot subtly diffuse this moment
with a vulnerable, ominous, and dangerous quality reminiscent of the sti-
fling atmosphere of Straw Dogs. Its definitiveness seems to impose a brutal
truth, but subtle editing destroys the reality of a “live” show by introducing
a cinematographic confusion. Fassett gets up while his wife lies on the bed,
seeking the satisfaction of thwarted desire by softly caressing herself. The
two killers come out of a closet. Nowhere is safe, Peckinpah tells us, turning
a soft scene into a horror film. The two men jump on the recumbent young

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woman. One of them gags her while the other gives her a lethal injection.
With eyes wide open, Fassett’s wife witnesses her own assassination, ut-
terly powerless. The two killers vanish. Fassett then comes back, drying his
hair. Looking at his wife, he realizes that she’s dead. Pull-back shot on his
black-and-white picture on a screen. “Directed by Sam Peckinpah” appears.
Two men with their backs turned are sitting in darkness, facing the screen
showing the scene. Here, Danforth and Stennings quietly comment on the
murder, justifying it for some obscure international, political reasons. This
scene conveys an unbearable feeling of uncertainty, a general impression of
being fooled all the time. To observe, to be observed. Who rules the game?
The two CIA operatives? Peckinpah? This voyeuristic perverseness gives
The Osterman Weekend a dimension that The Killer Elite didn’t have. To
Peckinpah, society at large is nothing but a gigantic place of corruption and
disorder, and his film is the mirror of cold, barbaric behavior.
All his work (and this film most particularly) tends to denounce and
subvert the Hollywood mythology by inducing the spectator to think about
the essence of representation itself. Once more, Peckinpah plays on both
facets of the relationship with the plot and with the viewer. He manipulates
us in the same way Fassett seems to play with his victims. From one frame to
the other, everything is mixed up. The title is already misleading. Osterman
is just one character among other characters, one of Tanner’s friends—an
important one, to be certain, but he’s in no way the hero of the film. Never-
theless, the director uses his voice to utter a few desperate and disillusioned
claims, such as, “I am not a revolutionary, I’m a nihilist,” or, “The truth is
just a lie that hasn’t been found out.” I In the film, a central theme is the act
of lying: the pictures that Fassett shows and doesn’t show on television (just
like a godlike Peckinpah) are lying; the video screens that spy on people’s
lives are lying when they mix live pictures with recorded ones—they blur
and pervert the reality of cinema. And that’s exactly the same technique
that Tanner and Osterman will use to beat Fassett.
The opening sequence must be paralleled with the final scene in which
Tanner interviews Danforth during his talk show, Face to Face. Being very
keen on cyclic patterns (as in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) and on recur-
rent themes, Peckinpah shows us Tanner recording his presentation and his
questions, then his “live” interview, at a distance from Danforth, who stays
in his office with his collaborators. This mix of live and recorded material
(a technique that television uses more and more often, as in its fake “live”

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broadcasts) allows Tanner to be in two different places at the same time.


The show is edited in parallel with the murder of Fassett, whom Tanner
kills in his den, followed by Tanner’s own “assassination” (suggested by a
gunshot off screen).
All during the parallel editing, Tanner, in a voice-over, speaks to the
viewers about television’s deceptiveness and the medium’s effect on viewer
volition. He advises them to turn off their television sets but observes, “My
bet is you can’t do it.” (Shot of the gagged dog moaning beside Tanner’s
wife and daughter, who are tied up.) Tanner concludes by saying, “But go
ahead and try.”
A sharp bang goes off. Tanner’s close-up disappears from the video moni-
tors and is replaced by an empty screen. Silence. Cut to Tanner’s empty arm-
chair. The studio is empty, too. Pull-back shot similar to the one at the end
of the opening sequence. But as the camera tracks back, nobody’s there to
watch. Nobody seems to be in control of the television, of the country . . . In
the first sequence, Danforth and Stennings were sitting in front of the screen,
keeping the upper hand in their game. Here, nothing happens; we still have
an empty screen. The television doesn’t go off . . . “Too late!” That seems to be
the meaning of this long fixed shot, a bitter statement on Peckinpah’s part,
which sounds like the echo of Tanner’s sentence earlier in the movie: “People
are unable to switch off their televisions. It’s a drug.” Bennie in Bring Me the
Head of Alfredo Garcia had not wavered before shooting at a television in a
bout of rage. In The Osterman Weekend, nobody’s there to do it.
As usual, Peckinpah was more interested in the relationships between
the characters than in the plot itself, and as in The Deadly Companions
and The Killer Elite, he doesn’t dwell on the inconsistencies of the script,
preferring to treat them in a derisive manner, just as in the scene where the
four friends meet in a vast and empty parking lot, except for their cars and
a parking guard looking at them from a distance, and a voice says, “I hope
nobody’s watching us.” In the same way, Peckinpah didn’t want to shoot
the car chase that he considered useless. On the contrary, the production
saw it as a climax. He then decided to shoot it as a sequence closed on itself,
without any real connection to the story—a brilliant, gratuitous interlude,
disconnected from reality, a reality that Peckinpah loves to twist by playing
with cinematographic time, something few directors have done like him.
From the most obvious effects (slow motion, recurring images, suggestive
close-ups, minimal depth of field) to the most subtle constructions (parallel

