Sam... Bloody Sam. Somehow, Peckinpah’s rep as rogue king of splatter-shot action cinema still eclipses his whiskey-rinsed, sadcore romanticism. Gratifying, then, to find this four-film DVD microcosm refurrowing his cinematic landscape from killing field to boulevard of broken dreams. The standard-issue sidearm for each saddle-saga? A perceptive, affectionate commentary from a quad of hugely informed biographers-cum-documentary-makers.
We begin in 1962: the Cold War white-hot, ’Nam breaking sweat, Ford delivering The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’s autumn elegy and 37-year-old TV director Sam Peckinpah releasing Ride The High Country. Drifting in like a mirage of the director’s career to come, it’s a beautiful, complex semi-fable with ageing gunslingers Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott (in his last Western) confronting motor cars and policemen in the Wild West before disappearing into the mountains to face an immensely poignant last stand. Fittingly for a film tinged with autobiography, its featurette sees the director’s sister digging up telling tales from their childhood together.
Seven years later, Peckinpah’s berserker parables hit their apotheosis of noise, gore and chaos. Instantly templating haemophiliac action cinema, The Wild Bunch galvanised the clichés of its dying genre with a shocking jolt of havoc and heart – and it’s included in this terrific two-disc Director’s Cut edition (complete with doc triple-whammy).
Bloody Sam had arrived. Circular New Wave oater The Ballad Of Cable Hogue, however, was just bloody odd. Bookended (like all Peckinpah’s best) by a death-rattle, it roughly shackles bulky comedy, religion, romance, sing-songs and even animation as Jason Robards’ stranded desert-rat miraculously discovers a watering hole and sets up a prosperous stagecoach station. The disc, sadly, is scrawnier, boasting only a missable interview with co-star Stella Stevens.
But here’s the red meat: Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid debuts on DVD in a fresh edit built from two previous versions (one also included on the disc). Like Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, it’s a ravaged masterpiece – six editors were credited and Peckinpah tried to rub his name off the film that might be his greatest. But while Pat Garrett will never be intact, its director’s vision finally is. In a brilliant opening splice, we see outlaw-turned-lawman Garrett (James Coburn) felled by a bullet fired from the doomed Kid (Kris Kristofferson) nearly three decades later, at the story’s climax. Between their deaths lies a dusky, lyrical, broken-hearted requiem for the West (fenced in by barbed wire and big business), for the Myth (long corrupted) and for Peckinpah (delivering his last Western drowning in tequila and male angst).