This is my final Sam Peckinpah film for the list. I know I should have left this for the final push like I plan to do with the final films of other large directors, but I really wanted to see this. I loved Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia and Straw Dogs and have a hole in my heart from completing Red Dead Redemption 2 – so this is where I ended up for my final film of these last two days.
In watching this I became aware that there are three cuts of this film. The first being the theatrical release that was butchered and almost led to this film being forgotten, the second being more a director’s cut and then the special edition cut made for DVD that is a mix of both but with a leaning to the director’s cut. I watched the special edition cut and boy am I glad that they created a cut that did justice to this film.
Coming fresh off of Red Dead Redemption 2, and remembering the story in the first game, I saw a lot of parallels. The outlaw who is tired of running but doesn’t want to be caught, the former outlaw (now lawman) who has to catch his former running mate and the general melancholy of a western frontier that has become stagnant and is slowly dying.
Speaking of slowly dying – the scene from this film that is going to end up staying with me is not the death of the titular character, but that of a man we only knew for a brief while. A man who, when gut shot and facing certain death, sits with his wife as ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ plays in the background. I didn’t know that song was written for this film, so the moment it came on I just got the chills.
What I loved most about this film was, as I mentioned earlier, the reluctance. The second time we hear ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ is after a duel that neither one wanted to do, but neither could think of a way out of the situation. This idea of going through the motions of being outlaws in the Old West because that’s the only way to ensure survival runs throughout the film. Few characters enjoy the life, but by this point it is very much kill or be killed and you can see how it weighs on everyone.
It’s an interestingly different take on a Western compared to the earlier ones, which is why I find myself drawn to these revisionist films. With this film I have also cemented in my mind that Sam Peckinpah might be the best director that I have found because of my doing this challenge rather than having heard of him before. I hope his other films live up to the four I’ve seen for the 1001 list.