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Dawn and Dusk

The empty studio. The Osterman Weekend

editing, flashbacks, flash-forwards), Peckinpah never lets the viewer rest.


His stylistic choices are perfectly suited to the situations he describes. Dis-
turbing, that’s all. Pictures and sounds blend, without any apparent link, to
forcibly and luminously reinforce his story. His genius is blatant when the
friends and their wives meet at Tanner’s estate under Fassett’s murderous
gaze. In the villa, Peckinpah creates a true organization of space thanks to
camera angles. He manages to build a kind of daedalian labyrinth in which
Osterman and Tanner are chased. When the two men flee toward the swim-
ming pool to find shelter, followed by the laser beams of automatic rifles that
are shooting at them, Peckinpah’s visual poetry is at its highest. Sumptuous
slow motion. Multiple camera angles, slow-motion movements, an arrow
that streaks through space to stick itself into the body of an assailant with
a muffled thud. Silence. Guns stop firing. Tanner dives in slow motion to
join Osterman, who’s already lying at the bottom of the swimming pool. A
masterpiece. Pure Peckinpah. A staggering dance of violence accompanied
by the discreet but nonetheless powerful music score by the great Lalo Schif­
rin. We can’t help but think about the sublime sequence in Cross of Iron
when Steiner and Stransky run in slow motion to dodge the bullets that are
fired at them. The images are wrapped in a black veil with greenish hues,
conveying a nocturnal atmosphere masterly orchestrated by John Coquillon,
who has created unforgettable moments in cinema with his photography of

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the night siege of the house in Straw Dogs and of the crepuscular death of
an old sheriff in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and with the chiaroscuros of
Cross of Iron. With The Osterman Weekend, he’s at the pinnacle of his art.
With The Killer Elite, and then Cross of Iron, and above all The Osterman
Weekend, daylight values disappear from Peckinpah’s world, smothered
by the forces of darkness. All the violent scenes from the last work of the
director are set during threatening nights favoring foul machinations and
murders. No longer are there redeeming Mexican feasts as in The Wild
Bunch. The noise of firecrackers and fireworks is replaced by the lethal
shooting of automatic rifles and the deadly flashes that set The Osterman
Weekend’s RV and swimming pool ablaze.
The backdrop of the house is set. The characters are ready. Human feel-
ings can express themselves: friendship between old friends (the group of
the four men plus the four women here) and then betrayal, the obligation for
some to “finish the job” together (Tanner and Osterman) . . . We belong to a
truly Peckinpahian world. To this recurring theme, we can add the defense
of a family inside a besieged house, as in Straw Dogs. The similarities with
this film are numerous. The long night of anxiety and violence experienced
by Tanner and his guests recalls David Sumner defending his house with
all his might. When Tanner’s son discovers the fake head of a dog in his
freezer, the image of the hanged cat in David’s closet in his bedroom im-
mediately springs to our minds. And what shall we say about the tender
love scene between Tanner and his wife, Ali, the framing of which strangely
reminds us of Amy Sumner being raped by her ex-boyfriend? And if David
uses medieval techniques against his attackers, Tanner’s wife won’t hesitate
to resort to bows and arrows. To save her child and her husband, she finds
David’s primeval instincts, just as David uses jaw traps and boiling oil to
defend his home. The Osterman Weekend asserts a vision of women that,
if we go backward in Peckinpah’s filmography, associates Ali Tanner, a
woman of action, with Kit Tilden in The Deadly Companions. Like Kit, Ali is
a strong and beautiful woman who doesn’t yield in a man’s world filled with
violence. Independent, she has the charm and the strength of a mythical
heroine. Just like Kit, who kills the Indian in the darkness of the cave, Ali,
armed with a deadly bow, wreaks havoc and sows death, albeit in the ranks
of secret agents equipped with sophisticated rifles—a nice portrait that is
rather rare on the part of a director inclined to catalog women according
to simplistic stereotypes.

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The last sparkles of one of the greatest filmmakers of his time, The Oster-
man Weekend may be regarded as a metaphor of Peckinpah’s film career,
especially if we compare Peckinpah to Fassett, who stands as a demiurge
and at the same time as a pathetic prisoner of the pictures of his wife’s death
that he keeps watching compulsively in a loop. To lie, to cheat, to manipu-
late, to surprise, to frighten, to guide, to lose but also to watch and watch
again, never to forget anything, never to turn the page . . . This disillusioned
and fascinating swan song, the work of a visionary who didn’t believe in
the future of the world anymore, is quite revealing about Sam Peckinpah’s
state of mind.

Notes
1. Belmans, “Image et Son,” 45.
2. Flaubert, Memoirs d’un Fou, 19–20.

183
Bibliography
Contributors
Index
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Belmans, Jacques. Review, “Image et Son.” La Saison cinématographique 68,
no. 219 (September–October 1968): 45.
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189
Contributors

Michael Bliss teaches film criticism and English at Virginia Tech. Bliss’s books
include Justified Lives: Morality and Narrative in the Films of Sam Peckinpah,
Doing It Right: The Best Criticism on Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch,”
and Dreams within a Dream: The Films of Peter Weir. He recently completed
writing Martians, Metaphor, and Madness, a book on 1950s American sci-
ence fiction films.
Gérard Camy teaches cinema studies as a historian and is a critic (in Telerama
magazine and Jeune Cinéma) and writer. He is the head of Carnot Film
School in Cannes and the president of Cannes Cinéma, an institutional
board presiding over the organization of cinema events throughout the city
of Cannes.
Steven Lloyd has made sure that his nieces grew up unafraid of black-and-white
movies. Despite being a film purist, he has written essays for Video Watchdog
and has spent most of his career as a television production technician. Since
1969, his favorite director has been Sam Peckinpah.
Stephen Prince is a professor of film at Virginia Tech and the author of Savage
Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies. His newest book
is Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism.
Paul Seydor is a film editor and professor of cinema at Chapman University’s
Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, where he teaches advanced editing
and other aspects of filmmaking. A former professor of literature at the
University of Southern California, he is the author of the seminal critical
study Peckinpah: The Western Films, which was updated, expanded, and
published under the title Peckinpah: The Western Films—A Reconsideration.
Seydor has edited for several distinguished writers and directors, including
Ron Shelton, Roger Spottiswoode, David Ward, Joe Sargent, Steve James,
Kevin Sullivan, and Cyrus Nowrasteh on such films as White Men Can’t
Jump, Cobb, Tin Cup, Play It to the Bone, Dark Blue, Hollywood Homicide, The
Program, Major League II, The Wall, Passing Glory, Guess Who, Barbershop
2: Back in Business, Turner and Hooch, Time Flies When You’re Alive, This
Christmas, and Obsessed. He has twice been nominated for the American
Cinema Editors “Eddie,” winning for The Day Reagan Was Shot. He also
wrote, directed, and edited the documentary The Wild Bunch: An Album in

191
Contributors

Montage, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best achievement
in a documentary short subject of 1996. In 2006, Seydor prepared a special
edition of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for the Warner DVD set Sam Peckin-
pah’s The Legendary Westerns Collection, for which he also provides part of
the audio commentary. He is presently editing a feature-length documentary
for Lehka Singh and Roger Spottiswoode called Beyond Right and Wrong:
Stories of Justice, Reconciliation, and Forgiveness.
Garner Simmons, a graduate of Colgate University and Northwestern Uni-
versity’s Graduate School of Communication for Television and Film, has
worked in both television and motion pictures as a writer, producer, and
director. His biography on the late filmmaker Sam Peckinpah (Peckinpah:
A Portrait in Montage) is still in print. He has lectured both in the United
States and abroad and has contributed commentaries for the DVDs of ten
of Peckinpah’s fourteen features. He is a member of the Writers Guild of
America, the Writers Guild of Canada, the Directors Guild of America, and
the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Married, he lives in Southern
California.
Michael Sragow is the author of Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master,
cowinner of the National Arts Writing Award for 2008. He has taught criti-
cism at the University of California–Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journal-
ism and was the 2010 Humana Visiting Scholar at Centre College in Danville,
Kentucky. He is a writer and an editor for the Baltimore Sun and contributes
regularly to the New Yorker. He has also written for Salon.com, the Atlantic
Monthly, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone, among other publications.
He edited the Library of America’s two volumes of James Agee’s work, as
well as Produced and Abandoned: The National Society of Film Critics Write
on the Best Films You’ve Never Seen. He lives with his wife, Glenda Hobbs,
in Baltimore.
Cordell Strug studied philosophy at Purdue University and, through one twist
of life after another, currently serves as a Lutheran pastor. He is old enough to
have seen the last movies of John Ford and Orson Welles in actual theaters.
He was once arrested by the FBI for Christian idealism.
Tony Williams is a professor and the area head of film studies in the Depart-
ment of English of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He has recently
published John Woo’s Bullet in the Head and has authored books on the
American horror film, Larry Cohen, George Romero, and Robert Aldrich.
He is a frequent contributor to Asian Cinema.

192
Index

American Graffiti (1973), 83 Cochran, Steve, 11, 17, 18, 23, 166
Anderson, James, 61 Coleman, Herbert, 98
Armstrong, R. G., 19, 48, 53, 160 Connors, Chuck, 49
Aubrey, James, 83, 89, 90, 97, 104, 115, Conversation, The (1974), 83
116, 117, 123, 124 Convoy, 149, 164, 169, 175
Cook, Elisha, Jr., 108
Ballad of Cable Hogue, The (1970), Coquillon, John, 176, 181
2, 3, 4, 6, 36, 40, 41, 46, 102, 114, Craven, Garth, 104, 108, 110, 115, 120,
135n34, 150, 161, 171, 173 121, 122, 123, 134n28
Battleship Potemkin (1925), 82, 87, 89, Crawford, John, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59, 60,
98, 99 61, 65
Baudelaire, Charles, 36 Crawford, Johnny, 50
Baudrillard, Jean, 153, 158 Cross of Iron (1977), 2, 4, 46, 56, 136n1,
Baum, Martin, 72, 175, 177 135–36n34, 137, 139, 140, 143–46,
Beck, John, 92 164, 168, 169, 170, 172, 181, 182
Berger, Senta, 170
Bigelow, Kathryn, 172 Davis, Peter, 175, 177
Bliss, Michael, 126 Dawson, Gordon, 54, 58, 61, 62, 64, 66
Boetticher, Budd, 53, 146n4 Deadly Companions, The (1961), 2, 3,
Brando, Marlon, 8, 9 5, 6–35, 46, 164–74, 177, 180, 182
Brecht, Bertolt, 161 Deming, Robert H., 154
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia Dickens, Charles, 138, 139
(1974), 20, 21, 34n1, 46, 52, 54, 56, Dukore, Bernard, 29, 35n37
136n34, 148, 150, 160, 164, 171, 173, 180 Duvall, Robert, 166
Broken Arrow (TV series), 2 Dylan, Bob, 107, 126
Butler, Terence, 159
Eisenstein, Sergei, 87
Caan, James, 166 Eliot, T. S., 76
Callenbach, Ernest, 28, 32, 166 Emerson, Ralph, 1
Carroll, Gordon, 104, 112, 116, 133n8, Ethics (Spinoza), 139
15, 20, 134n23, 25 Evans, Max, 53
Clavell, Aurora, 110
Clothier, William, 12, 20, 34n4, 167 Fernandez, Emilio, 108
Coburn, James, 84, 105, 114, 168 Fielding, Jerry, 2, 56, 140

193
Index

FitzSimons, Charles, 7, 9, 10, 11, 17, Hutchison, Ken, 76


18, 19, 20, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30, 31, 32, Hyde, Don, 111
33, 34n4, 34n6, 34n7, 34n10, 34n13,
34n18, 34n20, 35n33, 35n35, 35n38, James, William, 145
166, 177 Jones, Len, 73
Fleischman, A. S., 8–25, 16, 17, 19, Jones, L. Q., 52
21–23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 30, 32, 33, Junior Bonner (1972), 56, 123, 150
34n4, 35n30, 35n40, 165
Flim-Flam Man (1967), 53 Kael, Pauline, 69, 70, 73
Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy, 151–52 Keith, Brian, 9–12, 14, 16–18, 20, 21
Flynn, Errol, 10 26–28, 165, 166
Fonda, Henry, 115 Kelley, Walter, 126
Ford, John, 168 Kerstein, Benjamin, 159
Foucault, Michael, 160, 162 Kierkegaard, Søren, 38, 39
Fritts, Donnie, 103 Killer Elite, The (1975), 4, 46, 56, 137,
Fukasaku, Kinji, 158 139, 140–43, 147, 148, 150, 151, 166,
177, 179, 180, 182
George, Susan, 70 King Lear, 36
Getaway, The (1972), 6, 46, 123, 125, Kitses, Jim, 28
136n34, 170 Kristofferson, Kris, 91, 103, 107, 133n8,
Gillis, Richard, 55, 57 168
Godard, Jean-Luc, 139
Godfather, The (1972), 74 Lancaster, Burt, 151
Goldsmith, Jerry, 55, 57, 60 Last Laugh, The (1924), 82, 98
Goodman, David Zelag, 70, 72, 76 Left-Handed Gun, The (1958), 109, 167
Gunsmoke (television series), 46 Levy, Don, 105, 111
Lola Montes (1955), 99
Haber, Katy 23, 104, 116 Ludlum, Robert, 147
Harris, Robert and James Katz, 98 Lyons, Richard, 50
Heinrich, Willi, 145
Hemingway, Ernest, 138, 140 MacGraw, Ali, 170
Henney, Del, 72 Major Dundee (1965), 1, 6, 14, 46, 48,
Herrmann, Bernard, 98 54, 82, 122, 135n30, 161, 164, 166,
Heston, Charlton, 166 169, 170, 172, 173
Hilmes, Michelle, 156 Mann, Anthony, 168, 171
Hitchcock, Pat, 98 Marnie (1964), 151
Hoffman, Dustin, 70, 80 Martin, Strother, 19, 22, 53
Hollywood Homicide (2003), 91 McCrea, Joel, 168
Holden, William, 166 McKenna, T. P., 75
Homolka, Oscar, 18 McLuhan, Marshall, 155
Hopkins, Bo, 166 McPeak, Sandy, 151
Hurt, John, 148 Meisel, Edmund, 87

194
Index

Melnick, Dan, 72, 104, 109–13, 115, Peckinpah, David, 50


116, 118, 121–24, 128, 130, 133n13, Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage,
133n15, 134–35n28, 135n31, 135n32 6, 103
Memoirs of a Madman, 174 Peckinpah: The Western Films—A
Metropolis (1984 Moroder version), 87 Reconsideration, 5n1, 34n14, 44n1,
Meyer, Mark-Paul, 88, 98, 99 47, 67n3, 102, 124, 132n34, 133n7,
Mulvey, Laura, 150 133n16, 134n25, 136n37, 136n43,
Murch, Walter, 83, 86, 98 163n9, 163n24
Murray, William, 79 Penney, Edmund, 54–56, 58–61, 65
Pickens, Slim, 19, 53, 95
Nelson, Craig T., 153 Powell, Dick, 8
Night Moves (1975), 147 Psycho (1960), 150
Nixon, Richard, 154
Norton, Jim, 76 Read, Paul, 88
Noon Wine (1966 television film), 122 Reagan, Ronald, 154
Nosferatu (1922), 82, 98, 99 Redman, Nick, 101–3, 119
Nussbaum, Martha, 137 Rescued by Rover (1905), 88
Ride the High Country (1962), 2, 6,
Oates, Warren, 21, 52, 160 12, 18, 22, 33, 39, 41, 47, 48, 50, 60,
O’Connor, Flannery, 40 61, 69, 72, 102, 135n34, 140, 160–61,
O’Hara, Maureen, 8, 10, 16, 17, 23, 26, 164, 167–69, 171, 172, 174, 176
34n5, 166, 167, 170 Rifleman, The (television series), 16,
One-Eyed Jacks (1961), 8, 53 48, 51, 53, 54, 67n5
Osterman Weekend, The (1983), 46, Robards, Jason, 52
56, 140, 147–63, 164, 174–83 Roeg, Nicolas, 77
Rowe, Hansford, 154
Panzer, William, 175, 177 Ryan, Robert, 166
Passion of Anna, The (1969), 70
Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), 82, 99 Scenes from a Marriage (1973), 76
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Scott, Randolph, 72
1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 48, 82–100, 101–36, Scott, Ridley, 83
147, 148, 161, 164, 168, 179, 182 Seydor, Paul, 5, 12, 47, 48, 83, 86, 87,
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (2005 89, 90–93, 95–97, 153, 161
Special Edition), 4, 5, 84, 101–3, Shame (1968), 70
119, 122, 123, 126, 129, 130, 135n30, Sharp, Alan, 147, 175
136n41 Shaver, Helen, 160
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1988 Shaw, Bernard, 47
Turner Preview Version), 82, 84, Shelton, Ron, 91
85, 94, 95, 96, 102, 103, 104, 105, Simmons, Garner, 3, 52, 102, 104, 128
120, 122, 123, 128, 134n28, 135n30, Skiles, Marlin, 166
136n38 Spottiswoode, Roger, 103, 105, 110,
Patalas, Enno, 87, 88, 97 111, 113, 115, 120, 123, 124, 128, 129

195
Index

Stevens, Stella, 52 Warren, Charles Marquis, 49


Straw Dogs (1971), 2, 4, 46, 54, 56, Weddle, David, 21, 70, 89, 90, 97, 104,
69–81, 122, 123, 147, 150, 157, 171, 147
172 Welles, Orson, 83, 86
Susskind, David, 72 Westerner, The (television series), 8,
Swindlehurst, Joe, 177 9, 12–14, 17, 27, 53, 165
Whitney, Peter, 53
Taylor, Dub, 96, 111 Wild Bunch, The (1969), 1–3, 14, 16,
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, 39–40 36–44, 45, 46, 54, 56, 61, 69, 72, 82,
Tempest, The, 161 84, 102, 106, 112, 114, 119, 123, 132,
Thomsett, Sallie, 73 135n34, 136n42, 147–49, 159, 164,
Touch of Evil (1958), 83–85, 98, 99 166–69, 172, 182
Trevor, Claire, 170 Williams, Gordon M., 69–72, 80
Trigger Happy (1965), 167 Wills, Chill, 11, 17, 18, 23, 95, 166
Winner, Michael, 175
Ulzana’s Raid (1971), 147, 175 Wolfe, Robert, 83, 90, 105, 123, 124
Wurlitzer, Rudy, 105, 107
Vaughn, Peter, 74
Vertigo (1958), 98, 99 Yellowleg (novel), 7, 8

Warner, David, 52, 80 Z Channel, 82, 103

196
FIL M ST U DIE S

Bliss
Peckinpah
“Peckinpah Today is evidence of Bliss’s reputation as an important Peckinpah

Peckinpah Today: New Essays on the Films of Sam Peckinpah


scholar, bringing together essays of the most significant writers and researchers
on this director and his work. This collection will immediately generate enthu-
siastic interest, as it covers substantial new ground. Peckinpah specialists, film

Today
scholars, fans, and buffs will all welcome this book.”
—Gabrielle Murray, senior lecturer in the Media and
Cinema Studies program, La Trobe University

W ritten exclusively for this collection by today’s leading Peckinpah critics,


the nine essays in Peckinpah Today explore the body of work of one of
America’s most important filmmakers, revealing new insights into his artistic
process and the development of his lasting themes. Edited by Michael Bliss, this
book provides groundbreaking criticism of Peckinpah’s work by illuminating
new sources, from modified screenplay documents to interviews with screenplay New Essays on the Films
of Sam Peckinpah
writers and editors.
Included is a rare interview with A. S. Fleischman, author of the screenplay
for The Deadly Companions, the film that launched Peckinpah’s career in feature
films. The collection also contains essays by scholar Stephen Prince and Paul
Seydor, editor of the controversial special edition of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
In an essay on Straw Dogs, film critic Michael Sragow reveals how Peckinpah and
co-scriptwriter David Zelag Goodman transformed a pulp novel into a powerful
film. The final essay of the collection surveys Peckinpah’s career, showing the
dark turn that the filmmaker’s artistic path took between his first and last films.
This comprehensive approach reinforces the book’s dawn-to-dusk approach, re-
sulting in a fascinating picture of a great filmmaker’s work.
 
A teacher of writing, literature, and cinema at Virginia Tech, Michael Bliss is the
author or editor of eight books of film criticism, including Justified Lives: Morality
and Narrative in the Films of Sam Peckinpah, Doing It Right: The Best Criticism
on Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch,” and Dreams within a Dream: The Films
of Peter Weir.

Cover illustrations: The ride out from Angel’s village in The Wild Bunch.

Printed in the United States of America


Southern Illinois University Press

southern illinois university press


$29.95 usd
1915 university press drive isbn 0-8093-3106-3
isbn 978-0-8093-3106-2
mail code 6806
Edited with an Introduction by Michael Bliss
carbondale, il 62901
www.siupress.com

Bliss cvr mech.indd 1 4/2/12 10:55 AM